My favourite place: Arthur Cotterell

In the November 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine, Arthur Cotterell selects Bali, Indonesia, as his favourite historical destination. History Extra caught up with him to find out more...

23 Jan 2014, Bali, Indonesia --- Indonesia. Nusa Tenggara. Bali. Tabanan. Pura Tanah Lot. Wave crashing on Pura Tanah Lot, large rock with a Hindu temple in the ocean --- Image by © Julien GARCIA/Photononstop/Corbis

Q: When did you last travel to Bali and why were you there?

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The last time I visited Bali was in 2014, a follow-up to a previous stay that had left my wife and I amazed at the island’s culture. An ecologically sound system of agriculture has always given the Balinese plenty of time for art and crafts, music and drama.

Q: Why do you love the location?

Even though my wife and I have lived and travelled widely in Southeast Asia, nothing prepared us for the richness of Balinese life and culture. In dance-drama alone, the island has a wealth of forms that have intrigued visitors ever since it first became known in the 1930s. They really must be seen to be believed.

Q: What top 3 sights would you recommend people visit while they are there, and why?

Three sights the visitor really must see are the Pura Taman Ayun in Mengui. This ancestral shrine of the local royal family is a splendid water temple. The second is the Royal Palace at Klungklung, especially the audience chamber, which has painted on its ceiling traditional scenes from an early adventure entitled The Sutasoma, which narrates the enlightenment of a Buddhist prince.

And last but not least, there is Bali’s highest volcano, Gunung Agung, said to be the residence of the island’s deified ancestors as well as imported Hindu gods. When its peak is covered with clouds, the Balinese say the great god Shiva is asleep.

Q: Where else in the world would you most like to visit and why?

Another place that strongly appeals to me at the moment is Sumatra, not least because this island gave birth to Indonesia’s earliest civilisation, the Indian-influenced trading state of Srivijaya, whose capital was Palembang. The city’s name is in fact so old that its original meaning has been completely lost.

Arthur Cotterell is author of Bali: A Cultural History (Signal, 2015). You can read Arthur’s feature on Bali in the November 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine – on sale from 8 October.

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Next month, Tracy Borman visits Venice, Italy. Share your tips for would-be travellers on Twitter or Facebook.