Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
There’s nothing much at Nyambu Village, Tabanan. It’s a Balinese village that had just officially opened its doors to visitors April 2016 and now seeking function as a tourism destination. Nyambu is so raw, very little sugar coated for tourism. It’s the ‘non-touristy’ the off the beaten destination people have been looking for, especially those that are looking for the authentic Bali experience. When people ask me “What’s there to see?’, I can only say ‘Not much. But it’s perfect!’
Thanks to the British Council, we were invited to see this authentic Balinese experience. Life in Nyambu wasn’t too traditional, but even with that said the Balinese tradition was dense with information. I was definitely overwhelmed by their livelihood, all summarized in two packages that they have prepared for curious visitors.
Passing the west coast of Bali, I’ve always wanted to walk in between the rice paddies. The undulating terrain seemed appealing, refreshingly green and serene. But, I never knew whose land I’d be trotting on or would I be trespassing or how the whole Balinese rice paddy system worked. That day, it finally came true.
At Nyambu, there’s a program where the locals will take you around the rice paddies and explain to you about the Subak system, which seemed very intricate. It’s about 2-hour walk through the fields with a guide. There’s a lot of daily ritual and overall tradition that is still applied in the system. From the 11.5 cm measurement of irrigation width for each rice patch to the community function, all were structured and maintained for generations. There was so many interesting and lovely minor information that I enjoyed, such as the Nyambu people believe that when a rice paddy is 2 months old, it’s considered pregnant. The rice paddies are then given ‘sour’ offerings, similar to sour cravings of a pregnant woman, just to keep the rice paddies happy.
The Subak system also maintains ecosystems within the field for many creatures and organism that keep the environment healthy. The humans are part of the system, preparing offerings to birds that signifies that we have to share what we have, even to animals. The rice paddy system has a horizontal and vertical relationship. All this gave me a warm fuzzy feeling on how the Balinese respect nature.
Most people in Nyambu are farmers and they pray daily to the gods at small temples and small shrines scattered around the rice fields. There’s one that signifies the beginning location of the village, another was to respect the spirits that happen to gather at one spooky spot, another at each rice fields. A lot! They are also known to be the ‘6-7’ farmers. Everyday, during 6-7 o’clock, a.m. and p.m., they would check their fields, unless it’s harvest time. During the day, they do other jobs like being hard labors, tailors, etc.
I’ve believed this for some time now, but personally I’m reminded how Bali is so blessed. The people sacrifice and offer so much to their gods, it’s no wonder that the island is abundant with beauty and richness.
I was very much impressed with Dewi, my guide and homestay host, as she explained the system to us. As the next generation, she seemed enthusiastic and genuine about her culture and way of living. She didn’t look too enthusiastic with whatever the kids were doing these days. She kept her hair long like most Balinese girls, she sews outside of the ‘6-7’ hours and she was exuberant during the official opening, because it had been a year of trainings building up to that day.
This tour kind of blew my brains out. It was intensely dense and a little much to digest. The history of the village and the explanation of the four Balinese temples left my brain saturated to a point I could absorb very little.
Nyambu Village used to be a warzone. It was highly abandoned to a point where the king offered free land to those that would want to live there. With land, I guess, people chose to plant food, rice in particular. It’s now part of an extensive rice paddy field of Tabanan. The cultural tour includes walk to several temples and the making of a canang. Bli Satria broke everything down to the wire, leaving my brain soft like a vegetable, feeling stupid hardly knowing anything about the Balinese culture.
I did remember a few conclusions such as the north and east direction of the compass is very important for the Nyambu people because that’s the direction of the mountains, where they believe they should cast their prayers. Nyambu people has been through a few different Hindu systems, from separating the temples to combining altars for the three main gods, Brahma, Siwa and Wisnu.
Interestingly, the Balinese year is 420 days, which means they’re actually younger in numbers than everyone else on the regular calendar. So be a Balinese if you want to stay young. My favorite info has to be the fact that the temple behind Pura Rsi, which is located amongst rice paddies, had to be moved about 1.5 meters just to prevent it from constant collapsing. Freaky!
See? A lot of information!
By the end of the day, we were on bikes riding through a very short route to the last tea session. Aside to the bike, which I really liked, the tea time in the afternoon was spent with a painting class, mentored by the local painter Nyoman. Somehow, the packed information during the whole day easily blended with a simple silent treatment in front of a blank canvas and limitless amount of paint. Surprisingly, it was one of the best relaxing sessions, especially after a boiled up brain.
Getting to know the people is to immerse in their lives. I took a chance to be the first official guest at Dewi’s homestay. A room was set for guests with twin bed, with access to the clean family bathroom. No AC, but the mornings are slightly cooler than expected.
You can’t beat the authentic Bali experience when staying at Dewi’s house. Their home is a simple Balinese compound with a dog farm, with puppies. The mother cooks, makes cakes and ‘canang’s to sell. Dewi’s cousin, Yeni, also lives with her. Their parents are 6-7 farmers who head out to be hard labors during work hours. Waking up to a family like theirs is such a homey feeling. Seeing them start the day with a prayer and daily routine really let me see the regular Balinese life. Definitely recommended for those that want to be amongst the people.
Rooms are IDR 150,000 / person, including pre-breakfast and breakfast. Yes, the Balinese have a weird tradition of having coffee and snacks before breakfast, usually of fried rice or noodles; the pre-breakfast. There are 2 homestays in Nyambu, another is at Pak Nyoman’s house, the painter.
For more information you can check out the village’s social media:
I was invited to the launch Nyambu Ecotourism program, initiated by British Council and Pt. Langgeng Kreasi Jaya Prima, and assisted by Wisniu Foundation. But the opinions are all mine.