Split Decision
Condé Nast Traveller India|December - January 2020
Split Decision
No longer a sleepy artists’ village, Ubud is now a crush of scooters, sound healers and Zen seekers. Yet its surroundings remain tinged in an emerald sheen.
Antonia Quirke

Breakfast in Ubud, through a rainbow-wash of spring rain. All the temples and cafés stripped-back and steaming, all the town’s dogs wading about with hair slicked like otters. The moment it stops, instantaneous renewal. Sun swelling out the streets with light. Little pale lizards darting from wet stone to wet stone. Tables on pavements being reset with iced coffees sweetened by a dash of condensed milk. All cleansings, rebirths—all supremely Ubud, the town in the high heart of Bali known for its landscape of voluptuous foliage. Sacred waters. Artists, healers, river valleys. Pools with an impossibly perfect pH.

As I wait for my ride at noon beside a crossing along Jalan Hanoman Street, all life is turned fantastically outward in a town that feels like an intricate temple site. Everybody living and moving among the courtyards and platforms, pavilions and antechambers at a perpetual catchup. An international picnic. Always, the smell of cooking pork. Squabbling, golden children demanding the satay being griddled on byres along pavements, unwrapping rice in banana leaves like presents, and triumphantly scooping peanut sauce toasted with chillies out of oily bowls. A couple of Catalans carrying wriggling newborns and treerubber yoga mats hover at the junction, talking about the Costa Daurada. Hipsters suck on herb-spiked matchas, wearing rough beanies like Steve McQueen in Papillon. Exquisite Swedish teenagers with plump skin baked the colour of raspberry rummage in bum bags for change. A busker attempts John Coltrane for a woman in mismatched shoes who might have just walked out on her life with one suitcase. Jet-lagged models. Stabs of red hibiscus.

Someone born here told me that one day in the mid 1980s, he noticed a strange and unusual thing: a lone camper van parked in fields by the old bridge full of sleeping young Australians in wetsuits. Since then, there has really been no end to the visitors, everyone increasingly drawn from the sticky hotels in Seminyak and Canggu. They gather here instead, inside great cloth pyramids thrown up in rice paddies, for acoustic bio-resonance sessions and vinyasa flow. Frowning hot-deskers run businesses out of open-plan bamboo co-working offices on the road along the forest, where every bank or bar down the crammed boulevards is a salon for foot rubs or vipassana meditation. Grizzled ex-soldiers having backpacked here, dazed, since the Gulf War, hug it out on the streets after tantra hatha. All the taut-muscled self-improvement gurus; all the prophesying voices and flotsam and jetsam drawn to tropical Asia, buying carvings of Durga with a tongue of fire, while traffic jams of scooters blare under gigantic pule trees dripping in vines.


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December - January 2020