In my close to half a century of living in Bali I have never been to Buleleng for Pagerwesi. I’ve always heard (and parroted) people say that Pagerwesi is much more special for people in Buleleng than in the other regions of Bali.

words and images ©Rio Helmi

To be honest whenever I hear “Buleleng” I always think the government administrative regency which stretches over nearly all of northern Bali, not an actual village which lies in the heart of Singaraja. When I ask Sugi Lanus (my go-to informant on all things northern Bali) he re-emphazises it on Whats App; “Desa Buleleng” – it’s the village. It just goes to show that the longer you live in a place the more ignorant about it you are…

The other thing I find out is that Pagerwesi is only a big day in the town of Singaraja itself, not the outlying areas. I start bugging ‘locals’ Sonia Piscayanti Ole and Adnyana Ole, (who are actually pretty cosmopolitan locals). Over the phone Adnyana gives me directions to the temple and cemetery where the early morning ‘action’ happens. I have to laugh – it’s straight down the road from Bedugul, you don’t even have to turn. I’ve been by at least 100 times and never paid attention. The longer you live in a place…

Having packed most of the gear on the bike the night before, I roll out the gates from Ubud at 4:05. Going up to Bedugul in the dark I’m a tad more cautious than usual. I’m annoyed at myself for only getting 4 hours sleep, I’m a little woozy. Thankfully there is very light traffic so I make it in about 35 minutes to Bedugul.  I’d been admiring the moon on the way up and wishing I had left 30 minutes earlier – I could have snapped some of the spectacular moonscapes that kept popping up out in the clear sky to my left. At the lakeside in Bedugul I stop and break out my thermos of hot tea, and wolf down a cold boiled egg and some sunflower seeds.

Feeling slightly more human, I set out again for Singaraja, over the ridge to the winding, steep twisties. Up there the thermometer on the bike says 17 Celsius. It’s hard to tell how accurate that is given the wind chill factor and the engine heat. But I can feel the chill through my layers. 30 minutes later, I’m in front of the Pura Dalem Pekraman Buleleng in Singaraka, sweating as soon as I stop. People are streaming in and out, and the stairs are almost foggy with incense smoke. The sky is slowly becoming brighter (it’s now 5:20), and a very bright, blinding overhead light makes like the moon. People are super friendly, everyone says good morning, and are absolutely delighted when I answer in Balinese. Several offer me cakes and fruits from the offerings that they are bringing back home. Bali as it used to be.

Top, Above and Below: scenes from the Pura Dalem Pekeraman Buleleng early in the morning of Pagerwesi.

Above: Limbering up at dawn in the old port of Singaraja.

It seems no one is in the cemetery yet, and I’m told it won’t be so busy this time “because we’ve just had a mass cremation, so not many families have relatives still up there.”. I decide to head to the old port of Singaraja and have my proper picnic breakfast there. As the dawn creeps in people trickle in, I notice mainly non-Balinese. People start exercising, limbering up. As the sun rises I soak my muesli in almond milk (gotta try everything at least once right?) and get stuck into it. I snap some pics then  roll around town.

Finally I find myself going up the slope past the  same temple – I notice scooters and cars parked up in the cemetery on the hill. I turn in and am rewarded. There are several families there. They have brought food for their deceased, but they also are partaking in food themselves. It’s a delightfully friendly scene. Down below in the distance the eastern part of Singaraja seems far away.

Above: A fun, friendly, family affair including the dear deceased.

Heading up the mountain to Bedugul, I decide to call in on Sonia’s dad, Gede Pastika (not to be confused with Bali’s former governor!). I don’t know him from Adam but I find the family compound. Everybody in the  Bale Agung neighborhood  knows where it is: the mother of Indonesia’s first President, Soekarno, Ida Nyoman Rai Srimben was born and raised here. Gede Pastika is in fact a cousin of Megawati. The family compound turns out to be the clan compound, more like a village in its own right.

I pop into to the house within the compound where Ida Nyoman Rai Srimben grew up with her grandmother. Pak Pastika is still in the temple – the Pura Desa (village temple) Bale Agung is literally next door. A small side door connects the compound to the temple courtyard: temple pemangkus (priests) from this Brahmin clan used to look after the temple. Another discreet gate opens into the clan shrine courtyard.

Above left: a side door leading from the compound straight into the Pura Desa. Above right: the entrance to the clan shrine.  Below: Pak Pastika, his brothers, a nephew, and a Balinese speaking “tourist”( yours truly). A painting of Soekarno’s mother, Ida Nyoman Rai Srimben is behind us,

As I wait, I think every elderly man coming into the compound is Pastika, but they are either brothers or cousins. And they all are artists of some kind or other. That definitely runs in the family. And what they all are is super friendly. Finally Pak Pastika comes in. He’s very affable, and together with his brothers they fill me in with anecdotes from Ida Nyoman Rai Srimben’s life. The family shrine is just outside the house, so everyone comes thru and they all are greeted warmly. Life seems slower and more filled with quality in Singaraja!

As I take my leave Pak Pastika insists on walking me through some of the compound. I’m getting dizzy, there are doors and gates everywhere, and we haven’t even left yet! He seems to keep tabs on everyone, greeting them. Upwards of fifty family units live here, which in Bali puts the total number of inhabitants up in the hundreds! He isn’t ready to let me go yet. We got to his personal house (actually outside of the compound).  Sonia and Adnyana aren’t back yet from Tabanan but I meet her niece, who speaks to me in perfect English. And her mother who is a dancer. And her sister who is a teacher and is interested in setting up coding classes for young children. As I take all this in I remind myself that Singaraja has long been Bali’s foremost center of education – especially for my generation.

Finally it’s time to head home. Sweating again, I wrestle three scooters (locked steering of course) that have blocked me in and manage to turn the beemer around in the lane. Up the slope to Bedugul the road is dry, lots of fun flicking through the curves. Near the top I come to the rather nasty new bypass construction that cuts through the landscape. Not only will it take the fun out of this road but it is really messing up some of the farms there. The same goes for Bedugul. Some silly engineer has designed a bypass flyover on the western shore of Lake Bratan that is completely ruining the landscape like a giant concrete caterpillar. Further down in Baturiti at the Eka Jaya Mom and Pop shop I stop in to buy some seeds for the farm – pumpkins and red chillies. By the time I’m home, it’s almost time for lunch but I’m exhausted. After jumping into the plunge pool I snooze on the living room couch for almost an hour. After lunch, the devil sneaks up and makes me write this rambling blog.


Ubud, 11th December 2019


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