THE rain continues to pelt down mercilessly outside. From where I’m seated inside my tour guide’s car, I can see the darkening sky, grey and moody. Unfortunately, February is the rainy season in Bali but this fact did not dampen my family’s enthusiasm over exploring this lovely part of the world. It’s their first time here for my kids, and they certainly were not going to let the elements spoil their trip.
Somehow the rain made the scenery appear more striking, or perhaps that’s just me being melancholic. Generally, the climate at Jatiluwih is cooler as it’s located about 700m above sea level. The rain records cooling temperatures of less than 19 degrees Celsius that makes one shiver whenever there’s a breeze.
Jatiluwih is about 48km from Denpasar and is situated in upstate Tabanan Town. It’s possible to enter from the east side through Pacung Village or from the west side from Watukaru Temple. When we arrive, we spot many tourists enjoying the cold weather and beautiful panorama of the rice terrace despite the rain.
According to my friendly guide Komang Sudiawan, if you ask the residents here about the origins of the name, they’ll tell you that Jatiluwih is a combination of two words, jaton (amulet) and luwih (good). So it can be concluded that at one time, this was a village that had amulets of great power. They’ll also tell you that in the middle of this village lies the graveyard of an ancient bird known as Jatayu, or Jentayu, as we know it.
When asked where the location of this ancient graveyard is, Komang merely shrugs his shoulders and replies that no one really knows. Although he piqued my interest considerably, I knew that it was pointless to pursue the subject any further.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
The roads to the rice terraces have been progressively improved enabling vehicles to travel with ease. The site was awarded Unesco World Heritage Site status in July 26, 2012, an accolade bestowed due to the uniqueness of the farming technique employed here.
It’s a traditional irrigation system known as the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy. This philosophy promotes harmony between Man and his neighbour, Man and nature, as well as Man and God.
Another reason for Unesco’s recognition of Jatiluwih as a World Heritage Site is because of the presence of a strong organisation that manages an irrigation system called Subak. The rice terrace covers 14 subaks and seven villages consisting of slightly more than 2,000 hectares of rice fields, about 3,500ha of garden, 9,000ha of forest, approximately 300ha of housing areas and almost 500ha of wild bushes.
Now Komang’s invitation for me to hike up the rice terrace becomes clear. It is indeed a hike. Visitors can either opt for a long walk, which is about three hours long, or a short walk, about half an hour, leading up to the Unesco signboard. A farmer will take you and your entourage through these facets of the rice terraces so you can see and understand how things works.
Captivated, I ask Komang how to tell where one farmer’s rice field starts and ends, considering that there are seven villages and many farmers. He grins before gesturing for me to walk with him to the ledge.
He points to a small structure, which he calls a temple, and explains that every “temple” denotes a different owner although the subak doesn’t discriminate owners as the irrigation system is for all to enjoy and benefit from. So at different terrace points there’ll be a temple.
The temples appear similar to each other, so how does one identify which is whose, I ask Komang. “Mereka sekampung mbak, jadi mereka kenal sawah padi ini milik siapa” (They’re all villagers here so they know who the padi fields belong to).
The local padi planted here is known as Padi Bali (Balinese paddy). The padi is relatively taller compared to the usual padi that we have in the Peninsula.
Padi Bali takes approximately 20 to 23 days to bear and needs to be cut immediately after the 23rd day or it will spoil. The other difference is that the grain is longer in size, about 30cm, compared to the ones we grow back home, which is only 20cm.
Komang goes on to explain that the grain is heavy and needs to be reaped quickly because if there are strong winds, everything will fall to the ground and be ruined.
Padi Bali is normally planted twice a year but it also depends on the demands imposed by the governing body. The grain is longer compared to ours, which is rounder. The taste is similar but it has less starch, so it’s said to be healthier. The people also plant brown rice at different sections of the terrace but only for local consumption.
In between breaks, the farmers plant nuts, bananas and vegetables to give the land a rest from continuous padi planting. This process allows the land to regain the nutrients it needs for the next round of the agricultural cycle. It’s also evident that the results of the farming and gardening are sufficient to meet the needs of the people.
Another interesting fact is that given the terrain of these rice terraces, there has never been any incidents of landslide to date. That’s certainly impressive, something that perhaps our country should take heed of and learn from.
If you want to enjoy the beautiful natural scenery that stretches as far as the eye can see, the best time to visit Jatiluwih would be between February to April. This is the time when the rice crop is tall and green. The rice crop would be ready for harvesting in the months of June and July and this is when everything looks golden and there’s a buzz of activities. These activities begin around 10am so you’ll need to leave early to avoid the traffic jams coming out of the town area.
Whichever season you pick, don’t forget to take pictures with the majestic Mount Watukaru in the background as Jatiluwih sits snug in its plateau where the view is mesmerising and the air, cool and calm.