Postcard from Bali

Rice terraces at Jatiluwih. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The rice terraces at Jatiluwih in Bali, or more properly the subak irrigation system that waters them, are a Unesco World Heritage Site and an interesting place to visit (Lonely Planet rates the area as one of the “top 20 experiences” in Bali). The terraces have been on the hillsides for at least 1000 years and the intricate method of irrigation that runs water from one terrace to the next for just as long.

Ari, our driver and guide (top bloke, do hire him if you’re in Bali and wanting a driver) told us that white rice can be planted at any time in Bali and has a 3-month growing cycle, producing about three harvests a year. The local “red rice” has a longer cycle – read more about this species plant here (and discover that dragonflies are an effective rat deterrent!).

Youngsters have fun in an irrigation channel. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A street banner in Ubud, waiting to be raised for a Hindu procession – note the dried ears of rice used as decoration. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Unfortunately, the rice farmers of Jatiluwih aren’t benefiting from the tourism or the Unesco listing. We paid for a “ticket” to enter the area but apparently the money doesn’t stay there. We were told that Bali is seeking a “special autonomy” with Indonesia, partly because of the annoyance that tourism cash largely ends up in Jakarta.

Jatiluwih is some 700m above sea level and so relatively cool even during the hottest months.

In his book Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History, Bill Laws notes that “padi” (or paddy) is a Malay word that simply means “rice”. The paddy system of growing probably originated in China, he says, although those in South Korea are among the world’s oldest.

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