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A virgin forest, lair of the ferocious Bali tiger and haunt of highway robbers, stretching from rugged mountain chain to ragged coast this was Jim bar Wana, the "Great Forest" of the west, known today as Jembrana. More than half of the regency's 842 sq km area is forested, much of the rest is dry, and people from other parts of Bali still consider Jembrana to be only half civilized and not quite Balinese.
A Balinese chronicle accounts for the emptiness of Jembrana in the following way: When the region first came under the author ity of the court at Gelgel around 1450, two princes were sent to settle the remote western forests. Gusti Ngurah Pecangakan settled near present-day Negara; Gusti Ngurah Bakungan claimed the area around present day Gilimanuk. Soon a rivalry developed between the two as to who could develop the more beautiful and prosperous court.
On one occasion, Bakungan invited his brother to Gilimanuk to attend a lavish court ceremony, and Pecangakan left his horse tied to a tree where a pig had been slaughtered. The unguarded horse broke free and ran home, first rolling in the grass and covering itself in pig's blood. Seeing the horse return rider less and bloody, Pecangakan's wife and family thought he had been killed and as was the custom they took their own lives to share his fate. Pecangakan returned to a deserted palace and immediately declared war on his brother out of grief and rage.
Whatever the truth of this tale, the two brothers destroyed each other and their kingdoms in the civil war which ensued. All that remains of them today is a small temple. Pura Bakungan by sides of the main road 1 km northeast of Cekek. And as a result, Jembrana remained sparsely populated and barely civilized while the rest of Bali blossomed with court culture. Eventually, a court of sorts developed in the town of Jembrana, which in 1803 moved a few kms west to the town of Negara, the present-day capital.
Who first settled the forbidding Jimbar Wana? The earlist evidence of human habitation on Bali has in fact been discovered at Gilimanuk, near the island's western tip. Not much is known about these prehistoric people.
Later residents came not only from Bali but from other islands also. The Bali Strait bordering Jembrana is notoriously treacherous, and because the Balinese are wary of the sea anyway, parts of the coast were settled by sailors, fishermen and merchants from Java, Madura and Sulawesi. Many of these were Muslims and remained so. One km south of the central market in Negara lays Loloan Timur, a village of Muslim Balinese who's Bugis ancestors migrated here as early as 1653. These villagers have retained elements of Buginese culture, most strikingly the oblong houses built of wood with living quarters on the second floor. Loloan Timur looks unlike any other village on Bali.
Most people in Jembrana can tell you where they are originally from, and if you drive up one of the many side roads that snake into the mountains, you will encounter places like Bangsal Gianyar and Bangsal Bangli - entire communities transplanted to Jembrana a generation ago. Some of them had religious motives for coming here. Palasari and Belimbingsari in Melaya district, for example, are the largest Catholic and Protestant communities on Bali. Palasari's handsome Catholic Church is the largest in eastern Indonesia.
The regency is today inhabited by only about 210,000 people, and is the least densely populated area of Bali. At least eighty percent make their living by farming, harvesting forest products, or fishing. The Bali tiger was last sighted in the 1930s, and the remaining wilds of Jimbar Wana have been incorporated into the Bali Barat National Park. Jembrana today is a beautiful agricultural region, with a unique history and character, reflected in the stories, customs and arts of its people.
Jembrana is the area of Bali least visited by tourists. This means that tourist facilities are less developed here than elsewhere, but it also means this is a great place to get off the beaten tourist track. Visitors to Jembrana should not expect to sleep in air-conditioned hotels with hot running water, or to converse in English with every shopkeeper and waiter. It requires some initiative to unearth the treasures, which the area has to offer, but most visitors will find it well worth the effort.
Jembrana's main population centers are all found along the 71 kms of road that hug the southwestern coast. You can reach it from Singaraja via the wild, dry forests of the north, or from Denpasar by way of the vast rice fields and brilliant coastline of Tabanan.
The ferry from Java berths at the town of Gilimanuk at Jembrana's western tip. To the east, a mountain road winds down from an elevation of 798 in at the Buleleng border to the town of Pekutatan on the main coastal road. Traversing fragrant clove and vanilla plantations that at one point pass the tangled aerial roots of a giant bunut tree, this little-known road offers spectacular view across to Java and is the most scenic way to enter Jembrana.
Three kms west of Pekutatan village, on the left coming from Denpasar, is the entrance to Medewi Beach - a black sand beach with pounding surf. This beach is one of the best-kept secrets in Bali.
The most important temple in Jembrana is Pura Rambut Siwi, which lies about 20 kms west of the Tabanan border by the village of Yehembang. Its entrance is marked by a small shrine at the edge of the road, where Balinese travelers stop briefly to pray for safety in their journey. Two hundred meters from the main road lay the main temple complex, perched on a cliff at the edge of the ocean.
Pura Rambut Siwi is an important monument to the priest Danghyang Nirartha, who came to Bali from Java during the decline the Majapahit Kingdom in the hopes of for fortifying Balinese Hinduism against the spread of Islam occurring elsewhere in the archipelago. Between 1546 and 1550 he traveled through the island teaching and unifying the Hindu populace. According to legend, he stopped pray at a village temple at Yeh Embang, and made a gift of his hair to the temple. Since that time it has been known as Rambut Siwi, which means "worship of the hair."
The complex consists of three temple enclosures in a setting of great natural beauty. The first one you encounter as you enter from the main road is the largest and most important, the Pura Luhur where Danghyang Nirartha's hair is kept. A majestic candi bentar or split gate on the southern wall of the inner courtyard opens onto the cliff, offering dramatic views of the surf below. Gnarled frangipani trees litter the ground with fragrant blossoms, and incense burns at the feet of moss covered stone statues swathed in white cloth.
From Pura Luhur you can walk east along the top of the cliff to a winding stone stairway that descends to Pura Penataran, the original temple where Danghyang Nirartha is believed to have prayed. When the Balinese worship at Rambut Siwi they first enter this temple.
Walking back westward along to the beach. You pass a small shrine at the entrance to a cave in the cliff wall. This cave is said to be the lair of mystical animals the duwe or holy beast of the temple. A well at the mouth of the cave is a source of holy water that is salt free despite its proximity to the ocean. Just beyond the cave, another stairway leads back up to the temple. Perched on the edge of the cliff here is the tiny Pura Melanting where merchants stop to pray for prosperity.
A large open-air performance pavilion and two gazebos set amidst lily ponds to the west of Pura Luhur are excellent places to rest and enjoy a panorama of rice fields and white wave crests curling against the black sand coastline as far as the eye can see.
Continuing west along the main road, another important temple is situated along the coast southwest of Mendoyo. This is Pura Gede Prancak, where Danghyang Nirartha is believed to have first landed. A peaceful shrine of white stone here sits on the banks of the placid Prancak River, which empties into the sea about 100 in south of the temple.
To reach it, turn left off the main road in Tegal cangkring, 8 kms west of Rambut Siwi and follow a narrow back road one and a half kms to an intersection marked by a monument. Turn right and continue west about 9 kms. The temple is on your right where the road turns south along the Prancak River.
At the time of Danghyang Nirartha's arrival, this area was controlled by the debauched ruler, Gusti Ngurah Rangsasa, who obliged the newcomer to pray in his temple. When the holy priest complied, the temple structures collapsed. Gusti Ngurah Rangsasa then fled and the community rebuilt the temple in honor of Danghyang Nirartha and his teachings.
Jembrana is home to a number of fascinating art forms found nowhere else. By far the most popular and thriving of these is the fabulous Gamelan Jegog, a big bamboo orchestra whose deep, resonating tones vibrate through the air almost every night in Jembrana.
Gamelan Jegog is an ensemble of fourteen bamboo instruments so big and resonant that their vibrations are felt by the body as much as the ears. The biggest are so tall that musicians have to sit on top of them in order to play them by striking the keys with heavy mallets. These larger instruments play low pitched melodies, while the smaller ones spin out intricately syncopated variations with dazzling precision and speed. The result is a dense, multi-layered fabric of sound, above which a single bamboo flute trills a sweet, sinuous melody.
The most prevalent form of jegog today is the awesome Jegog Mebarung where two or more orchestras perform together. Each plays in turn, pitting their skills against one another in a fierce musical battle. Jegog mebarung is an unforgettable event to witness. The instruments sway back and forth, the musician's bob up and down, and the onlookers cheer enthusiastically, occasionally helping the musicians to replace a broken key. The winner is the ensemble that can make it heard above the frenzy.
Jegogs are also evaluated for their visual appearance. The wooden components of the instruments are all finely carved and brightly painted, with tall ceremonial umbrellas and handsome statues affixed to the big instruments in the back.
Other interesting art forms of the area include the Jegog Dance, as unique as the gamelan itself, Pencak Silat, which is a mixture of choral singing, theater, martial arts and acrobatics, supervised by a sharp-tongued jester named Dag, and a daredevil knife dance called Cabang. All of these have roots in the performing arts of Java, Madura, and the Malay world. In recent times, traditional Balinese dances and dramas from the gamelan gong repertoire have been set to jegog music, and these renditions have become even more popular than the originals.
Kendang Mebarung, a contest of giant drums, shares the competitive spirit of jegog mebarung. The contest is between two oversized drums, each 2 to 3 meters in length and one meter in diameter, accompanied by abbreviated gamelan angk1ung ensemble. When the drums compete, at cremation ceremonies, national holidays, or simply for pub' lic entertainment, the drummers play interlocking rhythms that challenge each other's resonance, volume, and rhythmic dexterity.
Another type of ensemble indigenous to Jembrana is the Bumbung Gebyog. Eight to twelve lengths of bamboo of varying pitches are struck on the ground in rhythmically intricate, interlocking patterns. Probably the only music in Bali that originated and has remained the preserve of women, bumbung gebyog derives from the pounding of newly harvested rice in the lesung to remove husks. Nowadays it is performed on national holidays and at ceremonies related to rice agriculture, usually accompanied by narrative dances or the playful Ngibing Dance where spectators may take turns dancing with dancer.
There are no regularly scheduled performances, so you will have to hunt a little to see any of the above. Of the 46 jegog ensembles in Jembrana, the champion today is Jegog Niti Swara in the town of Tegalcangkrin Jegog Suar Agung in Sankar Agung near Negara is also well known for their presention of the new style of jegog dance and drama. To see them, it may be necessary to commission a performance.
Contact Ida Bagus Raka Negara in Tegalcangkring for assistance. It costs about $80 to arrange a jegog performance, and you should book a few days in advance. Bumbung gebyog and kendang mebarung are less common today; Ida Bagus Raka Negara can nevertheless help locate or commission one. Another source of information is the Office of Fducation and Culture (Kantor Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan) in Negara.
The water buffalo races of west Bali, known as Mekepung and imported by the local Madurese population, are the most dramatic of Jembrana's events. Throughout the westernmost districts, it is still common to see a team of brawny, grey or pink buffalo pulling wooden carts filled with cacao, coffee or bananas. Mekepung began when farmer's playfield raced their neighbors in plowing a field or in bringing the harvest home. The races soon became an event in themselves, and the cumbersome cikar carts were replaced by light, two-wheeled chariots.
Today, the races are organized by the regional government of Jembrana. All participants are members of a racing club (sekehe mekepung) and are divided into two divisions: a Western Block and an Eastern Block, with the Ijo Gading River that bisects Jembrana as the dividing line. These teams compete biannually, in the Regent's Cup Championship on the Sunday before Indonesian Independence Day in August, and the Governor's Cup Championship each September or October.
The buffaloes in each team are ranked prior to the races, and pitted against its counterpart on the other team. Two pairs run at a time, along a circuitous 4 km route. The team with the most winners takes the cup. Apart from this, the only immediate reward for winning is prestige, but owning a prize buffalo does eventually translate into money. A good race animal can fetch almost double the normal price, if its owner is willing to part with it.
If you are in Jembrana between August and October you can find out the time and place of the championships by visiting the Department of Tourism in Negara. You can also see races at other times of the year by commissioning a performance or by attending the rehearsals that take place every other Sunday morning.
To find out about these options, contact the leaders of the sekehe mekepung. I Ketut Suelem or I Ketut Dibia in the town of Banyubiru, five kilometers west of Negara, or I Ketut Wenong of Delod Brawah, two kilometers southwest of Tegalcangkring. Rehearsals may be infrequent during the rainy season (November through March).
Much of Bali's natural landscape has been altered by the hand of man. Dense tropical forests that once covered the island have mostly now been cleared; and the land molded into spectacular rice terraces and sprawling village settlements. But on the westernmost tip of the island, extensive Montana forests, coastal swamps and marine waters have barely been disturbed by human presence. Today these areas comprise the Bali Barat (West Bali) National Park, officially gazette in 1984 as one of ten national parks in Indonesia.
Several distinct environments are to be found within the park's 76,312 hectares. Forested mountains ranging up to 1500 m stand in the park's central and eastern sectors. Their southern slopes are forested with tropical vegetation that is green year round. The north is much drier than the south, hosting deciduous forests. Palm savannahs and mangrove swamps are found in the coastal areas. Four nearby islands surrounded by coral reefs are rich in sea and bird life.
The park is home to two rare species wildlife. The Bali Starling (Leucopsar rothschildi), found only in Bali, is a small white bird with black wingtips and a brilliant aqua blue streak around its eyes. A hundred or so individuals still live in the wild here, mainly on Menjangan Island, and the park is sponsoring a project to train birds donated from zoos around the world for re-release to their natural habitat. The project's training center is located at Tegal Bunder Research Station
Another rare species is the wild Javan buffalo (Bos javanicus). It is only 30 to 40 deep inside the park grounds. Other mammals here include rusa deer, barking deer mouse deer, leopard, civets, macaques and several species of monkeys.
The National Park's stated goal is to balance conservation with human needs, now and in the future. Portions of it will be preserved as a wilderness resource. Other areas bordering on existing human settlement, e has been designated "buffer zones" and continues to provide these communities with needed forest resources. Several coconut and eucalyptus plantations will be reconverted to natural habitats. Still other areas are being exploited for timber. The park is also intended for controlled recreational use by Indonesian and foreigners alike.
Within the park's boundaries are two well known tourist sites. The Banyu Wedang hot springs are considered to have medicinal properties by those who believe and bathe in them. Also found here is the holy grave of Jayaprana, a nobleman sent on a fatal mission so the king he served might wed his new bride
The best source for information on hikes and facilities is Park Headquarters at Cekik, by the intersection of the main roads from Singaraja and Denpasar, just south of Gilimanuk. A small library with exhibits and a knowledgeable staff are available to help you. Since this is a government office, it closes at 3 pm, Monday through Thursday, at noon on Friday, and is closed on Saturday and Sunday.
There are many interesting trails, but to enter Bah Barat you must first obtain a permit and be accompanied by a guide. Permits are available free of charge at Cekik and at Labuhan Lalang, or at the Forestry Department offices (Departemen Kehutanan) at J1. Niti Mandala, Renon in Denpasar (tel: 235679). The cost of a guide is $5 for 1-2 hours.
Shelters are available for overnight stays, but you must provide your own bedding, mosquito protection, food, water and utensils. If you plan to stay overnight, it is best to notify the park staff in advance so that your guide and facilities will be ready when you arrive. If You wish to spend several days exploring the Park without camping, you can stay in simple bungalows at Labuhan Lalang, or in hotels in Gilimanuk or Negara.
The most beautiful, unspoiled coral reefs in Bali are located off the coast of Pulau Menjangan ("Deer Island"). Comprising hundreds of species of coral, these reefs extend 100 to 150 m from the shore, and then drop 40 to 60 m down to the ocean floor. Menjangan and the nearby mainland are excellent places for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. A 45 minutes nature walk on Pulau Menjangan, which is uninhabited except for the Java Deer, affords beautiful panoramic views of the mountainous mainland.
To reach Pulau Menjangan, hire a boat at Labuhan Lalang, just opposite
the island on the north coast of Bali. 'Me round-trip cost is about
$20 for 6 people. Snorkeling and scuba equipment are not available here,
but you can organize this through one of the many diving tour operators
in Kuta or Sanur (see "Practicalities" for these areas). The
boat will stop wherever you want, and the boatmen are experienced guides.
It is forbidden to spend the night on Menjangan, but food and simple
lodgings are available at Labuhan Lalang.