Kiki was adamant. “There is a Royal Cremation Ceremony tomorrow,” she told us, “You must go!” Our villa manager, Kiki had made it her mission to ensure we were getting the breadth of Bali’s local experiences.
And while I’m not one for taking photos at funerals (err, or weddings, for that matter), Kiki was right. Mengwi’ Queen Ida Tjokorda Istri Winten from Puri Ageng Mengwi had passed away and, as a cremation of the highest level, it was an event not to be missed.
While I had the first leg of a long haul flight to the United States later that day, I got up early so I could be there by 8am to photograph the event. (Lara sadly had to stay home.) The only problem was that when I arrived they were nowhere near ready with the preparations and the cremation was scheduled for noon – when we were meant to be on our way to the airport.
Fortunately, the preparations were fascinating – teams of people were in charge of different elements and were hurrying about getting ready for the event, putting up decorations and arranging offerings – and the disappointment of missing the actual cremation was offset by the atmosphere, the friendliness of the staff looking after the press there to cover the event, and the gamelan orchestra that was playing.
The woman in charge of the journalists and photojournalists insisted that I get out of the sun and have a cup of coffee and eat the little package of rice and other goodies they provided. The gamelan orchestra was wonderful, with both wind and string instruments present, as well as the usual metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs.
I may not have seen the final cremation itself, but my experience of the event reinforced the warmth of the Balinese people and the depth of their rich culture.
Now that was an experience getting up early for – and one I wouldn’t have had at Kuta beach!