No more than 30 minutes drive from Ubud, lies the stunning Tegallalang rice terraces. Sprawling up and down the valley into 50 shades of green wonder, you will be stunned by the beauty and serenity of this extraordinary place… Follow me on this journey to discover amazing shots of the rice terraces but also to learn more about an important Balinese philosophy, hidden in plain grass…
You would be mistaken to think that a journey to Tegallalang is only an immersion into Bali’s most famed views, the rice terraces. Beyond the extraordinary landscapes lies a philosophical principle of life at the heart of the Balinese culture and religion.
In the 9th century, the Balinese developed the Subak, a sustainable irrigation system working as a cooperative and which has shaped, through the last 2000 years, the extraordinary landscape of Bali. A Subak is an irrigation organisation of farmers, whose lands are fed by the same source of water.
This water is channeled through a complex network of canals, waterways, tunnels and water temples that are under the control of the priests, as water is seen as the source of life.
There is then an intrinsic link between the cultivation of the land in Bali and the religion, as water flows through the temple, onto the rice paddy fields
Interestingly, the whole system has been developed to be democratic and equalitarian, with the farmers meeting once a month to discuss how the water should be equally distributed among the fields. This is important as each Subak sustain thousands of people.
Water rituals and offerings to the Goddess of Fertility and Prosperity, Sri, are performed regularly and it helps engaging the community together. At the heart of the Subak system is a philosophy that brings together the Gods, humans and nature, called Tri Hita Karana.
TRI HITA KARANA
Tri Hita Karana is an essential part of Balinese culture representing what Balinese believe are the three causes of well-being: the harmony among people, the harmony with the nature and the environment, and the harmony with the gods.
This philosophy is guiding many aspects of the Balinese life through helping and cooperating with each other, to performing daily offerings and rituals, and trying to keep a balanced environment, believing that happiness cannot be achieved without Gods, men and nature working together.
This is a powerful philosophy, and even more so in the context of the strong economical and social changes that the island is going through. I have always been intrigued by the impact of mass tourism on the island’s culture and the Balinese’s ability to conserve it. One of the most visible representation of Tri Hita Karana is certainly the many ceremonies that are performed for the Gods throughout the island. It is also hard to make a trip to Bali without noticing the great kindness and tolerance the Balinese have towards other cultures. However, one could easily see how massive tourism could pose a real challenge to this philosophy. One of the example is the issues affecting the environment in Bali: the water pollution, the destruction of natural habitats in favour of increased constructions, and the huge challenges of dealing with waste and plastic consumption on the island.
Would the disappearance of the rice fields all across the island mark a fall in the continuity and integrity of these important traditions?
Bali has a lot to improve in terms of the environment and I can only hope that Balinese would be successful in preserving their beautiful philosophy.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
A good sign towards the efforts to preserve Balinese culture and heritage has been the recognition by Unesco of the Cultural Landscape of Bali Province in 2012, giving the interconnected natural, religious, and cultural components of the traditional Subak system the title of a Unesco World Heritage Site. This means that Unesco has recognised the Subak as an important landmark to the collective interests of humanity. Although this recognition offers a well deserved protection to this distinctive piece of the Balinese culture, a World Heritage Site label can also have a questionable impact: it has the potential to significantly increase tourism and as such at the same time contribute to the challenges posed by it.
WHY YOU SHOULD MAKE A CONTRIBUTION
Visitors can make their own contributions: walking through the rice fields, you will be asked to give a donation. Although it can seem pushy to some, this will go to the preservation of the site and it is a great way to recognise the outstanding work done by the farmers in Tegallalang rice terraces.
With Bali losing thousands of hectares of farmland every year, in favour of the construction of hotels and houses, there is an incredible pressure towards the farmers to continue cultivating the fields.
Selling the lands would be easy money for a family and its coming generations, and we can only imagine how hard work farming these lands is. So when you make that fantastic photo op, playing farmer for a minute, just like me below, happily consider leaving the farmer a little tip, it is well deserved! 🙂
I hope you enjoyed the journey! If you have a question, want to share your own experience of visiting Tegallalang or simply say hi!, drop me a line in the comments or get in touch here!
(Pictures are all mine)
– The Tropical Nomad –
Gianyar Province, Indonesia
GPS: Latitude: 8.3922° S | Longitude: 115.2956° E
Tegallalang is half an hour’s drive north from Ubud, heading East From Ubud’s art market, easily accessible by scooter or taxi.
When to visit:
Tegallalang is best visited after the rainy season in Bali, between mid April to November.