All posts by murni

Happy Independence Day, Indonesia

Happy Independence Day, Indonesia


After a long struggle, on 27 December 1949, the Dutch finally recognised Indonesia as an independent state and transferred sovereignty to the Republic of the United States of Indonesia. On 17 August 1950, which was the fifth anniversary of the declaration of Independence, the country was proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia. President Sukarno became the first President of Indonesia and Mohammad Hatta, a highly effective Minangkabau economist from Sumatra, became prime minister.

Indonesia always claimed that the date of independence was 17 August 1945 but the Dutch insisted that the date was 27 December 1949.

In August 2005 the Dutch accepted the 1945 date.

The story of the struggle is told in our book Secrets of Bali, Fresh Light on the Morning of the World, now available as an ebook for immediate downloading.

Happy Independence Day, Indonesia! There are more photographs on

Friendly Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Friendly Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Even the Cops are friendly.

46,000 readers of Conde-Nast Traveler, the world’s premier travel magazine, have just voted Ubud the 9th friendliest city in the World. In 2010 the majority of 25,000 of its readers voted Ubud the “Best City in Asia.”

I’m not sure Ubud is a city, I’m not even sure that it is a town, nevertheless the accolades are very welcome. Only a couple of cities – in Bhutan and Mandalay – beat my home town/city/village in Asia.

Friendly Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. There are more photographs on

Queen Sirikit’s Birthday, Bangkok, Thailand

Queen Sirikit’s Birthday, Bangkok, Thailand

bangkok-sirikit-birthday-blogQueen Sirikit’s Birthday, Bangkok, Thailand

It’s Queen Sirikit’s 81st birthday today.  She and King Bhumibol left hospital a few days ago and are celebrating in Hua Hin. The rest of the country is celebrating too and the place is full of posters. It’s also Thailand’s Mother’s Day and a national holiday.


Their story is like a fairy tale. On a trip to Paris Bhumibol met the outstandingly beautiful 17-year old daughter of a Siamese diplomat. He could trace his ancestry back to the early 13th century kingdom of Sukhotai. Sirikit was studying classical music, he loved jazz and they spoke French together.

In October 1948 Bhumibol was involved in a bad pile up and she looked after him. They got engaged in July 1949 and married in 1950.

More details in our forthcoming book on Bangkok.

Queen Sirikit’s Birthday, Bangkok, Thailand. There are more photographs on

Ambling in Amed, East Bali

Ambling in Amed, East Bali

Last week we went to Amed.

Murni and I were with Southeast Asian textiles’ expert Dr Linda McIntosh and we were on a mission.

The mission was to scout out places to bring a small select group of textile enthusiasts to.

We needed to find interesting weavers and dyers, who were still using and creating natural dyes, and trying to maintain the old traditions, which are in danger of dying out and disappearing.

We got up before sunrise and set off in search of textile producers.

We saw some amazing sights.

‘To learn the magic of light get up before sunrise and watch’ – Ted Grant – and we did.

David Young said, ‘It is the photographing of ordinary things, in extraordinary light, which results in extraordinary photographs.’  We stayed 3 days and the light was different everyday and every minute of everyday. It was all extraordinary.

Mission accomplished, we have launched and invite those interested in textiles and culture to join Murni’s Textile and Cultural Tour at Murni’s Houses.

Ambling in Amed, East Bali. There are more photographs on

A Walk on the Wild Side, Ubud, Bali

It’s easy to get off the beaten track in Ubud.  A Walk on the Wild Side, Ubud, Bali follows.

The Ridge, Ubud, Bali

Recently Murni and I took  two of our guests at Murni’s Houses for a walk on the wild side. It only took five minutes to be in the rice paddies and amongst the coconut and palm trees. It’s on our doorstep.

Coconut Tree

We got up at 7 am. It was already light and the temperature was wonderfully cool.  Wildlife and humans were stirring.

Snail, Ubud, Bali

We walked down the slope to the main road, crossed over and we were soon surrounded by a thousand shades of green.

Rice Paddy, The Ridge, Ubud, Bali

There were people going to work on their bicycles…

Cyclist, The Ridge, Ubud, Bali

and bicycles just waiting for the owners to take them for a spin.

Bicycle, The Ridge, Ubud, Bali

There were geometric shapes.

Banana Tree, The Ridge, Ubud, Bali

… and if you looked carefully new life was bursting forth.

New Life, Ubud, Bali

Wildflowers add a touch of colour to the overwhelming green backdrop.

Wildflower, The Ridge, Ubud, Bali

Works of art in the shape of rice paddies reflected the sky above and hard labour below, and centuries of it.

Rice Paddy, The Ridge, Ubud, Bali

After several hours we were back to the modern world of cars and motorbikes, but at least the first motortbike was green.

Motorbike, Ubud, Bali

There’s more about Rice in Secrets of Bali.

A Walk on the Wild Side, Ubud, Bali. There are more photographs on

Mask Ceremony, Ubud, Bali

Mask Ceremony, Ubud, Bali. Last month the whole community in Ubud attended an unusual ceremony.


Balinese Mask
Balinese Mask.

Mask Ceremony, Ubud, Bali.

Balinese masks take many forms and are usually carved from a special,  fine-grained, cream-coloured, light wood called pule (alstonia scholaris), which grows in graveyards. Two of the masks in question came from a pule tree in the graveyard near Murni’s Houses and the other from another graveyard in Peliatan at the other end of Ubud.


Gate to Pura Dalem, Ubud, Bali.
Gate to Pura Dalem, Ubud, Bali.


The tree must be ‘pregnant’, that is to say ready and suitable for carving, evidenced by the bark swelling slightly outwards. The mask maker goes to the tree on an auspicious day, presents his offerings and requests the tree’s permission. He then chops a slab of wood with his axe and takes it back and waits for inspiration.

They are kept in special shrines and receive offerings every full and new moon, on Kajeng-Kliwon, which is every fifteen days, and also when they are used. In addition, they get special offerings on a day known as Tumpek Krulut, which occurs every 210 days.


Pura Dale, Ubud, BaliPura Dalem, Ubud, Bali.


The night before the big night the community prayed in Pura Dalem, the temple associated with the dead, and where the masks were kept. In front of them were thousands of offerings.


Sidhakarya Dancer in Pura Dalem, Ubud, Bali.


Outside the main courtyard was a sole dancer. It was Sidhakarya – the same masked dance as one of the three masks that were the subject of the ceremony.


Balinese masks are of ancient origin and act like a lightning rod in the sense that they attract the spirit of the person to be portrayed. They are the vehicles of the gods and are sacred.


White haired Rangda Mask.
White haired Rangda Mask.


There were three masks involved in the ceremony at Pura Dalem. There was Sidhakarya  and two Rangda masks, one white haired and one red-brown haired.


Red-brown haired Rangda Mask.
Red-brown haired Rangda Mask.


Rangda is the Queen of the Witches, tall and has tusks. Some temples have two Rangda masks, one red and the other white. The red one represents the more dangerous Rangda. The white one stresses her royal birth—some say Rangda is based on the 11th century Princess Mahendradatta.


Procession to Pura Gunung, Campuan, Bali
Procession to Pura Gunung Lebah, Campuan, Bali.


The night before the main night the masks were carried down to the sacred Wos river in Campuhan for a purification ceremony at the temple known as Pura Gunung Lebah.


Sidhakarya Mask..
Sidhakarya Mask in Pura Gunung Lebah, Campuan, Bali.


The main night involved a procession along the main street of Ubud to the temple in Peliatan as the wood for the other mask came from the graveyard in Peliatan and then they went back to the graveyard in Ubud. It was after midnight and dark. The graveyard was packed and the three masks were surrounded by priests. All lights were turned off and the crowd was asked to leave while the priests stayed with the masks waiting for a sign that the gods approved. Such a sign would be lights falling from the sky. There was approval.


There’s more about Balinese Masks, Ceremonies, Sidhakarya and Rangda in Secrets of Bali.


There are more photographs on


Balinese Masks are available at Murni’s Warung Shop and on line.


Mask Ceremony, Ubud, Bali.



Kuningan in Ubud, Bali

Today is Kuningan in Ubud, Bali, which is the last day of the 10 day holiday beginning on Galungan when the gods descend and are present. Today the gods leave Bali.


The roads are decorated, shrines are covered in glorious textiles and statues are dressed.

Balinese Guardian Statue dressed in Poleng textile

The Balinese pray at their temples and shrines. It’s an  important and happy day.

Balinese Gate at Murni's Houses

Murni’s Warung was closed as the Balinese staff are all too busy to work. So I left Murni’s Houses to walk into town for lunch. I looked back at the large Balinese gate and admired the penjor, the large bamboo pole, which is symbolic on many levels, and the offerings stuffed into the niches on either side of the door.

Shop on the main street of Ubud.

Walking down the main street I photographed a few shrines and the shop where I’ve often bought udeng, the Balinese headdress for men, from the old lady, who also sells hats. She’s always smiling. She had  a rather nice double shrine.

People going about their business, Ubud., Bali.

A little further down shop girls were chatting happily as a lady went about her business carrying a plastic container on her head.

Pig Barong, Ubud, Bali.

Throughout this period Barongs parade along the streets, always accompanied by umbrellas and music.

Balinese gamelan music accompanies the Barong.

I mentioned in an earlier post that there are different types of Barong. This one is the pig Barong.

I decided to follow it and soon it stopped in front of a house and danced bringing good luck to the family who lived there.

Balinese photographer.

I spotted a Balinese girl photographing me. We became friends and she invited me into her home to see her family temple and meet the family. Photography is like that.

The family temple was a beautiful one with magnificently decorated shrines.

But better than that there were several generations of welcoming people.

The Youngest One.

The youngest member was intrigued to see a large, ungainly foreigner wander in.


His sister was  more comfortable with the intruder and slightly bemused.


His aunt had eyes that looked right through you and melted your heart.


His mother was proud and smiley.


His grandmother had a wonderful, wise and kindly face.

Grandmother's friend.

Her friend was sitting beside her.

There’s more about Galungan, Kuningan and Barongs in Secrets of Bali.

Kuningan in Ubud, Bali.  There are more photographs on

New Spa Ceremony in Ubud, Bali

New Spa Ceremony in Ubud, Bali


Tamarind Spa at Murni's Houses


1st June was not just a day, it was an auspicious day, and it was not just an auspicious day, it was a triply auspicious day. Perfect for a New Spa Ceremony in Ubud, Bali.

The Balinese believe in auspicious days. They are coincidence days, rather like Friday 13th.


Tamarind Spa at Murni's Houses


So 1st June was a very good day to have the blessing for the opening of The Tamarind Spa at Murni’s Houses, Ubud, Bali.
The weather was glorious, which made it a quadruply auspicious day.


Tamarind Spa at Murni's Houses


Early in the morning Murni and her family and friends prepared the numerous offerings of fruit and flowers, rice and spices, and I even noticed a cooked chicken.


Tamarind Spa at Murni's Houses


On such days the priests are very busy carrying out ceremonies. We were lucky that he showed up around noon, which made it more challenging for photographs.


Tamarind Spa at Murni's Houses


He brought his bell, which resonated throughout, and his mantras, and his mudras, which are sacred hand gestures.


Tamarind Spa at Murni's Houses


The women sprinkled holy water over every corner of the spa, both inside and out. Balinese Hinduism is not called the holy water religion for nothing.


Tamarind Spa at Murni's Houses

A piece of cloth with magical symbols for protection was attached to the eaves, never to be removed.


Tamarind Spa at Murni's Houses

A bamboo pole was burnt over a small fire until it exploded frightening away any malevolent spirits that might have been lurking about.


Tamarind Spa at Murni's Houses

After a couple of hours of mantras, ringing bells, and prayers, the ceremony was over and the spa had received the blessing of the gods and was ready to welcome guests.

There are more photographs of New Spa Ceremony in Ubud, Bali a  on


There are chapters on Balinese Hinduism, Balinese Calendars, Balinese Ceremonies and Offerings in Secrets of Bali.

The Tarot Reader of Ubud

The Tarot Reader of Ubud

Novi, the Tarot Reader


It’s not every day that you meet a tarot reader, and certainly not every day that you meet one  in Ubud, and especially not one who advises top government ministers. Meet The Tarot Reader of Ubud.


Novi, the Tarot Reader


It is not unusual in Asian countries for government decisions to be cleared first by people who have extraordinary powers.


Novi, the Tarot Reader


It would be an interesting academic study to research their influence on world events.


Novi, the Tarot Reader


We are extremely lucky to have met Novi, who is very down to earth, a teacher, mother and author (I think in that order).


Novi, the Tarot Reader


She has agreed to take time out of her hyperactive schedule to give tarot readings to guests staying at Murni’s Houses. She allowed me to pick up the camera as she revealed some extraordinary truths about myself.

There are more photographs of The Tarot Reader of Ubud  on

The Barongs of Bali

The Barongs of Bali

Balinese Barong


The Barong is unique to Bali and every time you see one it’s exciting. As you can see, they look life-like. They have spirit and come in various forms, the most common one being the Barong Ket. They symbolize Bali. Murni’s Warung Shop was honored to be asked to commission and oversee the making of a Barong Ket for one of the best-known museums in New York. It gave me an opportunity to take these photos.

Balinese Barong


And writing the book Secrets of Bali gave me the opportunity to research them and now to quote a few sentences from it without asking anyone’s permission except my own.

Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete observed that Barongs are ‘…at once the most familiar and the most obscure…’ figures in Balinese tradition. Barongs come in many forms, but the most common is like a baroque Chinese lion, the Barong Ket, with big eyes and clacking jaws. It is one of the most sacred masks in Bali and probably every village has at least one.

The Barong protects the village from harmful influences. It parades the streets during every Galungan festival, dancing in front of shops and houses, warding off evil.  The Balinese wait in front of their buildings and bow in reverence when it passes.

Balinese Barong


Barongs also parade just before Nyepi, at the time of the Balinese New Year. The Barong’s origins are obscure. Two men are inside; one operates the wooden head and lower movable jaw, and the other holds up the back and arched tail… they need to be very strong as the whole costume weighs about 187 pounds (85 kilos).

The beard of human hair from a pre-menstruating girl is the most powerful part. If it is dipped in water, it creates holy water and can cure. The hairy hide, made of palm fibres or the hair of a white horse, is covered with small bells, mirrors and decorations. It takes about three months to make a good quality Barong. When a Barong Ket is old and in shreds, it is ceremonially cremated.

Balinese Barong


There are more photographs of The Barongs of Bali on