Ahoy, Nusa islands!

Meenakshi J | Updated on May 10, 2020

Eye for island: A Balinese Hindu religious procession   -  MEENAKSHI J

The three Nusa islands, off the shore of Bali in Indonesia, bring you up close with beauty — of nature and people

Ornate Balinese temples dot the freeway through which our tourist bus moves towards Sanur harbour. The group that I am part of waits along a seaweed-filled shore for a cruise boat which will take us to the lesser-known trio of Indonesian Nusa sisters.

As the boat cruises and pierces through the swirly waters of the Indian Ocean, off the island of Bali, the land afar flattens to a thin line sandwiched between the sky and the sea. Mount Agung fills this vastness with its authoritative presence. To the Balinese, the second tallest Indonesian volcano represents the highest point of spiritual and cultural orientation. Not surprising, as its slope is home to the most revered pura (temple) complex called Besakih.

A perceptible excitement hangs in the air, as the boat, within 45 minutes or so, nears the Nusa sisters. The sisters are three islands of Indonesia — Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and the little Nusa Ceningan. They offer pretty landscapes, with colourful boats that bob close to the white sand on turquoise waters, and stunning sunrise and sunset views.

Sand and surf: The white sandy harbour of Nusa Lembongan   -  MEENAKSHI J


Nusa Penida is the largest of the trio. Driving through its curvy roads and walking over uneven rocks, we reach the Broken Bridge — where the monstrous rise and fall of the Indian Ocean has chewed away a chunk of the pinnacle karsts. At the Kelingking beach, the waves have chiselled the perfectly natural Tyrannosaurus-Rex out of a cliff. We halt to guzzle fresh tender coconut water from one of the warungs (a road-side eatery), on our way to Star Semabu Resort for a night halt.

The next morning, after a spectacular sunrise, followed by a sumptuous breakfast of fresh bread and island fruits, we hop on to another boat from the Toya Pakeh harbour. Only this time, it is to the other two Nusa islands that are connected by the Instagram-worthy Jembatan Kuning or Yellow Bridge. Not being very keen on going zip-lining on Nusa Ceningan, we head towards Dream Beach in Nusa Lembongan. Beside it lies the unmissable Devil’s Tear, a tide pool. We watch the waves lash against a rocky cove, creating massive spray explosions. The spray, in turn, falls back into the sea like tiny teardrops.

Unlike Indonesia’s Gili islands and Lombok, the Nusa sisters are devoid of the clamour of tourists. Local people are protective of the region’s traditions, and their reverence for the gods are on display during village festivals. We are lucky to witness a festive procession in Nusa Lembongan, on our way to the mangrove boat ride near Mahagiri Resort. Prominent among other festivals that Bali is known for is Nyepi, dedicated to silence, fasting and meditation.

Through my interactions with the local people, I came to understand that many sections of Bali’s society are still wary of forging ties with the inhabitants of these islands, except for a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage that the Hindus make to Pura Ped temple on Nusa Penida. The deity here supposedly provides the negative energy to balance out the positive side of divinity.

In the past, the folks of the Nusa isles were subjected to humiliation and labelled “evil” for being residents of “the bosom of black magic”. After all, Nusa Penida was known as the ‘Black magic island’ for long.

Later, the Dutch colonists in the 18th century used it as a penal island for criminals and political prisoners. However, in the last few decades, tourism has played a decisive role in the shedding of prejudices and superstitions in popular perception about the isles, thus helping the inhabitants make a living while also gaining respectability.

In 36 hours, I understood that the Nusa sisters, although a boat ride away from each other, collectively harbour exotic flora and fauna and conserve the endangered and stunning mangroves.

A prayer: A floral offering to the Balinese gods   -  MEENAKSHI J


They also shelter white corals, washed ashore by turquoise waters. And their viewpoints and bridges, hemmed in by rocks, are like salve for the soul.

The benign yet watchful gaze of Mount Agung, looming over his little sisters, is reassuring. Adding to the appeal of the islands are their beautiful and affable people, who have emerged from the shadows of prejudice and isolation.

Travel log

  • Book the boat cruise to either Nusa Penida or Nusa Lembongan from the Sanur harbour in advance; cost per person for a one-way ride is $10 (₹750 approx).
  • Bali and the surrounding islands experience just two seasons: Rainy and dry. The best time to visit the Nusa islands is the dry season, which is from April to October.
  • Accommodation can be booked online (booking.com). The wooden cottages at Star Semabu Resort are a perfect stay option on Nusa Penida. Mahagiri Resort, with its private beach, is ideal for Nusa Lembongan. Bikes can be rented to explore the islands (₹250 approx a day).
  • The boat rides can be jerky, hence stressful for people with motion or sea sickness. Factor this in before venturing into the sea.
  • Temples in Bali have strict guidelines for visitors. Dress accordingly for a temple visit.

Meenakshi J is a writer based in Delhi

Published on May 08, 2020

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