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
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 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.
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
A chorus of cockerels can be heard drifting
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
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