Off to Ubud, Bali’s cultural heartland

A session in progress-Photo credit Matt Oldfield
A session in progress-Photo credit Matt Oldfield

The day has finally arrived. I will be leaving for Ubud in Bali. Indonesia, specifically to attend the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. While each of the five days presents an exciting line-up of authors, artists and speakers that I plan to attend, I’ll be making the best of the days after the festival to discover this charming little town. You can look forward to my new blog posts on Ubud shortly. I hope to blog much about town in between all those sessions and my much-needed ‘me time’. In the meanwhile, here’s a piece that I had written for The Label that outlines a few reasons to get your self to this fantastic festival.

Take a yoga class, learn to cook Balinese food, or explore your love for surfing when you aren’t attending fascinating literary sessions 

There are a rising number of festivals for writers and readers, a seemingly endless list for music lovers, and still many others if you love the arts. And then there are festivals like the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. The main idea behind this festival—now in its 11th year—is to gather like-minded appreciators of the written and spoken word in an idyllic little town, abundant in paddy fields and artists. Still, it’s a well-rounded and inclusive festival; one that gives anyone with even the mildest interest in the arts, a good chance to experience a new destination. Poetry slam events, cultural workshops, music, films and more will keep you busy through the festival.

Stellar line-up Like always, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014 features an exciting literary line-up. Taking the stage, among the 150-odd writers from over 25 countries, is British travel writing great Colin Thubron and Japanese novelist Minae Mizumura. Master novelist Amitav Ghosh and a host of award-winning writers, including Hassan Blasim and Eimear McBride, are also big draws. This year onwards, the festival will host the winning author of the annual DSC Prize. So we’ll be seeing 2014 recipient Cyrus Mistry (Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer) land on Indonesian shores.
A festival ticket will get you a seat at most of the events. But it’s the more intimate ones that you should also aim to be at. Hosted at partner restaurants and venues, you’ll be privy to freewheeling talks by writers and artists in an intimate setting.
Yoga with a view Five days of session-hopping might leave you craving for some less intense modes of relaxation, like yoga. Bali, particularly Ubud, is famous for its yoga studios and retreats; which is why the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival offers festival-goers free yoga sessions everyday at a location facing the stunning Campuhan Ridge.
Surf’s up Bali is big on surfing since it gets the full force of the surrounding ocean swells. This year, events around surfing will be hosted at the festival. When you aren’t on your surfboard or attending one of the sessions, head to some of the free surf-related events. Although it begins before the opening of the festival, on September 28, veteran filmmaker and photographer Dick Hoole’s photography display will showcase his works documented since 1973, when Bali first experienced a surge in the surfing scene. Amateur and pro surfers shouldn’t miss the panel comprising champion surfer Rusty Miller and author Phil Jarrat.
One of last year's performances at the festival-Photo Credit Matt Oldfield
One of last year’s performances at the festival-Photo Credit Matt Oldfield

Culture unhinged In between all those sessions, it’s natural to want to soak in the rich culture of this town. You can always opt for a solo experience. But with such a rare line-up of cultural workshops, you might be better off saving those explorations for later. Learn to prepare a lavish Balinese feast at the Honeymoon Guesthouse’s cooking school while you sip on local rice wine, after you return from a guided spice and herb tour to an Ubud market. Or, you could learn to whip up a three-course Balinese meal at a workshop by the Mozaic Cooking School. Although these are special events that come at an extra price, you can be assured that they are worth your time and money. You can also receive a hands-on apprenticeship in the iconic art form of Batik, or embark on a fascinating herb walk that will introduce you to Bali’s wealth of natural remedies.

Besides, there’s much to be experienced in Ubud, other than the much-awaited festival—from its many art museums and botanical gardens, to a sacred forest full of curious monkeys.
This piece was first published on The Label, a lifestyle magazine by Louis Philippe.

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