Miracle of the Lychee Tree

By Mark Ulyseas

For The Bali Times

It will be one year on October 18, 2007, since I witnessed a miracle at the Ulan Danu Songan Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. I have attempted to recreate my experience in words. Forgive me if I have overlooked anything of importance. Please write to the editor, William J. Furney (editor@thebalitimes.com), if you have had similar experiences and would like to share it with readers of The Bali Times.

October 17, 2006, Seminyak: This saga started with an innocent conversation with Made, the bartender at my favorite watering hole. Whenever I walk in he summons me to the bar and cross-questions me about my day. It’s an excepted norm to be interrogated by every Balinese that one encounters. Where you live? What you do? And do you have girl? They think you are mentally retarded if you don’t have a girlfriend. God forbid if you tell them you don’t have one. They’ll offer to “introduce” you to a few pretty girls and probably arrange your marriage (absolutely frightening).

Anyway, on this day I am in no mood for chitchat, so I order my usual double and sit down with my bowl of peanuts, gazing like a zombie at the other guests, tired after a day’s work walking the beach photographing bikinis for a design project. Just then, John, my Aussie buddy, walks in. He greets me with a question as to what I am drinking, orders one for himself and settles down at my table. Made saunters over to my table, points to me and suggests to John that he show me the volcanoes, as if they were some local beauties on display.

October 18, 2006, On the road: So here I am, sitting in a jeep next to an Aussie, driving down Sunset Road to Ubud, tucked away in the hilly area of central Bali.

It’s five in the morning and John asks me if I want a beer. I growl and he keeps quiet. Dylan is screaming his head off on the CD player, “Times are a changing,” and how I wish they would. We reach Ubud in 40 minutes, on our way to Kintamani, which is another hour’s drive further up into the mountains. We arrive at Kintamani, a hill station of sorts that has a number of warungs and hotels. I notice for the first time that the hill people are different from those I have met on Kuta Beach. It’s only after my trip do I fathom the reason. And so will you after you have journeyed with us.

If you are a dog lover, you will be interested to know that the Kintamani dog is famous for its demeanor and luxuriant coat. I take a few pictures of a Kintamani puppy out on an early morning walk with his pretty mistress. I like the mistress; about the dog, opinions may be divided.

When we drive down into the valley, our first stop is at Toya Bungkah. It has hot springs. We don’t see any springs here, only hotels offering piped hot spring water. John decides to park at the first hotel we come across. The manager, a bright young fellow named Swastika, is most helpful. He shows us around the beautiful complex that has manicured lawns, a pool with piped hot spring water and a swimming pool with fresh water. Swastika generously offers us the facility of the pool free of charge but I politely decline without telling him the reason. I cannot swim and John is already swimming in beer.

We leave the place and stop at the Trekking Guides Office. The chap at the office is courteous and shows me the notice board that indicates the charges and the printer’s devil gone berserk – “We serve all our best provide safety and easiness for all of our convenience at reasonable price.” I agree with the chap about the rates but am doubtful about the English.

We are soon on our way down the winding road to Songan, where we park next to a temple complex near the edge of Lake Batur, unaware that we have come here on an auspicious day, when the pemangku (priest) from the village and those from surrounding areas have arrived to pray at the Ulan Danu Batur Songan Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. John decides to sit it out in a warung conversing with the locals while I adorn a deep yellow sarong, cover my head and enter the temple complex.

As I enter the temple, Hero Punia, a temple priest, gently holds my arm and asks me the purpose of my visit and my nationality. I tell him and he breaks into a wide smile (this is the natural reaction of any Balinese when they come to know that you are Indian) and then he tells me of the lychee tree in one corner of the complex. He takes me to the tree and makes me stand under it. I begin to feel a drizzle, my head becomes damp and water droplets trickle down my face. Soon my shirt is soaking wet. I move out of its shade and remove my camera from its case to photograph the phenomenon. Hero Punia whispers in my ear that the last time the tree “rained holy water” was in 1997.

I take photographs of the weeping leaves to the constant chorus of crickets that seem to be singing a song none of us can comprehend. The chorus rises and falls with the wind. It’s strange that the crickets are singing at high noon, but I dismiss the feeling of the hair rising on the back of my neck and begin to concentrate on photographing the holy men who have come from afar to pray at the temple. I can hear the low chanting of the Gayatri Mantra by a group of schoolchildren visiting the temple. They have come to pray to Lord Vishnu that the holy water from the lychee tree will protect them from harm.

I ask Hero Punia the significance of the tree. He tells me that all the villages in the area live in constant fear of the Batur and Agung volcanoes. In fact, every so often, an offering is placed in Lake Batur to appease the Gods. He says the area is fertile and the harvest of the famous aromatic onions, chilies, tomatoes and cabbage had been good in recent years. He is hoping the sign of the “raining holy water” from the lychee tree is a forbearer of more good fortune for the area. With folded hands I wish him and his people well and he blesses me with instructions to bring a CD of Indian Bhajans on my next visit to the temple.

It’s only when you have travelled around in Bali that you will truly understand the deep affection that the Balinese have for Indian Hindus, Hindi films and Bhajans (not necessarily in that order). The gentle villagers call me Shah Rukh Khan (?). The children scamper by shouting, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. John looks confused, as he cannot understand this connection. I tell him that Asians by nature are one and he would have to be reborn into an Asian family to understand what is happening around us. He smiles and says he would always be an Aussie. God bless his soul.

John gets restless, so we are off down the road, heading for the lava field on the other side of the Batur volcano. He loses his way in the narrow village roads but soon we are back onto a road that resembles the ruins of Pompeii. Trucks laden with volcanic ash rumble along the dusty potholed road.

We reach the lava field late in the afternoon. I walk across the scorched earth, treading carefully. A word of caution: don’t wear flip-flops. The treacherous, protruding lava is as sharp as a thousand scalpels. Add this cheerful advice to the fact that the area is infested with snakes. This is why the authorities insist you take a guide; it’s not just business but your safety that the Balinese are concerned about. I didn’t, as John is probably one of the best guides on the island.

Travelling from Kintamani down into the Batur Valley and up the side roads back to Kintamani is like passing through a paradise where God’s hand has painted a perfect picture of Eden with Batur as the forbidden tree. The villages on the way seem to be untouched by the bikini crowd of Kuta Beach. No Kuta Cowboys or topless sunbathers here. The heavenly bodies are fruit trees, ricefields and lush green forests. This is pristine, rural Bali.

At dusk, when we return to the villa in Batu Belig, I wonder if we are still in Bali or have arrived in another country. Bali is a small island but its diversity is fascinating. The common thread that binds this whole island together is the spirit of its people, the reverence for life, for nature and their Gods. It is the complete acceptance of life as it is without any prejudice that makes this island so unique.

I will revisit the temple this October 18, 2007, to pray for the wealth, happiness and peace of the wonderful Balinese friends I have made on the way; also for this island that continues to remain a refuge for lost souls who are routinely washed up on its beaches searching for themselves.

If there is anyone who wants the universe to grant them a wish, please join me.

Who knows, maybe we will witness another miracle.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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