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Harvest time at Jatiluwih

Rice terraces of Jatiluwih

We left Ubud at six in the morning, stomachs empty and eyes still heavy with sleep. Bli Komang had the habit of showing up half an hour early, which Bama and I saw as a chance to gain extra time before the afternoon rains. Both of us admired Bli Komang’s work ethic. “I’d rather be the one waiting than the guest,” he said.

Bli Komang took us through a dreamlike landscape too beautiful to ignore. I watched the morning mist burning off the rice fields and the glowing lines of coconut palms, their shapes reflected in the empty paddies at their feet. We saw the lower portion of a rainbow silhouetted against a thick cloud, and marvelled at the volcanic cone of Agung towering over the scene. Any yearning for lost sleep had immediately evaporated.

Eventually the road turned north and ascended into the highlands, navigating a series of dramatic switchbacks into the heartland of Bali’s vegetable production. Our minivan sped past a handful of villages, the open air market at Baturiti, and then a two storey high sculpture of a corncob rising out of a cabbage. But the sun had now given way to a blanket of cloud and constant drizzle. The rain accompanied us all the way to Bedugul, a lakeside town whose temple was now immortalised on countless brochures, tourism posters and even the 50,000 Rupiah note.

Pura Ulun Danu is best known for two small islands that seemingly float on Lake Bratan, each one sporting a pagoda-like meru roofed in ijuk palm fibres. I asked Bli Komang if ordinary folk – “orang biasa” in my jumbled Indonesian – could go there. “No,” he replied, “only the priest.”

On the shore, the main temple compound was closed to tourists, but it was ringed by well-kept gardens, whose lawns and pathways were being dutifully swept as we ambled around. The only other visitor was a lone photographer with his tripod; at this hour neither the souvenir shops nor the car park ticket booth were open.


The road to Bedugul


Early morning at Lake Bratan


Holy water carrier


Pura Ulun Danu Bratan in the rain


Rice terraces at Jatiluwih


Ribbons of gold

Bedugul is home to a sizeable Sasak community from the neighbouring island of Lombok, where I had previously discovered one of my favourite Indonesian dishes – ayam taliwang. Along the main road there were several restaurants with the same promise of roasted, spiced chicken. “But those are not authentic,” Bli Komang explained, “they’re run by Javanese.” Instead he had something far better in mind.

The back entrance to Jatiluwih was marked by a small wooden sign, fashioned out of worn, recycled wooden planks, with an arrow pointing westwards down a leafy road too narrow for passing cars. Rainy season had come late this year, and the rice terraces were now a rich coat of yellow, ready to be harvested.

Jatiluwih is Balinese for ‘really good’ – a name that is self-explanatory but tells you little about the scenic beauty of this valley. It was recently inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its subak irrigation system, a practice that has existed for more than 1,000 years. Subak sits at the intersection of environmental engineering and Balinese Hinduism: the precious resource is allocated to the fields by priests in water temples.

While the three of us stood admiring the view, we caught a whiff of fragrant smoke emanating from a nearby shack: a roasty, rich aroma that was vaguely reminiscent of coffee. But I almost laughed when I realised what it was. “Burnt cow dung,” Bli Komang said, “They use it as a fertiliser – it’s all natural.”

Just up the slope, a restaurant had been built of bamboo pillars with a roof thatched in alang-alang. Breakfast was a tall glass of fresh watermelon juice and battered chicken with rice, presumably harvested from the paddy fields below. “You don’t mind if I smoke?” We shook our heads and Bli Komang slipped a cigarette between his lips. I watched as wisps of smoke curled into the morning air, the luxuriant terraces falling away and undulating into the distance.


Sculpted contours


A simple offering


Fallow fields


Jatiluwih with Mt. Agung – ‘Great Mountain’ – in the background


The slumbering giant


Finding Eden


Valley march


Fields of plenty


Ripe for harvest


A blessed land

24 Comments Post a comment
  1. JF #

    Reblogged this on closetoeighty and commented:
    Not long ago I found “Plus Ultra”. Today I want to share with my friends this very interesting post with beautiful photos.

    March 21, 2014
  2. Gorgeous photos, of a beautiful land. Thanks James

    March 21, 2014
    • It’s my pleasure, Alison/Don. 🙂
      Any plans to return to Bali sometime?

      March 22, 2014
      • I hope so.We’ll be on that side of the world this time next year so maybe.

        March 22, 2014
  3. Kamila #

    Great shots, James,
    Especially these three: Pura Ulun Danu Bratan in the rain, Rice terraces at Jatiluwih,Sculpted contours. Also well written.It feels you walk there while reading.

    March 22, 2014
    • Thank you, Kamila… hopefully you too will get there later this year!

      March 22, 2014
      • Kamila #

        I will go with high probability, but I am figuring out the destinations. I have checked some articles in National Geaographic, but it requires more time and search. How much do you know about Celebes, Raba, Flores, Sumba? Maybe it is good to ask Bama about it too. Thanks for advice.

        March 23, 2014
  4. As an Indonesian myself Jatiluwih is by far the most impressive rice terrace landscape that I’ve ever seen. Despite the daily downpour on most days during our visit, we were lucky to be there just in time for harvest! We couldn’t have asked a better timing. By the way it was indeed kind of funny when I heard you said how fragrant the natural fertilizer was. 🙂

    March 22, 2014
    • Absolutely, Bama. 🙂 Going in December, I thought that we’d have missed the harvest season completely – but how wrong I was! I’m glad Jatiluwih is now UNESCO-listed, it would be a travesty to pave over all those paddy fields for yet more villas.

      March 22, 2014
  5. Great photos, and really enjoyed the write-up…I would love to visit and explore Jatiluwih for a period of time. Incredible views and post.

    March 23, 2014
    • Thank you, Randall. A photographer friend who was there a few months before told me it was one of the most photogenic places he’d ever been to… now I can clearly see why!

      March 23, 2014
      • One day soon I hope to pay a visit…thank you!

        March 23, 2014
  6. Absolutely stunning place… the lush green paddy fields are really a treat to the eyes.

    Superb images with a nice write up maintaining great flow.

    Thank you so much for sharing it, James 🙂

    March 23, 2014
    • You’re welcome, Sreejith. 🙂 Truth be told, it looks even better in person!

      March 24, 2014
  7. Marvelous gallery and narrative James. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan looks magical in the rain!

    March 25, 2014
    • Thanks, Madhu! Bama and I were hoping for sunny, blue skies that morning – but the rain gave the lakeside temple such a wonderful, dreamy quality.

      March 25, 2014
  8. Wow, Beautiful pictures 🙂 !

    March 25, 2014
    • Appreciate it. There’s no doubt that I’ll be back at some point! 🙂

      March 25, 2014
  9. What a beautiful set, James. We spent 3 short weeks on Bali a few winters ago, and your imagery and the memories of the kind people we met there have me yearning to return. I especially like the first image of the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces – really nice contrast in texture between the palm trees and terraces.

    March 26, 2014
    • Thank you, Tricia. In all fairness I’m not sure my photos quite do them justice. And three weeks in Bali sounds like an absolute dream, I was there for only one!

      March 29, 2014
  10. rubysinclairnyc #

    nice post!! 🙂


    April 6, 2014
  11. Lina #

    Thought you can be ambassador to promote Indonesia James

    April 12, 2014
    • I would love to, Lina – Indonesia is very close to my heart as my best friend is from there.

      April 13, 2014

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