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Bali, like the Discworld, is a place where the primary directions are ‘hubwards’ and ‘rimwards’ – in Balinese, kaja and kelod. The ‘hub’ in this case is the sacred Mt. Agung, in the centre-east of the island, which is seen as the dwelling-place of the Hindu gods.I was a bit sceptical of the claim in this book that the Balinese still orient themselves this way (it was published nearly thirty years ago), but when, in my best imperial-colonialist style, I grabbed locals and asked them which way kaja was, everyone showed me without hesitation. In practice, it seems that most of southern Bali just treats ‘kaja’ as being equivalent to north, and the kaja-kelod axis as being perpendicular to the east-west axis; at least that was what I found when I asked for directions. (This is reversed if you live in north Bali, but how it works if you live somewhere like Jembrana, which is due west of Mt. Agung, I have no idea.)Now indulge me for a moment while I brief you on the Balinese calendar, which is of eye-watering complexity. Alongside the familiar Western calendar are two others, the 210-day Pawukon calendar, and, for good measure, the Saka lunar calendar. The Pawukon cycle involves no fewer than ten different week systems, all of which run concurrently. There is a week that is one day long, another of two days, one with three, and so on up to ten. So each given day will have ten different names, one for each of the ten weeks going on simultaneously. The days of some of these weeks are sequential (so the five-day week repeats the sequence of Umanis, Paing, Pon, Wage and Keliwon), but, for added fun, others are not. The days of the two-day week are Menga and Pepet, but the order goes: Menga, Menga, Pepet, Menga, Pepet, Pepet, Pepet… and so on in a 35-day repeating cycle! Special days in the Balinese year occur at important conjunctions of these different week systems, for instance when the last day of the three-day week coincides with the last day of the five-day week (called Kajeng Keliwon; this happens every 15 days). Fantasy novelists deep into their world-building would probably reject this as outlandishly implausible, and that’s before you add on the equally important Saka lunar calendar, which is at least roughly the same length as the Gregorian….Perhaps because of its status as a Hindu enclave in the world’s most populous Muslim country, Bali is a place where religious tradition seems very prominent in daily life. Family temples and roadside shrines are everywhere; you literally can’t walk ten metres down the street without stumbling over a little coconut-leaf canang filled with coloured petals, a slice of watermelon, perhaps a Ritz cheese cracker, and a smouldering stick of incense. There will also be one of these on the dashboard of most taxis. I learn from this book that it’s considered very rude to step over one, which is good to know because avoiding this is no mean feat given the tiny pavements and insane traffic on Bali.Canang on a traffic island, SeminyakAlso of use to the interested tourist are the detailed descriptions of shrines, odalan ceremonies, cremations and (if shopping around) of krisses and their manufacture; Eiseman’s wife, a specialist in Balinese dance, contributes several erudite chapters on the legong and other traditional dances. It’s also worth studying the section on castes and clans, so that when your taxi driver introduces himself as Made, you can say, ‘Ah, the second son of a rice-farming family,’ to general amazement. And the chapter on Uluwatu temple is more useful to visitors than anything in the usual guidebooks, and will allow you to stand on the cliffs and gaze knowledgeably at the shrines while the macaques make off with your sun-hat.

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