Traffic jams in a paradise called Bali

Deccan Chronicle.  | R. Mohan

Nation, Current Affairs

The locals are fuming. Any tourist visiting Bali would know that browsing the island is most easily done on a two-wheeler.

A daily scene from Seminyak during the Christmas season.

There is a little island called Bali. It is considered a paradise on Earth. There is a cultural connect that draws us sentimentally towards a Hindu majority (83 %) pocket in Muslim Indonesia that holds several lessons for handling religious and cultural diversity. The atmosphere seems so far removed from the problems of man that the risk of a tsunami seems infinitesimally small while on the island, even if you care to study the display board with the evacuation plan for the beach area in the upscale Nusa Dua area.

There are only minor discomforts to handle like the increasing traffic on the narrow roads around Seminyak that has a distinct Goa feel to it. The world changed the day Henry Ford won the argument for the motor car with the internal combustion engine against public transport on rails driven by the massive steam engine. Humanity is still paying the price for his manouevring which led to the primacy of the motor car in the early 20th century. The only thing is the phenomenon has caught up with the paradise island of Bali, which now suffers traffic jams. or at least did during the time we were there to welcome the New Year to satisfy this yearning to undertake this annual pilgrimage to exotic locales.

Tourism is so phenomenally high during the Christmas-New Year that Bali might have to consider throwing in the line inviting masochists to come over and enjoy a ‘Traffic Jam Tourism’. Imagine having to sit in the car for a couple of hours just to cover a few hundred metres to the next gourmet restaurant, picked from one among a choice of a few thousand such eating places, all within a couple of square kilometres around Seminyak. A visit to Bali is highly recommended for gourmets and gourmands who could start with an organic breakfast, plan a leisurely lunch on any one of hundred cuisines and if they still have the stomach for it take in a fine dining experience at spots enjoying Michelin star type of recognition.

The locals are fuming. Any tourist visiting Bali would know that browsing the island is most easily done on a two-wheeler. There are bike taxis waiting to ferry you at every road corner. The strange fact is the roads are now suffused over with a motley collection of bikes, scooters and mopeds, mostly driven by western tourists who are game for the experience of just riding around without any specific destination in mind. And it is a big enough island as to challenge the innovative as well as the aimless wanderer. 

The ambience is so ‘Eat Pray, Love’ the sheer peace of it all is so calming that you need to do nothing to enjoy the day, provided, of course, you have picked up enough Hindu philosophy or Zen patience in a couple of days to get through the traffic. It is not so challenging to switch off the problems and enjoy the day. 

Forgive me for saying this as a media person, but the sheer absence of a screaming media in the form of newspapers and television kind of contributes grandly to the holiday atmosphere. And the number of remote controls on the villa table look less inviting as they hardly take you anywhere save Netflix.

Our driver Adi Madesh is convinced his island is losing its culture to outsider influence and its home to tourists. Once upon a time, Bali was paradise to the Aussies since it was so near and anytime was shaba-shaba (short for recreation drugs) time in paradise. The world has shrunk and now tourism is all year-long thanks to Chinese and Indian tourists. The 75,000 luxury villas and thousands of hotels and resorts are not sufficient and the Christmas-New Year rush is not the only one in the tourism calendar these days. The Airbnb driven tourism has exploded too and islanders are struggling to find house to rent since everyone is looking to earn a few more Rupiahs out of the tourism boom.

The one undercurrent hard to miss is the Jakarta effect on Bali. There is a feeling among the islanders that the visible profits of tourism is somehow taken away by the national capital and not enough is coming back in from the central government to enable the building of a better road infrastructure to take the load of tourism, besides the need for the locals to move around is much more in the modern days and there is no public transport on such a big island. They tried but failed as such a system just could not keep to any kind of logical schedule bound by the clock. But then who needs a ticking clock in timeless Bali. 

The locals have to be innovative to get around on two-wheelers with their produce to the market, etc,  which again puts more pressure on the already crowded road network filled with SUVs and the like rushing tourists around. However, despite all the pressures, the sheer beauty of Bali, with its gigantic statues of epic figures out of the Ramayana and the Mahabharat, is compelling as to forget everything else. As they say of the many idyllic islands of the world, Bali is not a place, it is an experience.