IN THE HEAT and dust of a blazing day in Bali, water buffalo thunder along a dirt track in an annual race.

Once the post-harvest fun of rice farmers on the Indonesian island, the buffalo races now draw not only hundreds of buffalo and their owners but also crowds of tourists and local spectators to the island’s Jembrana area. Some buffalo are ridden like horses in the races, called Mekepung; other buffalo haul chariot-like carts as riders frantically urge them on.

The crowd cheers, the brightly clad buffalo jockeys exult if they win a race and everyone has a rollicking good time — except, perhaps, the normally placid water buffalo, the domesticated workhorses of Asia that spend most of their lives plowing and plodding through rice paddies.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times NWTraveler editor. Contact her at

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