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• Bali sunset
Religion is the defining feature of Balinese life. Bali is an islet of Hinduism in the world’s largest Muslim community (200 million believers). The island, with a population of 3 million, is of exceptional piety. It has 25,000 temples, several hundred thousand family temples, and millions of seaside and roadside altars and makeshift shrines.

Hinduism penetrated Bali from Java centuries ago. Aloof to outsiders, local people have preserved it intact, and many Hindu theologians find the Balinese doctrine purer even than that currently practiced in India. It is part and parcel of the local life and psyche. Nowhere else in the world is more emphasis placed on the harmony betweenMan and Nature. That is one of the greatest attractions to visitors. But now this happy union between Man and Nature on the Island of Gods is badly endangered by the very vehicle of the island’s economy: tourism.

Indonesia intends to accommodate 5.5 million foreign visitors this year, and an overwhelming majority of these will be heading for Bali.

"Tourists swarm to Bali thanks to its inimitable serenity, but I know some homeowners who modernise their houses as soon as they have enough money for new fixtures, and lose lodgers with the innovations," says Agung Prana, expert adviser on culture and eco-tourism to the governor of Bali. A descendent of the rajas of the Kingdom of Mengwi, Prana was born in 1948 in Umabian, a tiny village at the heart of the island.

The name derives from uma and bian, the Balinese for "field" and "palm tree." Prana is not opposed to modern conveniences, and his villas are the paragon of comfort.

He merely objects to all-round and unplanned modernization. "A good hotel should not merely be environmentallyfriendly, but also fit in with local culture and the social situation. There are folk traditions to reckon with," he says.

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