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Beautiful Rice Terraces in Bali, a Resort Island -- Kyo Fuyusawa

Travel to Natural Heritages

Beautiful Rice Terraces in Bali, a Resort Island


Bali is famous as a tourist resort. The image of Bali for many tourists may be one of Hindus, gamelans, or temples. Shopping for handicrafts is popular among tourists these days. Some tourists don't find out about the beautiful rice terraces in Bali until they arrive on the island. Let me introduce you to them here.

Bali is famous as a tourist resort. The image of Bali for many tourists may be one of Hindus, gamelans, or temples. Shopping for handicrafts is popular among tourists these days. Some tourists don't find out about the beautiful rice terraces in Bali until they arrive on the island. Let me introduce you to them here.

Bali's Rice Terraces Have Fascinated Many Photographers and Artists

Bali, an Indonesian island, is one of the most famous resorts in Southeast Asia. Annually, 1.4 million tourists visit Bali. Bali is known as an island of faith and art, and there are many tourist attractions, such as beaches, temples, folk art, and traditional dances. The beautiful scenery, that includes the rice terraces, is also well known. Ubud, a city in the center of the island, is one of the main sightseeing areas, containing bungalows of high-grade hotels such as the Four Seasons Resort, located on the Ayung River.

You may not be able to picture rice terraces in Bali. But in fact, the rice terraces of Bali became famous because of their beauty, which resembles that of miniature gardens. Many photographers and artists have introduced this gorgeous scenery to the world.

Bali is a volcanic island. There is Mt. Agung on the east side of the island, which is 3142 m (ca. 10300 ft) high, and has a beautiful conic shape. Mt. Batur is in the north part of the island, and Mt. Batukau in the center. Each of them has a crater with an outer rim, and are active volcanically. Mt. Agung and Mt. Batur have both erupted in the past decades, and there have been many victims. The eruption of Mt. Agung in March, 1963 is especially famous, because it caused the world temperature to drop.

Rice terraces in Bali have a close relationship with the volcanic topography. Since the slopes of mountains have deep layers of volcanic ash, water is barely retained. The temperature is low in places higher than 1000 m (ca. 3300 ft) above sea level, and the jungles grow there. However, there are fields or bamboo thickets in places lower than 1000 m above sea level. Along the deep valleys created by erosion, there are rice terraces on the steep slopes, which look like miniature gardens. On the mountains lower than 500 m (ca. 1600 ft), you can see these magnificent rice terraces. You can also see many rice terraces covering whole valleys and slopes, from Pupuan on the western side of the island, to Tabanan on the southern side. The landscape with continuous waves of rice terraces is majestic.

Bali has a tropical savanna climate, and the temperature is around 27 degrees centigrade (ca. 80 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the year. The rainy season is from October to April. Since the temperature is stable and rice plants can be cultivated anytime, double cropping or even triple cropping is possible. Because of this, the landscape alternates between fields that are harvested, fields planted with green rice plants, and fields where rice seedlings have been transplanted.

Irrigation bolsters rice farming in Bali, and farmers have practiced irrigation for 1000 years. One of the main water sources is fountains, where underflow water wells up. Water is conducted to rice terraces through tunnels dug inside volcanic rocks, or by bridging bamboo pipes over small valleys. Water is indispensable not only for supplying water to rice fields, but for people's daily activities, such as washing and bathing. Each irrigation channel is managed by a community called a "sbak". Similar to "yui", a Japanese agricultural community, the sbak collectives not only manage irrigation, but also cooperative work performed in the community, as well as weddings or funerals.

There are more than 20,000 temples in Bali, which is an island of faith. These temples also have a close relationship with the sbak groups: each sbak holds rites whenever the transplantation of rice seedlings or harvesting is performed. The representative of the sbak will pay a devotional visit to temples, such as the Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, where water is worshiped. After presenting an offering, the sbak representative brings back the sacred water. There are shrines in the rice fields to worship the god of rice.

In areas with huge rice fields, trunk water lines constructed by the provincial engineering bureau provides irrigation. This irrigation system is called "irrigasi."

The Present State of Rice Terraces, and their Danger of Tapering Off

Rice terraces in Bali are prospering so far. There are few industries other than the travel industry in Bali, and most people rely on agriculture or tourism for their work. Jobs have decreased in the past few years, because of the economic crisis in Indonesia. Agriculture in Bali is not as mechanized as agriculture in Japan. Therefore, rice terraces are not abandoned, as in Japan, where fields are abandoned when it is not possible to use agricultural machinery on the land. Few automatic cultivators seem to be in use in Bali, where cultivation is mainly done by people and oxen. I drove along the farm villages for about 800 km (ca. 1300 mi), but never saw combine harvesters or rice-planting machines. Incidently, people believe that spirits inhabit the ears of rice, so only women harvest crops with their own hands.

It is becoming difficult to preserve rice terraces in Bali, despite their popularity with tourists. If the valley is deep, the amount of sunshine that filters through is weak, and working on such steep slopes is hard. It may be much more profitable to sell souvenirs to the increasing number of Japanese tourists, at prices hundreds of times higher than the local ones. When I was taking pictures of rice terraces famed for their beauty near a sightseeing spot, I was surrounded by clamoring souvenir sellers. For the sellers, tourists are their agriculture.

When I was taking pictures of Tanah Lot Temple, a famous temple built at a seashore, I talked with a group of high school students, who said they were taking an out-of-school English class, and wanted to practice their English conversation by talking with foreigners. When I asked them if they wanted to work in agriculture, all of them said, "No." This doesn't bode well for the future of agriculture in Bali. After the period of spectacular economic growth after WWII in Japan, farm villages lost population, and rice terraces were abandoned. I hope the same thing doesn't happen in Bali.

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