Indonesia: Sunrise at the Summit on Gunung Batur in Bali
January 1, 1970
by Layla Claridge
As a beach loving, sun worshipping holidaymaker the thought of trekking a volcano in Indonesia in temperatures that cause a sweat just by stepping outside the air-conditioned hotel room was not the top of my priorities. I was even less inclined to participate in such an excursion when I was told I would need to get up at 1am to travel to the temple and start trekking at 3am. Nonetheless, with insistence from my Balinese friend ‘Priday’ and promises of a trip to the Hot Springs after our climb, I agreed to go and embarked on a trek that had some of the most magnificent views and breathtaking scenery that I have ever seen.
Words of Wisdom: Don’t Do Durian and other Hints and Tips
Don’t Do Durian:
If you haven’t tried it before you may be inclined to try Durian fruit, the notoriously smelly and (according to the locals) extremely delicious local fruit. Its certainly not to my liking but if you are going to try it, I do not recommend trying it before your climb or even transporting it in the car you are going to use to travel to the volcano. The aroma could perhaps be likened to your brothers old used football boots which may have been left in your car at some point. Durian also has a tendency to linger on, not only in the air but also in the mouth, so if you haven’t tried it yet, save the tasting for after the trek. We definitely learnt the hard way!
My friend ‘Grace’ and I were told by Balinese, Europeans and Americans that it would be cold and we must bring jackets and trousers. Luckily I had packed neither jacket nor trousers and instead settled for a light jumper. In minutes of starting the climb I had removed this jumper and other layers; the climb was humid, sweaty and certainly not cold.
Chills at the Top:
Despite these temperature warnings, I would recommend exchanging the jackets and trousers for a light wrap or sarong for watching the sunrise at the top, as whilst your body cools down and the sun rises it can get a little chilly.
What Goes Up Must Come Down:
After the beautiful views, you of course have to descend the mountain and there are various routes you can take to get down of varying lengths. None are particularly easy so don’t over do it on the trek up.
Breakfast or Bananas:
It is often advised to hire a guide and pay for breakfast to eat at the summit. I wouldn’t advise this; the pathway up is pretty clear and many other trekkers are around to show you the way, making a guide redundant. Secondly, the breakfast is provided at the summit where you may not be hungry and probably want to focus on the view not your egg sandwich. In due course I shall explain about the bananas.
Equipped with water, a jumper and a camera, our party consisting of two English Girls and our Balinese friends ‘Priday’ and ’Nuada’ we began our ascent. If we thought we were in for a casual morning stroll up the volcano we were indeed wrong; lacking in safety precautions, hand rails or solid ground the ascent certainly isn’t for the lazy hiker, but the relatively undisturbed rural pathway definitely added to the charm of the hike. What also shocked us Brits is that our pace was almost preset to pretty fast; Whilst our Balinese friends were not prepared to slacken their pace to accommodate us less seasoned trekkers, you also end up climbing the mountain with many other trekkers who also cut a fast pace. With narrow pathways for most of the journey, there are few places to stop or slow down.
One such place, however, is a local shrine or temple, called ‘Pasar Agung’, conveniently situated just under half way up. Most Balinese locals will stop here to pray and offer sacrifice, which not only provided us with a well-appreciated break but also gave us a chance to experience local religious culture (you can read more about this coming soon in my blog on Being Balinese).
Nonetheless, once the sacrificing is done the ascent continues, when you think the summit finally looks near reach you will come across the ‘lava quick sand’. About three quarters of the way up you will quite literally stumble across black lava ash that almost acts as quick sand, making it very difficult to gain any footing at all. However do not give up or stop at the lower peaks, the climb is tough but the view is a worthy reward. I promise.
Magic on the Mountain
Most of you will be familiar with the iconic sunrise scene from The Lion King, and for those Disney fans out there, get thinking of the stunning scenery in Pocahontas, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid as well, because this is the view that awaits you at the top. It is utterly magical and spellbinding, especially as you watch the sun rise in front of you and see the moon set and fade behind you.
Having been lucky enough to have seen many a sunrise, in many a country, I am not the easiest to impress on such matters. But this sunrise is by far the most stunning I have encountered and one that really gives you ‘that on top of the world, I can conquer all feeling.’ This is the view that, excusing the cliché, photos cannot do it justice, as when the sun rises the colours in the sky are regularly changing.
Just to add to that ‘whole new world feeling’ it is not uncommon to be joined by wild monkeys that gather on the summit and watch the sunset with you. And this is where your banana comes in; get two experiences in one, by hand feeding the monkey a banana. If you hold it up high with your arm outstretched vertically, a monkey may well grab the banana, unpeel and eat it whilst sitting on your shoulder.
“Sometimes the Right Path is Not the Easiest One” Pocohontas
Whilst walking up, I started looking forward to the descent, which I figured would be easier. How wrong I was. Remember that lava quick sand? Well this is even worse on the way down and I spent more time sliding, or unintentionally sitting on the lava sand than casually walking. It all adds to the fun though and each trip, stumble or fall provides entertainment for the rest of the group. Those brave enough took the kamikaze style route down, consisting of a long strongly sloped pathway filled with lava sand, the only way down is to run very fast. If you do take the slightly easier route you have a great view of the kamikaze route and hear many enacting Tarzan style hollers’ on the way down. Even more to my surprise, our trek down took longer than our climb up, as rocks, roots and loose stones had to be carefully negotiated, so if your planning something later in the day, do leave enough time.
The Reward: Hot Springs
Though some trekkers did bring celebratory Bingtangs (local Balinese Beer) as a reward, to drink at the summit, for most of us 6am may be a bit early to start on the alcohol. Instead I would strongly recommend a trip to the luxurious Hot Springs at Kintamani Resort, a perfect place to relax, sunbathe and give those aching legs and feet a bit of a rest. Situated under 10minutes drive from the base of Mount Batur, day entry to the springs costs 80,000Rupiah, and gives you a soft drink and towel to use included in the price. Here you can indulge and drift in the pools, whilst gazing out at the magical Lake Batur and Mount Batur from the infinity style hot springs. If your lucky you may see some locals fishing on the lake in their canoes, or working on the small fish farm in the middle of the lake. It is worth noting, however, that if you go with Balinese people they are prohibited from entering many of the hot springs and treated very differently to tourists. Nonetheless, the place is a serene and relaxing not to miss spot, and the ideal location to unwind after your climb.
- When: March 2016 (Open all year round) 3am-8am
- Where: Mount Batur, Kintamani Regency
- What: Second tallest Volcano in Bali. Active
- Why: To see the sunrise and the moon set
- How: On foot
To watch a short video on my experience, please click here.