I sat down in front of an elderly Balinese man. While he was small of stature, he had a presence that enveloped me. This was Cokorda ‘Cok’ Rai, a 96-year-old shaman and the grandson of the last King of Ubud. I smiled as I sat down, wanting to project an air of confidence despite feeling nervous as heck about what this renowned healer would pick up about my energy and health.
Many people travel to Bali for cheap shopping, cocktails on the beach and a chance to relax. My purpose for visiting this Indonesian country for the first time was very different. I was on an Eat Pray Love-type quest and it had brought me from the beautiful high-end beach community of Seminyak out into the tropical surrounds of Ubud.
Just like Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the aforementioned international bestseller, I had found myself on a spiritual day tour, where myself and a small group of friends would be taken to meet the famed Cok Rai (pronounced ‘chock rai’) before being whisked to Tirta Empul, the Balinese Water Temple, to cleanse our spirits in the fountains. We would then be meeting with one of the many palm readers in Ubud.
It sounded like fun. I underestimated the power of what was about to unfold.
Here I was, inside Cok Rai’s stunning compound where he lived with his extended family as all Balinese do. There were intricate temples for their daily worship and we were allowed to explore at will. But I was pulled straight to the small, thatched-roof hut where he sat, quietly powerful, in a wooden chair.
We each took it in turns to approach the shaman, some with concerns and others, like myself, simply curious to see what he would be able to pick up without me uttering a word. He saw right through my smile, by the way. Simply stating, “You are very happy, you laugh a lot, but there is also great sadness.”
“Darn it!” I thought. “He’s seen right through me.” He wouldn’t have his incredible reputation without having this ability. So, he set about curing my worry and my sadness, promptly pinching one of the toes on my left foot, causing excruciating pain to shoot up my left leg. “This is where your pain and worry sits,” he explained, before performing some energy healing. When he pinched the same spot again, I felt nothing.
This cynic had been converted. Now, I was open and willing to take on Tirta Empul, with the firm belief that I could truly make a mental shift that day.
The temple was a hive of activity. Our tour guide explained it is where all of the locals go before weddings, major celebrations and after farewelling loved ones in funerals. We went through the tradition of donning a sarong to cover our swimsuits and were directed in the correct process of being blessed at the fountains.
We moved through a series of six fountains, performing the same ritual at each one, before moving onto a second set of fountains, which were dedicated to removing curses, curing nightmares and having the opportunity to say a prayer or make a wish for something to come true.
The spring water that feeds the fountains emerges through the volcanic soil just metres from where it cascades out of the mouths of the Balinese sculptures and into the pools.
Feeling refreshed, and a little chilled from standing in the icy cool waters of the pools, we changed and went off to Puri Pandawa to meet a husband and wife team for our palm reading. Everything inside their compound was spectacularly purple.
We each took it in turns to have our reading, which was done the traditional way. The wife was the reader, carefully examining my palm and channelling her thoughts as they came. The husband was my translator, letting me know in English what she could tell from my palm and what she was predicting for my future.
This felt a little less impactful given the intensity of my previous two experiences that day, but it was interesting, nonetheless, to see that some of what I was being told here had also been mentioned by Cok Rai just hours earlier, on the opposite side of Ubud.
As we were being driven back to our mountainside villa surrounded by rainforest, I had the perfect setting to reflect on everything that had just transpired. Our driver said I had an opportunity to wash my slate clean that day and could now begin to fill up my spiritual cup with all of the things I desired.
It’s true I felt more at peace that day than I had in a long time and gained a new respect for spiritual practice and how it governs the way of life for the Balinese, something I would never have been able to comprehend if I’d remained beachside in Seminyak simply taking in stunning sunsets and bargaining with vendors for gifts to take home.
This is a side of Bali I have truly fallen in love with.
IF YOU GO:
Bali is a popular destination for Aussie travellers, so every major airline regularly offers discounted flights to Denpasar.
Ubud is about 50 kilometres from Denpasar, but the time it takes to travel that distance varies greatly depending on the time of day. While there are some arterial roads through Bali, you will most likely be forced to navigate a series of chicken run back roads if you are planning to travel during peak times of the day. This can easily push your travel time out from around an hour to a couple of hours.
It is always a good idea to build in a time buffer to allow for this when planning your travels.