Majestic Mountain

Onglancing at a map of Bali it is impossible to miss the enormous blue lake in the northeastern section of the island Although not as geographically or spiritually prominent as the mighty Mt. Agung, the giant lake inside the caldera of Batur is the most often visited inland feature of Bali, aside from the art-center of Ubud. 

The views from around the crater, the mysteriously different mountain folk, the enormous shimmering blue lake, the active cone of Batur itself - the allure is clear, and a few days around Batur offers an experience of Bali quite different from the beach-padi-culture-an centres to the south of the island. 

The massive elliptical crater of Batur, measuring between 10 and 13km in diameter, was formed nearly 30,000 years ago in an explosion of terrifying magnitude. A second, inner caldera was formed 10,000 years later in a second geological bowel-blast. The edges of the inner caldera are currently marked by the villages of Songan and the point directly below the viewpoint of Penelokan. In the centre is Batur itself. The original volcano was up to 3,sOOm above sea level; at that time taller than the 3,142m Mt. Agung. Since then the volcano has erupted countless times, more than 22 since the eany nineteenth century. The most recent eruption was earlier this year, though it was sufficiently mild that no damage was done. The current cone of Mt. Batur, standing at 1717m above sea level, was formed in 1917. Since then there have been three other significant eruptions in 1926,1974 and 1994, each leaving a new crater. The eruptions seem to be progressing in a line towards the southwest, and a treck along their rims offers great viewing. 

The best tactic at Batur is to explore the outer area by a car or bike and get a guide from one of the hotels to take you on a treck from the lakeside village of Toyabungkah up the volcano. There are plenty of great places to view and explore the region where you won't get eaten alive by hawkers. 

From the viewpoint at Penelokan, a drive or ride around the outer 
rim to the west, towards Mt Abang is perfectly possible, though the road gets pretty bumpy in places. The trip affords spectacular views over the lake and mountain, and at any point you can get out and amble as far as you like if you feel your vehicle is not up to it. It is possible to walk all the way around the outer caldera, but a guide and a fine pair of legs are advisable for this. A masochistic streak 
also helps - it's a long way, hut again, the views are stunning. 

A trip across the lake to visit a cemetary is possible but over enthusiastic demands for money when you arrive may have you back on the boat quicker than you planned. 

For a peaceful mountain respite, the sleepy mountain village of Toyahbunkah offers a host of friendly bungalows, homestays and one major hotel - The Pun Bening Hayato. From here a whole host of trips and trecks can be organised to suit everyone's abilities and budgets. There is also a hot spring from which the village derives its name; Toyabungkah loosely translates as burrowing spring", deriving from the habit of the hot water source of shifting positions according to the level of the lake. 

The most popular trips set out in the early hours to arrive at the peak before sunrise. These vary in length, the shortest being a leisurely two hours straight up Batur from either Toyabungkah itself or the neighbouring village of Songan. You are picked up in a mini-bus from the hotel at around 4.OOam, and then follows a wake-up roller-coaster ride along the north side of the lake to Songan, and on to the point where the poor vehicle will lurch no further. Your guides hand out flash lights, and the nocturnal meander begins. 

The climb is not particularly arduous, but a good pair of training shoes is advisable, as is a light wind-proof jacket or pullover. Even in the chilly night air, climbing the mountain's lower slopes will render most people with a sweaty glow, and this can become very cold when the exertions stop and the pre-sunrise winds bite in at the top. The first 20 minutes is little more than a casual uphill stroll through fields and temperate forest, but as the tree-line disappears behind you, the footing becomes dusty ash which requires more effort to trudge through. After a further 20-30 minutes the volcanic ash gives way to angry red lava flows, looking as though ifs just set from running down the mountain. This provides better footing, and the last 30 minutes are a more satisfying climb. The guides are sensitive to the fitness levels of the group, and as there are usually two of them it is possible to split into two groups - fast lane and slow lane. 

On reaching the top there is a little bamboo hut to sit and recover, sheltering from the wind as you await the arrival of dawn. Lashings of muthneeded hot tea is brewed up on a wood fire, and eventually the horizon to the east begins to glow 
revealing the bed of mist below you in the crater. 

A chorus of cockerels can be heard drifting up 
from the senlements 700m below on the lake shores, as the mighty cone of Mt. Agung is silhouetted against the blood-streaked sky. When the great orange eye eventually stares you full in the face, you know why you got up so early and climbed a mountain before breakfast; the scenery is startling. Between the glaring morning sun and 

the cone of Mt. Agung you can clearly see the ragged, far larger caldera of Mt. Rinjani way over in Lombok to the east. Below you the glassy pane of the lake is cut by the bOOm precipice of the Batur crater edge, rising up to rim of Mt. Abang; to the nonheast the Bali Sea glints enticingly, and way over to the west the volcanic peaks of East Java are clearly visible. Don't forget to bring an extra film for the camera. 

When you've caught your breath from the climb and recovered from the equally breathtaking scenery, you have a choice of a swift one hour yomp back down the mountain or a longer two - three hour stroll along the precipicial rims. These offer excellent views of the progressive eruptions which have occurred this century, and the cool morning air is occasionally warmed by steamy wafts from inside the cone. Very pleasant if you're still chilly at this stage. Before setting off back home, you can even 'help' cook the eggs for breakfast - these are cooked in a hot steam outlet just five meters down inside the crater. It's out of the wind, and really warm! 

Descending the mountain is almost as enjoyable as being at the top. As you enter the tree line once again, the fresh morning air is scented with the aromas of pine, hibiscus and the odd frangipani. As you arrive back at the village it's time for a weli-earned breakfast I lunch at the excellent Arlina's restaurant. Here you can also later witness traditional dances from the region, and even take a few lessons for yourself from instructor Ardana Nyoman, an expent on the region and its cultures. 

By James Wilson

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