Often referred to as 'old Bali', East Bali is a beautiful area of temples, sweeping bays, volcanoes, palaces, rice paddies and ruins, of villages where crafts lost to the rest of the island are still practiced. The last Raja of Karangasem built his water palaces here: Tirtagangga, now a public bathing area, and Ujung, a grand ruin that, even today, manages to convey the extravagant sweep of kingly ambition.
Royalty aside, East Bali is packed with villages whose way of life has changed little over the centuries. None is more rooted in the past, however, than the closed, religious community of Tenganan. While most of Bali embraced and reinterpreted Hinduism over the centuries, Tenganan has tenaciously held on to its beliefs in its own divine origin. In this tiny society clothing has always been central to ritual. Today, families still painstakingly fashion geringsing or double ikat cloth, a fabric and weave found otherwise only in Gujarat, India.
Bali's highest volcano is Gunung Agung, the Balinese revere it as a home of the gods as well as believing it to be a replica of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe. One legend holds that the mountain is a fragment of Meru brought to Bali by the first Hindus. On the western slope of Gunung Agung lies the Besakih Temple, the island's 'Mother Temple', which is the largest and most important temple on the island.
East Bali is also home to some of Bali's best dive sites in Amed and Padangbai, including the renowned dive site of Tulamben where the wreck of the Liberty, a US Army Transport ship torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942 lies just off shore. Manggis and Sanur have some great little beaches and secluded bays with views of the neighbouring island Lombok, perfect for watching the sunrise. East Bali has a wide range of luxury accommodation and is the perfect place base from where to discover the cultural diversity and rich history of Bali, where religion is an intrinsic part of everyday life, seen both in colourful festivals and in simple daily offerings to the gods.