Tourists at the Elephant Safari Park at Taro in Bali.
Tourists at the Elephant Safari Park at Taro in Bali. Contributed

Escaping to Bali paradise

DENPASAR, Bali. Eager brown faces, surging taxis, beeping horns and humidity. Confusion reigns until I see the smiling face of my brother Laurie.

This was my first trip to Bali, a "snap decision" to join Victorians Laurie and his wife Pam on their annual winter escape to Bali.

Setting off in air-conditioned comfort with our driver, our destination was Penestenan on the western ridge of Ubud, southern central Bali, one hour's drive depending on traffic.

Ubud is known as Bali's cultural heart; a visual and sensual feast of art, carvings, textiles, jewellery, music and dance set in lush hills and breathtaking valleys.

Temperatures are fresher. Rice fields wrap around hills and tuck into every available space around villas and resorts.

Intricately carved palaces, temples and monuments invite exploration, and exquisitely prepared spiritual offerings drenched in smoking incense accompany every space and experience.

The choice of Ubud appealed to my artistic and creative leanings and I looked forward to almost two weeks in this earthy paradise.

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Our accommodation with the family operated Melati Cottages offered a welcoming and peaceful village life atmosphere surrounded by tropical gardens, lily ponds and rice paddies complete with pest eradicating ducks that were often seen strutting proudly in a single line throughout the grounds.

Spring water directed from a higher source replenishes paddies and flows in a series of channels and streams throughout, enhancing the soothing lushness.

Over late afternoon drinks and nibbles the tough decisions about dining and activity choices and when to schedule our massages were discussed.

We chatted and reflected over several peaceful, leisurely lunches and fresh juices on shaded decks at Lala and Lily's, a small warung accessible by walking track in the rice paddies nearby.

Bridges restaurant and wine bar was a visual, cultural and very fine dining experience, at night a fairyland in a jungle setting above the Campuhan River.

Stunning artwork and magical dining at Indus restaurant high above the Tjampuhan River, Lotus Lane for wood fired pizza washed down with a chilled Bintang beer, and the tropical garden paradise of Café Wayan have spoiled me forever.

One of the biggest surprises was the popular High Tea at Biku restaurant at Kerobokan, complete with Royal Albert bone china. Drivers were ever ready with transport for a small fee.

The Sacred Monkey Forest provided more excitement than I had bargained for.

Within minutes of walking into the forest a monkey had attached itself to my head. I hope the spirits forgive the sudden interruption to the serenity of the ancient and beautiful sanctuary.

The forest represents a sacred Balinese Hindu site housing three temples, and it is evident from the number of very cute baby monkeys, that the long-tailed macaque species is thriving here.

A traditional dance performance was a must see. The Legong Dance at Pura Dalem in Ubud featured a varied program of elegant and expressive arrangements depicting legends, stories of royalty, love, and the Barong drama of eternal struggle between good and evil.

Mesmerising flashes of colourful costumes and the rich metal tones of Gamelon instruments amid the carved splendour of the Palace created a spellbinding atmosphere.

Nigel and Yanie Mason's Elephant Safari Park at Taro is a monumental conservation success.

We watched as elephants played with water and interacted patiently with visitors, and learned that these Sumatran elephants had been victims of the forest destruction in Sumatra where there are fewer than 1100 elephants remaining in the wild.

The park houses 27 elephants, including two babies.

Park profits, including sales of paintings by the elephants (yes, really), together with Indonesian Government assistance provide for the rescue, care, upkeep and successful breeding program of these gentle giants.

Returning to Penestenan we stopped to look at the paintings of traditional artist Marjana at his studio and family compound in the Keliki village.

Seeing four generations of the family's finely executed paintings hung underneath pergolas around the family's shrine was a moving experience.

Our last outing was to Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave in the Bedulu countryside, thought to date back to the 11th century and a significant and fascinating Hindu archaeological site although a number of relics in the area suggest a significance to early Buddhists in Bali.

The carving around the cave entrance is said to be either a Hindu God or a witch, and an ornate ancient bathing pool and relics rest in the valley before a sheer spine-tingling drop to the riverbed below.

We paused to reflect and appreciate the serene spirituality of the breathtaking site.

The time had come to say goodbye to Bali, my brother and his wife. E. E. Cummings said: "The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." I wasted no time in Bali.

The writer travelled at her own expense.

Puppets in front of an antique store in Ubud.
Puppets in front of an antique store in Ubud. Diana Plater

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