February 2, 2023

Chicby Karina

Think exceptional travel

How a 74-Mile Trek in Bali Is Encouraging Visitors to Tread Lightly

The temple matches the mood of the sky: black lava stone crowned by dark storm clouds. I teeter across a narrow path along the outer edge of the temple’s sacred walls, until I get to the cliff that extends behind it. The raging ocean is enthralling, so I stand watching it for a minute, until an angry wave spills its guts at my feet and ushers me back towards the entrance.

One of about 10,000 on the island, the Pura Gede Luhur Batu Ngaus temple is perched atop a rock formation on the west coast of Bali. It also marks the dramatic starting point of a 10-day, 74-mile regenerative tourism trail that kicks off on the south coast, runs through the heart of the island, and culminates on the north coast. Along with three other writers, I’ve embarked on a condensed version that is further shortened by unseasonal rain.

The Astungkara Trail runs through the heart of the island.

Prema Ananda

The trail is called Astungkara Way, the first word of which means “god willing.” It seems fitting, then, that we begin with a prayer at the foot of the temple. I sit on the warm floor, wet from a gentle drizzle that will later grow into an epic downpour. A woven basket the size of my palm rests at my feet, containing petals in varying colors, a biscuit, and a smoldering incense stick. Known as canang sari, these little offerings are peppered all across the island, at the foot of a fountain, the entrance of a shop, in the shadow of a statue. Guided by Eci, a trail leader at Astungkara Way who is as attuned to the energy of the island as she is to the latest dances trending on TikTok, I pick up the white petals first and perform the offering ritual so integral to Balinese culture.

Squeezing ten days of walking into just a couple is an impossible task, but over the next 48 hours, I will get more than a glimpse of the real Bali, complete with monsoon rain that will take our unprepared legs wading knee-deep through cascading water.

When the skies aren’t ripping open, the all-walking trail takes you on a scenic journey through quaint village roads, rice paddies, and a lush bamboo forest. Longer trails also include a traditional water purification ceremony, stops at the waterfalls and caves at Taman Beji, a bamboo weaving workshop, and a walk through a verdant jungle where the only sign of human intervention is an abandoned geothermal station. The word “trail,” however, doesn’t quite do the experience justice—it’s closer to a farming pilgrimage, where each stop along the way offers an opportunity to reconnect with our food—and where it comes from.