Bali, an island of great beauty and spiritual peace, has a well deserved reputation for capturing visitors' hearts. The warm sweet welcome from its inhabitants, the lush gentle green landscape, the compelling insistence of its music, the intricate beauty of its temples, the sophisticated elegance of its hotels, the sweet pungency of the air, the light both soft and sharp -- all this and more captivated us. It is a culture and a people so very different from our wonderful urban Chicago, which invites the visitor to enter and enjoy the place as family (a word our guides used repeatedly referring to us) rather than as strangers.
Java included a dream-come-true visit to Borobudur, the world's largest Buddhist stupa. Yes it is large -- ten stories high and over 400 feet on each of its four sides. But, more importantly, it is a place of intense beauty. The bottom five concentric terraces are lined by high walls magnificently carved with scenes of fables, stories of the life of Buddha. We were entranced by the vitality and complexity of the depictions of Buddha in a myriad of positions. elephants, demons, pilgrims, faces very individualistic in expression and physiognomy. Buddha statues serenely guard the place from their niches. The top terraces are crowned with 72 bell-shaped stupas each of which once house a statue of Buddha (a few still do). We visited the site twice -- once on a morning tour and once at dawn. What a thrill that second experience was! Across the plain below the stupa clouds of mist trailed through the trees. Then suddenly through the fog the sun rose, a bright pink ball over the distant volcano. We sat atop the beautiful temple lost in the enchantment of the place.