My digital nomad posts are usually more on general tips than my experiences. But the life I chose sometimes offers incredible adventures I’d have never thought of. This week, I decided to share something more personal, a story that resonates fairy tales or books from past centuries: how I was a guest of a Balinese prince in his Royal Palace for 2 days.
Last month I was visiting a temple in Bali and I felt a little overwhelmed because it was full of people. So, I searched for things to do around that area. I found a quite old blog mentioning an ancient palace in the village of Kerambitan. Since this was the only mention I saw on the internet, I thought it would be the remote and non-touristy place I was looking for and went.
The palace itself was a traditional Balinese construction with courtyards and many small buildings with terraces. Of course, it was bigger and more luxurious than the houses I had seen before. All the doors where open, so I decided to enter. At first, I only found some dogs, who kept burking, but I didn’t get discouraged and continued walking towards the heart of the palace, until I found an old man who was drinking tea with his twin brother. They were happy to see a visitor, welcomed me and invited me for a cup of tea. I was really excited to meet them and hear their stories. They were the princes of the palace, and one of them, Oka, would be the king if the traditional system was still in place.
He told me about his ancestors, especially about the founder of the family and palace. His story was like in fairy tales. Oka also mentioned how his family got expropriated in the 50’s and he had to find a source of income to maintain the palace: he created a play with dances and music from traditional rituals and started organizing royal dinners for international guests to show his drama. He involved the entire village of Kerambitan, like in the past. Since he also covered a representative role for the Balinese government some of the guests of those dinners included Ministers, Presidents and Ambassadors. He actually showed me a wall with pictures of the distinguished guests that have come to the palace.
I was fascinated and really excited to listen to his stories and thought I’d find some friends to organize this dinner. We exchanged contacts and I left.
The following day he called me and had a big surprise: he asked me if I wanted to come on November 8 and 9 to see the tooth filing ceremony that would have taken place in the village. The ceremony itself is an initiation ritual where a Brahmin priest smooths canines and incisors of teenagers. It symbolizes the passage to adulthood and a way to smoothen the savage aspects of the soul. I had no idea what to expect nor what that was but I was really excited to accept this invitation. A night in the palace, the ceremony and me getting the traditional Balinese costume, it sounded like a movie or a fairy tale.
I decided to not read anything about the ritual, I wanted to get there with a completely open mind. Oka only told me that it would have been good if I bought a clock as a present for the kids and their community rooms.
So, I came back to the palace on November 8 in the afternoon. The prince and I got ready and went to the building across the street for the preparation rituals. There were decorations everywhere, mainly flowers and drapes. It was really beautiful. Some of the kids of the ceremony greeted us at the entrance, together with a traditional orchestra playing non-stop. It was a women only orchestra and all the ladies were wearing matching costumes, they looked really good and professional. There was the entire village, people from areas nearby and even from Denpasar, the capital of Bali. It was a big deal, especially because it involved 7 girls and 7 boys. You could see that everybody was wearing their best dress, the women wore beautifully embroidered shirts and skirts, flowers or jewellery even in their hair. I was the only non-local but everybody was really friendly and welcoming. The few ones who spoke English asked me where I was from, what did I do etc. It was really nice and I felt so fortunate to be part of this unique and authentic experience, something that the average visitor does not live in Bali. It was really special.
One of the courtyards had tables and food for the guests. Rice, noodles and a variety of meats and vegetables. I can’t really say what I ate, but it was delicious. The fact that the entire village could come to take part to this seemed very positive to me. I saw people entering with baskets with food and leave them at the entrance. They would collect them when they left and get some snacks in return. It looked like an idyllic community life.
The music and joyful atmosphere went on till late in the night and then the kids had to retire in some rooms especially prepared for them, were they were supposed to mediate and get into the mood. I also went to sleep in my room in the palace. It felt a little surreal, who knows what important guests had been in those places before me, I was in a building full of history and legend.
The following morning the music woke me up at 6am, so I got up and got ready for the ceremony. If the previous night the atmosphere was very festive and relaxed, it was more formal and serious the following day: there was incense everywhere, and sacred chanting. One of the buildings was the holy area where the ritual was performed. The boys and girls were sitting in their beautiful and matching costumes, with jewels and makeup. There were 2 priests, one for the girls and one for the guys. The kids would go one by one and lie on a bed. The Brahmin would put something in their mouths and then file their canine and incisors three times. You could see the excitement in the kids eyes as well as in their families, some mothers were getting really emotional. It was joyful but very solemn.
After the ritual, there was a meal again. I ate so much in those 2 days, but it was delicious and just incredible. Overall I can say it was very intense but unique. It’s the typical story I’ll tell my grandkids and I feel really grateful.
I wanted to share my story just to show an example of what can happen when you are a digital nomad, travel the world and are open to what life brings you. And now to you, what’s the most unusual experience you had in the past months?