The two of us had hired a scooter and were headed to Michi Retreat Village situated a few kilometres from Ubud, by far my favourite among the places I have been to in Bali.
Esther, a Dutch solo traveller I’d met on the road, was riding pillion and checking directions on the phone and telling me which way to go. Between her not-too-confident English and my non-existent Dutch skills, communication was often a problem, but we managed somehow. Finally, after one or two wrong turns, we found a sign saying “Michi” with an arrow pointing to an alley to the left of the road.
There road snaked steeply down towards a stream — now in spate because of the rainy season — we could only hear till then.
We reached the gate of the resort where a number of cars and scooters were parked. But not one person was in sight.
I remember how the friend who had told me about this place, had described it. “It’s a surreal place. When I went, everything was there, but there was no one around. You will like it,” she had said. I now knew exactly what she meant.
We parked the scooter at the entrance and went ahead. On the right was a room marked “Reception”. We entered the room but there was no one at the table. After waiting for a few minutes, we came out and walked ahead to the pool.
“Where is everyone?” murmured Esther.
The pool was not in top shape. We could see some leaves floating in it. But it was easily fit for a swim. There were purple towels by the pool and a sign by them saying “Please don’t take the purple towels away from the pool” and there was a bin to dump used towels. We could see the rocky stream from here. There were buildings along the stream and all of them looked part of this resort/retreat village. Only, we couldn’t see any human beings.
Finally, a bearded guy in tattoos appeared from a room behind where the pool towels were kept, exchanged a curt “hello” and walked out. After five minutes, he walked back.
We decided to explore more and followed the way the bearded man appeared to have taken. We walked down some steps, with a salon (of course, without people) to our left, a painter’s studio to our right (again empty) and reached a narrow path high along the stream. We met two friendly cats here who immediately began to press their bodies against our feet and walked along with us. A little bit down, there was a big yoga room on the left.
Everything we had seen it, all of it seemed like people had left the places just before we had left. It was a little creepy. “I would be a little spooked to come here by myself, even if it’s in the middle of the day,” said Esther.
A little way down, there was a ramshackle room on the right, and I went to look what’s in there. A statue and a bust immediately caught my attention. The bald, bespectacled head of the statue was broken and it was placed on the lap of the bare-bodied man sitting cross-legged. It was Gandhi. I was almost sure that the bust sitting on right of Gandhi was Tagore but I only had to look around the room to be a hundred per cent sure for there were several framed photographs of the Nobel laureate poet from West Bengal, my home state in India, hung on the walls of the room.
I was gobsmacked. I would expect to see Tagore pictures such as these hanging on walls in the homes of Bengali people back in Calcutta. But here? Inside this ramshackle room at a spooky deserted resort in Bali? It made no sense. And I couldn’t find anyone to ask.
We looked around and went down to the stream. It wasn’t very clean so we decided to go up.
On our way back to the scooter, at the pool, we finally encountered two people. A young man was helping an old man with a walking stick down some stairs. The old man, probably in his eighties, looked Japanese to me. He had fair skin, short white hair and a beard of the same colour.
We exchanged hellos. It struck me that he could be living here and I said, “Excuse me, but do you live here?”
“Yes,” he replied and stopped to look at me. His voice was firm and his English had no trace of a Japanese accent.
“I had a question. We saw some statues and pictures of Gandhi and Tagore in a room. Why are they here? Did they ever visit this place?”
“No. It’s because I admire them,” he said and turned to leave.
It was then that I realised that the old man could be the owner of the place. I said, “Oh. I was just interested to know because I am from India.”
“Yes, I understand that,” he said with his back to me as he walked down the stairs toward the empty salon, the empty yoga room, the empty studio and the empty room full of pictures of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.