We’re in a raw, vegan café in the Ubud hills. On a low bench by the front sits a man in his forties wearing a leather headband that drips a series of feathers. At the table next to us an earnest conversation about the failings of modern health practice in the West is taking place. The issue relates to mudrās. Sipping a mango smoothie our neighbor, in affected Californian, states unequivocally:
You know the praaaablem? The praaaablem is that Western yoga has really failed to embrace the mudrās.
My sister and I try to stifle a giggle.
Ubud. Sometimes you are just too much.
Actually, it’s not Ubud’s fault. I blame it on Eat, Pray, Love and Elizabeth Gilbert and of course Javier Bardem. Also a bit on the Australian dollar and post colonialism and all the first world problems. You’ll see them all over Ubud these days. People who have come to self-actualise and find themselves. They wear headpieces and ponytails on the side and slip dresses with no bra and vests over scrawny torsos. They are very tanned but they are still white.
There is a delicious irony here. The Eat, Pray, Lovers are all here seeking authenticity; their presence creates, at times, the most awkward parody.
And I can’t escape that with each visit I am part of this picture. I’m not always comfortable with the portrait, but the destination is a stunning one. And this is where my perplexing relationship with Ubud finds its resting place – somewhere between the beauty of the place and the kindness of people and it’s descent into a theme park devoted to Western navel gazing.
My sister and I first came here as kids in the 1980s. We stayed in a wooden hut with our parents, our hair went white and our skin brown. The pool was unchlorinated and my sister got school sores. The artist village we stayed then in now a sprawling resort that serves western food. These days so much has changed.
We swan into Denpasar airport on $400 return airfares, escaping the heat wave back home. An air-conditioned car and personal driver greets us at the airport to ferry us to our hotel in the jungle. We pay $70 a night for a room in a hotel with 5 infinity pools perched on the Tjampuhan ridge.
We get massages every day for between $7-10 an hour. We are anointed with oil, our chakras are balanced with hot stones, we are scrubbed in lulur, we are wrapped in batik, our hair is given a cream-bath, we are polished and washed.
At each meal we dine on platforms and pillows, in rice paddies by candlelight. We eat suckling pig and 24-hour smoked duck and panna cotta and a 6-course degustation. We are waited on hand and foot, we have endless mineral water, someone has found a way of eliminating all the mosquitos that attack our pale skin.
During the day we avoid eye contact with the mangy dogs and the beggars on the street. We gingerly step over open drains and avoid using the toilets. We comment on the amount of rubbish by the river.
Everyone is always so nice.
And at night, engulfed in cliché of the sound of a million cicadas, I wonder what the real Ubud is. The one I can hardly remember that existed before the women and men who come here in their kaftans to do yoga, write books, and find themselves in this beautiful place. I also wonder whether its people are stifling giggles at us too as they look upon the self-indulgence that now props up this, the most lovely of villages, high in the mountains.
Our guilty details:
We stayed at Beiji Resort Ubud
We ate at:
We were pampered at Putri Spa.
Photo gallery (see it really is lovely)