Eat, Pray, Love ’s footprint is everywhere in Ubud, Bali, where the best-selling book’s author, Elizabeth Gilbert, spent her love chapter. From the plethora of single women who pound Ubud’s streets, to the clichéd tours and Balinese people who name-drop locals Ketut and Wayan, who were featured 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.
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, the guru turned his gaze to 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.”
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!
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.”
Update: A reader wrote to mention that Ketut died in June 2016. See author Elizabeth Gilbert’s thoughts on the passing of this beloved and mischievous medicine man.
Where in the World?
- Ketut’s address & telephone number are: Ketut Liyer: Pengosekan, Mas, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, Telephone: (0361) 974092.
- 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. We did not make any arrangements in advance, and simply showed up at his business/home. This was in 2011, so the procedure may have changed in the years since.
- During our 2 weeks in Ubud, we stayed at the pretty and tranquil Nirwa Homestay (affiliate link), run by Madde and Ayu. The family-run guest house was surrounded by a panorama of vibrant rice paddies, and our soundtrack was that of nature: soprano crickets, confident roosters, and babbling canals. If you go, be sure to order Ayu’s legendary green banana pancakes for breakfast.
- Need more inspiration? My Bali guide shares my highlights from the island.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.