Palace Guest Books – A Reflection of Ubud’s Past
Text by Darma Putra, Hello Bali, October 2006
“With great regret we leave Bali after much too short a stay! We will never forget this wonderful atmosphere of tranquility. Your Puri is the place we hope most to return to”.
One cannot claim to have been to Bali before going to Ubud. Likewise, one cannot claim to have been to Ubud before exploring the palace: Puri Ubud. Only by watching performances of Balinese dance in the nightly cultural performances in the outer compound of the Palace can one’s visit of Ubud become a culturally complete trip.
A complete trip to Ubud means a trip where one always want to return to, as stated by Hellen and Allen O’Brien who visited Ubud in 1966 from California. They addressed the comments to Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati, the former king of Ubud, after holidaying in the palace more than four decades ago.
Puri Ubud is located right in the centre of the village town. In front of it, across the road, is Ubud public market and art market where tourists can buy souvenirs. The palace was open to paying guests from 1948 until the mid 1980s, not only in order allow visitors to experience a unique palace atmosphere, but most importantly to fulfill the need for quality accommodation. When enough hotels emerged in Ubud, the families of the palace opened it only for sight seeing. Surrounded by typical Balinese walls and gates, the Ubud Palace is well known for its friendliness. Its door is always open. Hundred of tourists visit the place everyday free of charge. They are allowed inside to see the compound structure, architecture, and most importantly to feel the glory of Balinese culture and tradition. Probably none of the visitors to Ubud Palace know that the palace has attracted millions of tourists since the colonial period, some of whom came to make a short visit, some other were lucky able to stay in the compound.
Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati had a great idea to provide a guest book for visitors to write their comments. Guest books were provided since the 1930s, but today only seven bundles are available, started from 1949, a year after the palace started to receive paying guest in the palace. Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati died in 1978, but the practice continued for years afterward. Visitors were encouraged to write their comments after visiting or staying in the palace. In the seven bundles of guest books which are now kept in Puri Ubud, there are no less than 5000 comments and guest signatures made between 1950s and 1980s. Statistics wise, 5000 is relatively small, but it is very significant in showing us how Ubud’s evolved as a tourism destination. The quality of the people and their comments on the island’s culture and nature are much more important than the number.
Comments are written in many languages including Dutch, Arabic, English, Germany, Japanese (language and character), and Indonesian.Visitors included artists, lecturers, bureaucrats, diplomats, heads of state and journalists. For example, a Dutch writer, Jeft Last visited the palace several times and wrote his comments in 1949, 1950, and 1952, in Dutch. Some comments take the form of poems and sketches extolling the beauty of Bali and the hospitality and creativity of its people. Samples of their comments are below.
In June 1962, Peter Stich from West Germany commented:
This was my first visit to Bali/ Ubud, and I know, if at all possible that it wont be the last one. I hope that the freedom of people of Bali, and with it their culture, and friendliness will never change. I believe there is nothing like Bali on our globe. I will be seeing you again.
Peter Stich’s sentiments echoed those of the American couple quoted in the opening of this article. A visitor from Massachuset, USA, Rahnon Jan Black, wrote his comment in the form of six verses of poem, in 19 June 1967.
The opening verse of the untitled poem read like this:
Coming here to Bali
with time light on my hands
I had no need to hurry
to satisfy demands
while the sixth verse or the closing lines, reads like this:
But, when I go you can be sure
In full health I’ll not depart
For in your terraced highlands
I’m leaving half my heart
Filed also in the guest books are letters and clipping of international newspaper articles about Ubud or Bali’s cultural and tourism. The letters were sent by former guests, as a way of saying thank you for Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati’s hospitality and gift. Newspapers articles were mostly written by journalists covering the visit of state heads who came to Bali under the escort of Indonesian President, Sukarno. State guests usually stayed or made a brief visit to Presidential Palace in Tampaksiring, North of Ubud. During their visit, they also went to Ubud Palace where they greet with typical Bali hospitality and dance.
Attached in the guest book, for example, are a letter from US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy dated 18 February 1962 and a letter from the White House signed by personal secretary to the President of US, Evelyn Lincoln, dated August 30, 1962. The White House letter says “when the Attorney General returned from his visit from Bali, he brought the President the lovely painting that you so kindly wanted him to have. Although I regret the inadvertent delay in sending you this note of thanks, I assure you that the President greatly appreciated you thought of him”.
This letter not only suggests that a state guest had visited the Puri, but also the good PR habits of Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati’s towards his guests, helping to create a special image of Bali. We do not know what sort of painting he gave the US President, but one can assume it was a good piece. Tjokorda Gde Agung helped to established the artist’s group known as Pita Maha in the mid 1930s along with Western artists Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet, famous in Bali’s art world.
In reading the Puri Ubud guest books one will see a reflection of the glory of Ubud in the last four decades through tourism. No doubt that Ubud has a great cool-climate, beautiful landscape, great arts and culture that keep attract people to come to. But, as the guest books and the dailies sustain visitors to Ubud Palace have proved, it is the magnetic draw of the Palace that attracted international and national visitors to Ubud, which has always been a very special place for visitors and local alike.
So, thanks to Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati not only for his great idea to record comments of tourists on the guest books, but also for his talent being a great host to international visitors and left behind the friendliness of Ubud Palace.