Perambulator Mila Shwaiko’s latest adventure fossicking around in all those places you come to Ubud to see – not a “convenience” store in sight!
Welcome to a totally biased hour-by-hour ramble through Ubud’s streets. This fourth edition is all about Jalan Suweta and Jalan Kajeng . We’ll start by going north on Jl Suweta and cut over to Jl Kajeng for the afternoon.
If you stand at Ubud’s main crossroads (flanked by the Ubud Markets and the Puri Saren on two of its corners,) and look north, that is Jl Suweta. Otherwise known as the street that Ibu Oka’s Babi Guling is on, but we won’t talk about that. Jl Suweta is actually named after a veteran of the Indonesian independence struggle who lived about 100 meters up the road. The street’s main claim to fame is that it is home to around 5 puris (or palaces as the guides like to call them) so it’s great for all the architecture fans and/or royalty watchers.It was also the first street to get phone lines in Ubud because of this phenomenon.
So start walking north and admire the beautiful carved gates on the left and the giant banyan tree with the kulkul and unlucky kites that get stuck in it every kite flying season (July and August.) One of my favorite gates in Ubud is on your right at the Merajan Agung.
Still on your right is our first stop, the Rio Helmi Gallery and Café (http://riohelmi.com/rio-helmi-gallery-cafe/ ). Haven’t had your coffee or breakfast yet? Perfect. Step right this way, folks. You also get to feed your eyes with hands down the best photos of Bali you will ever see. Grab one of Rio’s display books and learn something new about Bali with your brownie, gluten free cupcake, or mushrooms on toast. Right opposite Rio’s is a beautiful little temple, without intricate carvings or gold bits, its pared down beauty is a personal favorite.
Leaving Rio’s, stay on the right hand side and in seconds you will come across Ibu Putri and her magic jamu herbal drinks. Ibu Putri is medicine woman to half the neighborhood and you hear people discussing their lungs, joints and general pains as she mixes a special blend for them. She prepares all the jamu fresh every morning at 3 am and her bright yellow hands are the proof. So get a glass and talk to her other customers if you want a glimpse of the everyday in Jl Suweta.
Keep on the same side and you’ll find some more beautiful statues and gates at Merajan Batur Sari temple. Check out the old porcelain plates embedded in the walls and the unconnected light bulbs on the high points – the height of decorating back in the day, before electricity, before the ubiquitous prada, before the monumental black andesite make overs.
Now you can cross over to the other side and walk on the left of the street until you find Nadis Herbal Store. Nadis offers herbal walks where you can learn all about what goes into Jamu and about Bal’s living pharmacies as they take you on a three hour exploration of the Balinese landscape. If you just want to shop, check out Nadis for fabulous handmade incense, Balinese lulur body scrubs, face masks, bath salts and a huge range of natural products.
After you leave Nadis, take the first tiny laneway to your left and keep going till you get to Jl Kajeng, or the street full of writing. Jl Kajeng’s claim to fame is its crowd sourced paving blocks. Starting from 1976, visitors paid for the cement blocks for the street and in turn were able to leave a message in the wet cement. The latest batch dates from 2012. So watch your feet as you walk over a time capsule from Ubud. The older messages are often whimsical and romantic, the newer ones often just straight advertising of restaurants and hotels. Here a few of my favorites, including my very own, first done in 1983.
Anyway, when you pop out of the laneway, turn right and keep walking until you find Threads of Life (http://threadsoflife.com/) on the right hand side. I never get tired of coming in here. It’s as much of a museum and gallery as it is a shop filled with amazing Indonesian textiles, baskets and other pieces. Every item has a story and, more importantly, the name of the person who made it. These are real Indonesian products that give back to the expert hands that made them. Threads of Life offers courses and educational experiences for anyone interested in learning more about natural dyes, weaving techniques and textile histories.
Finally time to go back south, or downhill. Jl Kajeng doesn’t have a single “convenience”, Polo, or cheap knockoff handbag store on it, so take the time to stick your head into some original shops that have been here for decades, filled with batik, carvings, paintings and other souvenirs. The signs are still wooden and hand lettered and the women looking after the stores are almost all residents of the street. Grab a fresh juice at one of the many small restaurants and warung and watch the street life. Jl Kajeng is also homestay central if you are looking for a place to stay with a local family in their compound.
Almost at the end of Jl Kajeng, before the final hill slopes down, are two traditional Balinese painting shops. Not many of them are left in town, so support the artists that made Ubud famous and pick your favorite. Don’t forget to keep reading the road!
By now you must be hungry. Just opposite the painting shops is an Ubud institution – Han Snel’s. Han Snel (1925–1998) was a well known Dutch painter born in Scheveningen, who moved to Indonesia in the 1940s to paint the island of Bali. Snel converted to Hinduism and became a citizen of Indonesia (thanks, Wikipedia!). He married a beautiful Balinese woman, Siti, and made a small hotel (http://sitibungalow.com/ ) and painted away. The always elegant Siti still runs the hotel and now the restaurant is known as Il Giardino (http://ilgiardinobali.com/ ). Head in for some history, art appreciation at the Han Snel Museum and some seriously good Italian food set in a tropical garden with resident ducks and lotus flowers to keep you entertained for the rest of the afternoon.