Finding something not touristy in Bali is hard. Make friends with the right people and go to a Gamelan school! Cultural experiences like these are the best, non touristy experiences in Bali.
Make friends in Bali to find the non touristy experiences
“Babe, maybe you can ask Aunty from our Airbnb if she knows where we can see one of these,” he shows me his phone open to a Google search page titled gamelan. I vaguely understand what he’s asking for and tells him he should ask her for himself. “No, you should because you speak Indonesian better than me,” I say to him that she speaks English just fine. I know he just wants to see the non touristy side of Bali.
A moment later she walks into the foyer and I say, “Maaf bu, can you tell me where we can see or hear a gamelan play? Is there a show in the area?” No, she said quickly. Then she paused and said that we could go to the school where her daughter goes and they will perform. There is a performance on Sunday and the drive was close by.
Visiting a gamelan school
We arrive around 10am, avoiding traffic and find our way to the performance area. There are only a few people sitting around. It’s early, we figured. The stage was set with the gamelan on one side, a wall prop that resembled a brick wall, various palms and palm decorations intentionally placed. There were wooden seats for about 100 people with additional seating on the side of the building. We take seats near the back as to not cause distraction, that didn’t work because…Josh. We people watch, eat our snacks, chat amongst ourselves. After about 40 minutes, we still haven’t seen Aunty, and we realise that we forgot that we were in a different time zone! When Aunty said 10am she really meant 11am, island time. We laugh, admit that we should have known better, and claim predictions on when this show will ACTUALLY start.
Quarter past 11am a gentleman in a brown Balinese outfit stood up and rang the gong three times. Shortly afterward a group of boys came out behind the prop wall and took their places to a set of instruments opposite the gamelan, bamboo instruments, some drums and a flute.
The sounds were beautiful, multilayered and played for about 5 minutes. After each song, the boys would change instruments, showing incredible flexibility in their talent. Then came the dancers. From little girls, maybe 5-6 year olds, to grown women would dance. Adorned with grand headpieces of gold foil leaves and wrapped in ornate fabric, each dancer elegantly moved their body to match the sounds of the gamelan.