An Afternoon with “Eat, Pray, Love’s” Ketut Liyer in Bali, Indonesia

Ketut Liyer sitting on porch

Eat, Pray, Love ’s footprint is everywhere in Ubud, where the best-selling book’s author, Elizabeth Gilbert, spent her love chapter. From the plethora of single women of all ages who pound Ubud’s streets, to the clichéd tours and Balinese people who name-drop the locals who were characters in the best-seller, the book’s influence is ever-evident.

Having heard what a character the spiritual healer Ketut Liyer is, Shawn and I thought it would be fun to spend a few moments with him.

We first trekked to Ketut’s home compound on a Balinese holiday. Our homestay hosts, Madde and Ayu, said that though Ketut would not be open for business on that day, it would be interesting for us to observe him leading ceremonies for locals who would be visiting his temple for spiritual cleansing.

signs showing Ketut Liyer's home

Indeed it was! Neighborhood locals flocked to his home compound, dropping into the family temple to deliver offerings, and partake in the ceremony Ketut was leading. The famous medicine man had a bell in hand and seemed thoroughly immersed. Yet for a brief second, he turned his gaze to the two international visitors, flashing us an incredibly warm, nearly toothless smile.

On Thanksgiving Day, we again walked to Ketut’s home. As anticipated, it was a bustling place. A group of tourists from Jakarta huddled around the 98 year-old man, a dog lounged in the shade of a temple, caged birds serenaded, and women carried construction supplies on their heads to a corner of the compound.

After the Jakarta visitors had left, Ketut, who was sitting flexibly in lotus position on the floor, said, “Make introduction, please.”

Ketut Liyer sitting at home in Bali

As we did so, Ketut became intrigued by Mango, the mascot monkey accompanying us on our travels to give each place a sense of home, and to make our travel photos more accessible to young viewers and children at heart.

Ketut playfully interacted with Mango, and then went into his trunk, to pull out an original copy of Eat, Pray, Love, as well as a letter from Gilbert. His long, ring-adorned fingers paged through the book.

“Here is my name… and here is my name…” Little did Ketut know that we had heard of him before!

Ketut Liyer holding book

Then, out came the note card from its envelope.

“I don’t understand it,” Ketut said. “Please read Liz letter.”

In the card, Gilbert wrote Ketut that she thought of him often, and that she was grateful for what the wise man had taught her about love.

“What’s that word? Graaatefull? I don’t understand.”

“Thankful. Happy for what you taught her,” I explained. It was fun helping the Balinese man increase his English word repertoire.

Ketut seemed perplexed by the colorful, hard-covered notebook that we travel with, in which we’d jotted down a few questions for him.

“Are you going to make me a picture?” he joked.

Ketut gently offered his palm reading services, mentioning that most visitors “wanting to know about the future.”

We communicated that we instead wanted to just talk with him and that we would like to make a donation for his kidney stone operation that he mentioned several times.

Ketut seemed pleasantly surprised that our visit did not follow the normal tourist formula.

We asked him about his secrets for leading a happy life. I am not certain that Ketut understood the question, but he did say that he was not sad to die because he has lived a happy and full life.

The diminutive healer again reached into his trunk, this time pulling out a polished bell from a yellow satin bag.

“This from Liz,” he said.

He performed numerous chants, sounding the bell. Before our visit with Ketut had ended, he had regaled us with three different bells.

As the evening sun was dipping below the horizon, and Shawn and I had a bit of a walk before us, we thanked Ketut and told him what a wonderful opportunity it was to meet him.

“Don’t forget about me,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”

The little man’s body shook with a hearty chuckle reminiscent of the Dalai Lama’s.

“See you later, alligator.”

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • Ketut’s home is a bit of a walk from Ubud’s city center, however, we made the journey twice on foot. Most taxi drivers should be able to easily find his home.

Ketut Liyer:  Pengosekan, Mas, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Tel: (0361) 974092

Photography & text © by Tricia A. Mitchell . All Rights Reserved.

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31 Comments on “An Afternoon with “Eat, Pray, Love’s” Ketut Liyer in Bali, Indonesia

  1. This was a wonderful read. The pictures are fantastic. I hope you and Shawn continue to have these wonderful adventures and keep writing them down. Thank you for sharing. Peace and happiness. Fran

    • Greetings, Fran! Happy that you enjoyed the tale from our Ketut meeting and that you’ve subscribed. :) Shawn and I are off to Malaysia later today, but will leave Bali with a suitcase of wonderful memories and rich experiences.

      There are a lot of islands in the Indonesian archipelago – perhaps you’d like to go sailing again?
      Trish & Shawn

    • I’m not sure what’s prettier – the elaborate cages or brilliant birds! We saw a lovely parrot yesterday that was so social. It hopped up and down with us, and was doing a pretty good job of learning “hello” with just a few English lessons. Too funny!

      • The whole image has so much going on within it, that it works. So I have my camera! And I love it. Still fiddling around with the ISO, aperture, etc. It’s a Nikon D5000. I took it for a spin today and had alot of fun. Any tips or learnings would be so appreciated. I am also scouting the web!! Safe travels to Malaysia!

      • Marina, happy to hear that you’ve gotten the new toy! Please let me know if you find any helpful tutorials online. I did find that the CD that came with the camera was helpful, but it left me hungry for more information. We’re in Kuala Lumpur right now, and I was tempted to get an exterior flash yesterday. I think I’ll wait ’til I get more proficient with the camera. Look forward to seeing your images soon!

      • I have been out and about, learning as I go along , helped by advice from other photographers. I have viewed some specific tutorials for the Nikon D5000 and will go back and search a little more, later. Some of the photos on my current post are from the new camera… I love the detail captured by the camera – it is amazing. Hope you’re settled in KL. If you need an exterior flash, go for it. It seems to be alot of practice practice practice with the camera :)

  2. Tricia, Thanks for sharing that experience. I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, so it is fun to hear the effects the book has had on Ubud, and amazing that you were able to have such a personal experience with Ketut Liyer.
    Look forward to hearing more adventures.
    Traci

    • Traci, so glad you enjoyed reading about our time spent with Ketut! At 98 or so, I’m amazed by the number of visitors he’s able to receive on a daily basis. We were at his home on two separate days, and each time, there was a flurry of activity. I suppose all the interactions keep him young.

      A pleasure to get your feedback, and pleased you stopped by!

      Until next time,
      Trish

  3. When I actually have time to sit down I manage to find great reads such as this one. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story, and I will certainly keep an eye out for more from your past and upcoming posts. Cheers.

    • Koya, I’m thrilled that you spent a few of your rare, quiet moments reading some of my tales! That day was an all-around fun one and it just happened to be Thanksgiving. We met with charismatic Ketut, then had a non-traditional dinner at one of the tastiest Mexican restaurants I’ve ever been to. It’s funny that we had to go all the way to Bali to find it. :)

  4. Awww. I don’t know why but this post somehow moved me to tears. I had read Eat, Pray, Love and found the character of Ketut incredibly endearing. To see him here in the flesh brought a huge smile to my face! I didn’t realise he is 98! And so oblivious of his fame :D You did a fine piece of writing here Trish. Most of all, the unmistakable sense of kindness from you and Shawn warmed my heart. Thank you for the amazing photos and for sharing this sweet encounter. Hugs, Sharon

    • How nice to hear that it touched you so! Isn’t it amazing that he’s in his 90s – and that he can still sit in lotus position? :) He’s a great example for physical healthy and longevity, and he has such a great, little laugh.

      We’re off to the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington State) for a camping trip, so I’ll probably be away from the blogosphere for a while. I wish you and your family happy days, Sharon!

  5. I recently listened to Liz reading Eat, Pray, Love. How wonderful that you actually had a visit with Ketut. What an experience that must have been. It was a pleasure to see your pictures to add context to the book.

    I just read that you’re off to my neck of the woods (the Oregon coast?) I look forward to seeing your take on our lovely corner of this earth…. (oh, wait… that was September, not this month). I’m off to search for a post relating to your visit.

    • Hello Gunta, how fun to connect! I must confess that I’m so far behind in chronicling my adventures in the United States this summer. The Pacific Northwest posts – especially those from the gorgeous Oregon Coast – are yet to come. :) We were so impressed by the natural beauty there. How lucky you are to call such a pretty place home.

      I’m happy you also enjoyed this piece on Ketut. My mother in law started reading Eat, Pray, Love during our visit to Bali. Once she heard we’d met Ketut, she skipped to the ‘love’ chapter so that she could pair a face with the book’s descriptions of him. What a charismatic fellow he is!

      Thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to connecting again in the future, Gunta.

    • Thank you, Alli. Chatting with Ketut was definitely a highlight of the Balinese leg of our trip. I can still hear the bell chorus he performed for us. :)

  6. This is a fabulous story, Tricia.Your photographs documenting the whole experience are wonderful. I loved when you introduced your monkey to Ketut. He seems like a gentle old soul.

    • Glad you enjoyed the piece, Jane. That little monkey was a superb ice breaker as we traveled throughout Southeast Asia. When we visited areas where there were mischievous monkeys around, we just had to be careful that they didn’t spirit Mango the Monkey away with them. :)

    • Thank you for dropping by and taking the time to comment, Purborinisulistiyo. It’s nice to hear that Ubud is universally appreciated. Regarding that toy monkey, Mango, we had to be careful that he wasn’t carried off by the real monkeys when we visited the Monkey Forest. :)

  7. Hi Tricia
    I am off to Bali next month and have a visit booked with Ketut. I am trying to think of a sensible question to ask him :) I am glad to see that he does actually exist outside of the movie!
    Melinda

    • Melinda, how fun! We didn’t actually have a session with Ketut, rather we just chatted. He seemed to take a liking to our little monkey mascot, Mango. When you get back from your adventure, please report on your experience. I’d be curious how it will be 2.5 years after ours.

      Oh, and if you like Mexican food, there was a wonderful restaurant not far away from Ketut’s called Taco Casa. http://tacocasabali.com/ The fresh mango juice and dishes were fantastic, in our opinion. We went back twice, interspersing that cuisine with traditional Indonesian fare. How long will you be in Bali?

      • Hi Tricia,
        Two weeks all up – 4 days of yoga, 4 days at the Bali Spirit Festival and 5 days on Lembongan Island.
        Thanks for the restaurant tip – i’ll will definitely check it out!
        Melinda

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