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  • The Craftmen’s Road in Bali

    Between Denpasar and Ubud, craft villages straggle along the road, each with its own speciality. Here, children start soaking up traditional skills before they’ve learned to walk, for chances are that home is also the family workshop.


    Stone-carving is as much a part of Bali’s culture as temple festivals and gamelan. Much of it is produced in this village just north of Denpasar. Batubulan is where the Balinese come to shop for a pair of demons to guard the threshold of their temple, hire a master-carver to carve a frieze in-situ at their bale banjar, or bargain for a statue of a Hindu goddess to grace the lobby of their new hotel.


    At the northern edge of Batubulan, the main road turns sharply eastwards. As you round the bend, stone statues give way to signs advertising the showrooms of Celuk’s silversmiths and goldsmiths. Unlike Batubulan, Celuk doesn’t do much local trade. While Balinese buyers head for Denpasar’s jewellery quarter, Celuk lives more off tourists and export buyers and there are many galleries and workshops catering either to visiting tour buses and travel groups or the more adventurous shopper.


    Sukawati’s art market, Pasar Seni, is a busy centre for colourful local craft. Offering wind chimes, t-shirts, brightly painted kites, wooden carvings of all shapes and sizes and much more, this is an excellent place to enjoy shopping with the locals, with prices far lower than elsewhere on the island. The Balinese come to buy parasols to decorate their temples and carry in processions, chose new lemak hung with Chinese coins to hang on family shrines at Galungan and bargain for lengths of the gold-painted perada cloth that’s wound round pillars, eaves and shrines whenever there’s a temple festival or a rite of passage within their house compound. Sukawati is a lively centre for temple decorations.


    Northern Sukawati merges into southern Batuan, a village known not only for its dancers and painters, but also its talented woodcarvers. The concrete floors of the many workshops that line the street are scattered with aromatic wood shavings, as the carvers intricately carve their beautiful designs.


    A little beyond Batuan, we leave the main road and turn northwards to Mas. Once, woodcarvers here turned out architectural pieces not so different from those still made in Batuan, all to be brightly painted and often gilded, then incorporated into temples and palaces. At Njana Tilem, a dozen men and women are at work in the garden courtyards and open-sided bales of the old family compound. The place oozes serenity. Birds sing, petals drift across the pavement, and alongside the carvers and polishers, other women weave offerings from coconut palm.

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