I’d seen bits the film, I hadn’t read the book. You know what I am talking about: “Eat, Pray, Love”. I was aware that Julia Roberts had gone to Italy to eat pasta and visited India to be silent. I was unaware of what Ubud even was, or more so what it represented, until I was advised by so many to come here and discovered for myself..
Ubud seems to be home to women who want to “find themselves”. I know that seems judgmental and hypocritical of me, given the blog, but I found it to be completely contrived and overly hyped. I am not devoid of spirituality myself, and am very interested in Eastern philosopy and beliefs. However, here’s what you see in Ubud:
- Overpriced yoga fitness courses, meditation and ridiculous classes like “Laughter Yoga” and hula hooping taught by Western teachers.
- Overpriced vegan/ raw/ eco-friendly/ paleo/ gluten free/ organic restaurants, smoothie/ juice shops and cafes that are NEVER frequented by the local Balinese. Only Westerners. “Hi, which of these juices will give me enlightenment?”
- Overpriced vegan, handmade, organic soaps/ shampoos/ vitamins. Imported from Europe. Carbon footprint is good for the environment.
- Overpriced wind chimes, prayer flags, stylish mala beads and other things white people think are “spiritual”
- Overpriced stylish yoga clothes. Am sure your guru Swami Whatever is always looking his lycra clad best at the ashram/ Yoga Barn. After all, you can’t reach Nirvana in that outfit.
- People with dreadlocks in their hair – unless you had an Afro, there is NO excuse for that. Oh, you’re backpacking? If only there was shampoo, running water or hair dressers here. See point 3 anyways. I’m all for raging against the machine, fighting the man and still being hygienic.
- Cliche tattoos on ankles, wrists and backs: Tribal. Sanskrit. Mandalas. Quotes. So many Om tattoos…
- Modern day hippie parents who carry their child around with them to the places mentioned above. Child is probably called Saffron Moonflower. He does baby yoga, wears clothes made from hemp and only eats food that’s fallen from a tree. He’s better than you in every way.
- Women in tie dye vests or vests with the sleeves cut wide so you can see their bras. Usually these women are underweight, with sinewy arms and pallid complexions. Super healthy Ubud lifestyle.
- Backpackers walking the streets in their bare feet. Ok, there are people here who literally cannot afford shoes, and you are choosing to go barefoot, to find yourself. There is no excuse for such pretension.
I suppose Ubud morphed and grew into what it is now from the success of the book, but is also meta, as it spawned the book. On three streets you have “spiritual” gimmicky stuff in shops mostly owned by expats. There are hipster cafes with copper hanging light bulbs, where trendy yoga snobs drink soy lattes and gab on their iphones like they’re in a Starbucks back home. On another street you have expensive shops like Billabong and the factory outlet of (highly unethical) Ralph Lauren. Major paradox . Why come “find yourself” in Indonesia in a place that bares very little resemblance to actual Indonesia? I didn’t see many tourists at the temples, for instance. Don’t you do yoga and drink smoothies at home? I amn’t sure if Westerners are exploiting the Balinese, or vice versa…
Bali itself is an enchanting island. It has the beautiful scenery of Java, but less rugged. It’s fresher, lighter, more vivid. The people are wonderful too, the Balinese are a rare blend of paganism, Buddhism and Hinduism. There is a mysticism in the air that sadly, Ubud’s generic phoniness takes away from. The stone work and carvings along the simplest of streets is really stunning and the temples are exquisite. There is nature and greenery everywhere; moss on the walls and statues, long grass on the paths, rice paddies glinting in the sunlight. The blessings and traditions are lovely to see. It is just a heartwarming, uplifting place to recharge and be in awe of nature. If you happen by Ubud, do yourself a favour; walk outside the town and in a matter of minutes there are gorgeous restaurants run by locals, in beautiful surrounding paddy fields. Or rent a car and visit real Balinese countryside like nearby Sideman.
Full disclosure: I read “Eat, Pray, Love” when I left Ubud. It genuinely spoke to me and I found it quite healing as well as entertaining.
Been to Ubud? Hated it too? Or maybe you loved it or even found yourself? Would love to hear from you! Drop me a comment!