Last week we had a cup of hibiscus tea in downtown Manhattan with Paul Linder, the general manager at COMO Shambhala Estate. A man of clear eyes and extreme calm, his description of life in Bali, the spiritual land of 1,000 gods, would make anyone want to ditch their day job and head for the south Pacific. We figured if anyone knows the best places to go to find moments of Zen around the island, it's him, so we asked for his little black book of peace, wellness, harmony, balance, and all those other elusive things we can't seem to find in New York City.
UBUD, Bali – Life in Bali is very spiritual. You get so calm and so quiet. Life is slower and easier, and you take everything as it comes. Bali has such lush greenness. There are forests all around, the backdrop of the mountains. I do a lot of walks on the estate and I run through the rice fields, which is a blessing in itself.
These are the places in Bali where I experience the most calm, beauty, and Zen.
1. The Volcano
Mount Batur is the second highest volcano in Bali. It's surrounded by tropical forests. You can go to the top early in the morning to see the sunrise. You leave Ubud at 2 or 3 a.m., drive a few hours north, then walk to the top for about an hour. At 6 a.m., it's sunrise. The volcano is active. There are sulfates coming out of the ground — you could cook an egg — but there's no lava. The views and the sunrise are breathtaking.
Kintamani, the village from which you get to Mount Batur, can be very touristy, so I avoid it on weekends and holidays.
2. Muncak Sari Temple
Muncak Sari Temple in Sangketan Village, about two hours from Ubud in northwest Bali, is known as the temple of soul mates. Out of respect, visitors always have to wear a sarong in the temple. (Non-Hindus can't even visit some temples.) People go for blessings, at the end which you get a colored string tied around your arm, usually blue, red, black, white. I go for birthdays and special occasions, but many Hindus go every day.
3. Tirta Empul Temple
Tirta Empul Temple in Tampak Siring, about 45 minutes northeast of Ubud, is built on a beautiful source of spring water. Hindus go for monthly cleansing ceremonies, to wash away sins and to get a blessing. Visitors can go, do a ceremony, bring an offering, like a little food item, for the god. It's a little touristy, but it's also filled with locals.
4. Jatiluwih Rice Fields
These beautiful, cultivated rice fields on a hill near Mount Batur are very famous and have been nominated for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s green, green, green, surrounded by mountains on all sides. You need a guide: It’s not easy to drive up there. Go in the morning or afternoon, but not on weekends. That’s when the Balinese are there on pilgrimage. On holidays, don’t even think about it.
5. Ganesha Statue at Kedara
Bali is known as the island of the gods because there are an estimated 20,000 Hindu temples and shrines on the island. Every single house has a temple, and the Balinese perform ceremonies every day. We have ten temples on the grounds at Como Shambhala Estate. Some are tiny, some are big. The staff go during the day to pray. There's also a a source of holy water near the Water Garden, where the locals have built a temple to Ganesha. It is a very powerful energy center. You can't just walk in though; you need to be escorted by someone from the hotel.
One of the most important days on the Hindu calendar is Nyepi, the day of silence that begins the Balinese New Year. It's not very well known outside Bali, and it is so beautiful.
The beautiful thing is how colorful everything is. The night before Nyepi, the villages have exorcism ceremonies: They make monstrous papier-mache figures called Ogoh-Ogoh and then burn them to drive away evil spirits.
Nyepi, on the other hand, is a day of total silence, a cleansing day of diet, prayer, and family for the Balinese. The airports close, no one works, there is NOBODY on the streets. The hotel still operates, but guests are not allowed on the street, so we schedule activities like yoga, meditation, talks. The staff observes Nyepi a bit; we don’t schedule any meetings.
This year, we celebrated on March 12. Next year, Nyepi will be on March 31, 2014.
7. Ice Cream
Gaya in Ubud makes the best ice cream in Bali. They also have a restaurant of the same name. I go once a week, and my favorite flavor is mocha. I would never buy chocolate for myself, but ice cream is only treat I allow myself.
People change their lifestyle and eating habits when they come to Como. More water, more juice, less meat. I live on the Estate, and I mostly eat raw now. I have just about given up meat and carbohydrates, especially at night.
As for ayurvedic practices you can do anywhere, these are the easiest:
When you wake up in the morning, best thing you can do is have warm water and a splash of lime or lemon. Even before coffee. It's a wake-up call. It's energizing. The worst thing to do in the morning is drink something cold.
Then before you go to bed, have ginger tea or spiced almond milk. For ginger tea, boil ginger for a few minutes, let it steep, then add honey and lime or lemon. This is calming before bed. The almond milk, which we serve at the hotel, is made with nutmeg, cinnamon, and honey.
During the day, drink lemongrass infusions. Boil lemongrass and then drink it hot or cold. Very detoxifying. Don't drink it after 6 p.m., but do drink it instead of coffee.
And come to Bali!