Mountains at midnight on Mount Batur

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Published: December 10th 2023

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mount batur templemount batur templemount batur temple

Your skill is only a rumour until it reaches your muscles… ~ Indonesian Proverb

HE SAID…
Today we were travelling to the spectacular Mount Batur.

Locations
> Sibetan is a remote rural village in eastern Bali.
> Kintamani (our destination) is a small village in northeast Bali, perched on the caldera wall of a collapsed volcano
> Mount Batur is a volcano in northeast Bali.

Transport
We travelled from Sibetan to Kintamani by minibus, then explored Mount Batur by foot.

We left Sibetan in the early afternoon and headed northwards to Kintamani. The road was narrow and winding. We ascended high mountain roads, sped through small villages, passed slow trucks on blind bends and bounced over rough patches of bitumen. The landscape was green and lush, and the tree canopy often hung low over the road.

Nearly every house on route to Kintamani had a shrine in its front yard. These were often elaborate structures, and sometimes held a bigger footprint in the garden than the occupant’s dwelling. Such is the power of Balinese Hinduism.

When we started to meet speeding buses on the wrong side of the road, it was a dead giveaway that we were approaching a touristic area. We turned onto a busy road, stopped at

streets of kintamanistreets of kintamanistreets of kintamani

a checkpoint and paid what appeared to be an entrance fee, then drove a short distance to Hotel Caldera – our accommodation for the night.

Accommodation
The approach to Hotel Caldera was spectacular. We drove into a large town square, then started to descend a steep winding road. The view before us was sublime. Mount Batur, an active volcano, was jutting out of an enormous crater of a once larger (but now collapsed) volcano. Our hotel was perched on the caldera wall of this enormous crater – hence its name. When we relaxed on the long thin balcony off our room, the northern horizon was dominated by Mount Batur, while the eastern horizon was dominated by Mount Abang – another active volcano. The beautiful Lake Batur curled around the feet of both mountains, and tiny villages dotted the lakeside. This view was breathtaking, wherever you were in the hotel.

Cuisine
…Dinner (Hotel Caldera, Kintamani)…
We settled at a table in the hotel’s open-sided dining area (which offered panoramic views of Mount Batur and Mount Abang) and ordered the following:
> nasi goreng sambal ijo (rice, sambal ijo, rice crackers and fried egg)
> bihun goreng (fried vermicelli noodles,

hotel calderahotel calderahotel caldera

vegetables, egg and chicken).

Our meals arrived almost immediately, and they were fantastic. My nasi goreng was seriously delicious. The sambal ijo was intensely hot, and it made the dish. I enjoyed the meal with a couple of large Bintang beers, while Ren enjoyed her bihun goreng with a couple of hot lemon teas. After talking for a while with our fellow travellers, we opted to retire early. The 2am start loomed large in our thoughts.

…Breakfast (Hotel Caldera, Kintamani)…
When we returned from Mount Batur (which I describe in the highlights section below), we settled at a table in the hotel’s open-sided dining area and replenished with watermelon juice, fresh fruit (pineapple; dragon fruit; watermelon) and banana pancakes. The mist and cloud cover had now completely lifted, and the two volcanoes were perfectly poised for photographs. If only they had been at sunrise…

Highlights
…Exploring Mount Batur…
We woke early (2am) to prepare for our ascent of Mount Batur. I was in two minds about climbing to the peak to witness the sunrise, as I’d heard the track could be quite slippery with reasonably steep drop-offs. I was surprised by the vagueness in my demeanour. I’m

view from hotel calderaview from hotel calderaview from hotel caldera

rarely in two minds when it comes to heights. I decided to wait and see.

We climbed into a minibus at 3am and snaked our way down to the waterfront of Lake Batur, then drove to a designated parking area for ‘sunrise walkers’ (and there were literally hundreds of us). We donned our headlamps, clutched our walking poles and set off in darkness through the rural foothills of the looming (but as yet invisible) Mount Batur.

We walked through crops of spring onions, brushed past wild lemon basil and smiled at enthusiastic dogs guarding their households. The dwellings were basic, and I wondered what the owners (most of whom were farmers) thought of the hordes of sunrise climbers who trapsed through their properties every morning…

The track narrowed and gradually got steeper, and the effort required to continually push upwards increased exponentially. When we reached a small temple about an hour into the climb, it was time for us to retire. The unknown height issue was too much of a risk for me. Climbing in darkness hides the visual impact of steep drop-offs, and I didn’t want to encounter any height-related issues on my descent in broad

view from hotel calderaview from hotel calderaview from hotel caldera

daylight.

We turned off the walking track and made our way to a carpark just below the small temple. It was here that we fortuitously discovered a narrow rough track to an abandoned lookout point over Lake Batur and Mount Abang, with Mount Batur towering behind us. It was ideal. The sun was yet to rise, but in the emerging dawn light we could make out where we were. There was a small open-sided pavilion where we left our day packs, and a 100-metre length of narrow track that offered an extraordinary panoramic vista of the scenery before us.

As we waited expectantly in the pre-dawn darkness, a thick mist gradually engulfed the peaks above us, and the sunrise photos we’d so eagerly anticipated were fast becoming a pipedream. Regardless, we waited in hope. When the sun began to appear above the eastern horizon, the mountains were heavily shrouded in mist and cloud. Oh no!

While the conditions were not ideal for photography, we managed to capture the atmospheric mood created by a burning orange sun casting its golden light over the deep shadowy waters of Lake Batur. It was a powerful and situational experience. This lookout

view from hotel calderaview from hotel calderaview from hotel caldera

point that we had stumbled upon, nestled in the foothills of an active volcano, offered a unique geographical vista. And even more importantly, we had the place entirely to ourselves. There was no one else in sight. Our photos may not have had the clarity we would have liked, but they truly reflected our experience.

We walked back to the small temple to capture it in photographic format (with the help of the early morning sun), then jumped into our waiting minibus and returned to Hotel Caldera.

Lowlights
…Electrical faults in hotel rooms…
As I’ve mentioned already, we decided to retire early in readiness for our scheduled 3am departure to climb Mount Batur. It would have been an ideal preparation had the electricity not shorted out as we entered our room after dinner. We had no power and no lights. The staff tried valiantly to rectify the situation, but the lights were randomly flashing and sparking. It wasn’t ideal. The hotel manager suddenly arrived at the door and told us we had to move to another room, as our current room had become a fire hazard.

It’s not easy packing up a room in darkness and relocating

nasi goreng with green sambalnasi goreng with green sambalnasi goreng with green sambal

to another room in a short timeframe, but we managed it. Our new room was slightly smaller, but it was further away from the pig farm next to the hotel, so the squeals and smell disappeared altogether. As did the smell of rising sewerage in the bathroom (another quirky feature of our original room). It was, in hindsight, quite serendipitous and opportune. We settled quickly, made a coffee and caught up on our travel notes. We fell into bed at 9pm. At least we would be getting five hours sleep before our phone alarms wailed at 2am…

SHE SAID…
We left our lovely homestay in Sibetan just before 2pm and our driver Gusti pointed our minibus in the direction of Mount Batur. We drove through tiny villages filled with shrines and rural life playing out around us, much as it had in Sibetan. As soon as we got to a larger town, we stopped at the closet supermarket so the group could stock up on snacks and drinks. We had stopped at this very supermarket on our way into Sibetan and Susi (our group leader) had told me about a product called Bokashi oil they stocked here…

fried vermicelli noodlesfried vermicelli noodlesfried vermicelli noodles

so I took the opportunity to buy it.

Having fallen in love with the Singaporean Tiger balm many many years ago, I try to buy a local balm in each country I visit. The Bokashi oil uses coconut oil as the carrier oil with additions of cajuputi (bark of a myrtle tree), citronella, cinnamon and peppermint oils. It also listed other herbs I didn’t recognise. It is a traditional Balinese cure-all for aches, pains, colds, insect bites and even stomach upsets! I prefer using balms with a cream-like consistency, but despite this oil smelling super strong, I think I will enjoy using it. As an aside, my favourite still remains a nutmeg balm from Penang, Malaysia.

I meant to use the minibus drive to capture my thoughts from the last 24 hours, but true to form I fell asleep pretty much straight way and woke with our minibus hugging a road on the side of a mountain! The view was a jaw-dropping one with water far below us and volcanic cones surrounding us. We were only minutes away from our hotel in the village of Kintamani, and it was immediately apparent that we were in an area that

sunrise from mount batursunrise from mount batursunrise from mount batur

handled a lot of tourism – the number of hotels seemed to hugely outnumber any sign of local homes.

We finally pulled into the parking area of our hotel. The front area of Hotel Caldera may have been fairly unimpressive, but we were soon left in no doubt that the hotel building was secondary to the expansive view we could immediately see through the massive glass doors and walls of the building. We all dumped our bags in the reception area and moved en mass on to the open terrace. It must have looked as if we were being dragged along by an invisible magnet. And I suppose the magnificent view was a metaphorical magnet. Slightly to the left of us we had a fabulous view of Mount Batur – Bali’s second highest active volcano, and to the right of us stood Mount Abang, another active volcano. And spread out around the bases of these giants was the vast Lake Batur.

It was difficult for me to grasp that this area was a mass of volcanoes upon volcanoes. We were perched on the inside rim of an extinct volcano – a collapsed caldera to be exact. Around us

sunrise from mount batursunrise from mount batursunrise from mount batur

were the remnants of the stark volcano walls, with Lake Batur filling in the bottom of the caldera. The peaks of Batur and Abang were newer volcanoes that had sprung up inside the old volcano. I stared in awe. My mind wandered back to Greece, where eight months previously we had been staring in awe at the collapsed caldera around Santorini. These lands on opposite sides of the world were inexplicably connected by the same geological phenomenon that periodically and mercilessly unleashed its fury.

Our rooms were on two levels below the reception area and restaurant, and very happily, we had small balconies that faced that same gorgeous view as the terrace. We had a couple of hours to relax before we met for dinner, and we needed that downtime. We’d been asked to only take small daypack bags to the homestay the day before, so our big packs needed to repacked, and we also had to prepare for a sunrise hike the next day – which started at 2am. While our room was basic and comfortable, it had a peculiar smell that we couldn’t quite figure out. A bit later we heard a horrible squealing sound and on

watching the sunrise from mount baturwatching the sunrise from mount baturwatching the sunrise from mount batur

investigation, Andrew figured out that we were only slightly up the hill from a piggery! It was a truly hideous sound. Not having any knowledge of pigs, we could only hope that they would settle down and be quiet in the night.

Susi had booked us an early dinner at our hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant had a fabulous view too, but by the time we gathered at 6pm, the dusky sky was turning dark very rapidly. Andrew ordered nasi goreng sambal ijo (fried rice with green sambal) which was extremely delicious. And though my bihun goreng (fried vermicelli noodles) with chicken and egg was supposed to be a small light meal for an early night, the huge plate held a very solid portion of noodles! Susi had ordered a hot lemon tea, and the cold evening air had prompted a few of us to copy her order. It was a lovely soothing lemon tea, and the perfect antidote to the pile of noodles on my plate.

Dinner was a lovely relaxing affair, where we chatted with everyone about past travel experiences and future travel plans. It was also Su’s birthday, so we had a bit of a sing-a-long

watching the sunrise from mount baturwatching the sunrise from mount baturwatching the sunrise from mount batur

and dessert to celebrate. We were focused on having an early night, so we headed back to our room around 7:45pm… only to discover there was no electricity in the room. It turned out there had been some sort of electrical fire in the ceiling above our room, so we had to move rooms!

We’d hadn’t quite finished re-organising our packs, so a lot of my stuff was spread out on the bed in readiness to be folded. It was such a hassle to repack everything in the dim light from our phone torches. However, the silver lining was that the new room we were moved to was in a newer wing of the hotel, and it didn’t have that odd smell in the bathroom that all the rooms in the old wing seemed to have. And we were much further away from the piggery! It was definitely an upgrade.

After this unexpected event we settled down, and I finally got to write some travel notes. Around 9pm I fell into a restless sleep. I’m not a fan of sleeping with one ear open so as to not miss an ungodly early alarm. However, as with all other

sunrise from mount batursunrise from mount batursunrise from mount batur

times we’ve had a super early wake-up time, it was much easier to wake and get going at 2am than we thought it would be.

As we gathered at reception, Susi let us know that a safety assessment had confirmed we were clear to climb the mountain that day. We were shown a pile of walking poles and told to pick one that suited us, and as is always the case in these situations, some of the poles weren’t in great shape. I often wonder at this absurdity, where hotels don’t think to check that they have enough walking poles for a group, and that they are all in working order! Anyway, we cobbled together a few that worked and walked outside to the minibus.

We left Hotel Caldera at 3am, and it was about a 15 to 20 minute ride to the lowest carpark for the climb. There were cars and buses everywhere, and it didn’t help that most of the carpark wasn’t lit. We bumbled around in the darkness, trying not to blind anyone with our headtorches while we got ourselves sorted. We met our three walking guides – a lead guide and two guides in

view from mount baturview from mount baturview from mount batur

training – and got a quick briefing on safety and what to expect. I had been unsure if my lung fitness would allow me to climb Mount Batur, and Andrew had been a bit weary of potential exposed heights. Regardless, we decided that we were going to give it a go, and that we would reconsider if it ever reached a stage where neither of us was enjoying it anymore.

We trooped out of the carpark with all the other hundreds of people and started walking in the dark. For the first 10 or so minutes we walked single file on dirt paths through mostly flat farmland. There were occasional pesky rocks to navigate, and this kept me focused on the little circle of light on the ground from my head torch. Whenever I could look up and take in our surrounds, I saw that we were walking alongside beds of spring onion, onions, chillies, tomatoes and eggplants. In between farms there were patches of wild lemon basil that were as tall as my waist. The overgrowth on the path made it difficult to see, and the dew on the plants soaked my arms and lower body of my

view from mount baturview from mount baturview from mount batur

jacket.

The further we walked, the more the incline steadily increased. At about the 30 minute mark we started hitting rough volcanic rocks and gravel on the uphill path. I was grateful for the small switchbacks that marginally decreased the steep incline. I had really enjoyed the hike until this point, but my pesky lungs started screaming at me when we hit the one-hour mark. Even though the group had split into smaller groups by this stage, in the interest of not holding anyone up and not injuring myself, I decided to stop where the summit trail to the crater began to climb even more steeply.

I was super annoyed at myself. Mount Batur sits at 1717 metres, and I had managed to climb Mount Bromo which sits even higher. The main difference was that at Mt Bromo, we had watched the sunrise from elsewhere, and by the time we climbed the volcano the sunrise crowds had dissipated. At Mount Batur I felt the burden of holding up a line of people rushing to the top to get there in time for sunrise. It’s probably easy to say after the fact, but I think I would have made

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it to the top if we’d been climbing without the crowds or the pressure of sunrise. The worst part of not being able to climb was that Andrew missed out too. He flat out refused to continue climbing with the group if I stayed behind.

Anyway, Susi decided to stay behind with us too, so the three of us went in search of a sunrise lookout spot the hiking guide had mentioned. Well, we looked and looked and looked all around us, but we just couldn’t find this place. We had started our climb from the lower carpark, and we had stopped our climb close to the upper carpark. This carpark was even more crowded than the lower one, and there were a lot of drivers hanging out while they waited for their group. We asked some locals about the lookout, but they feigned ignorance. It turned out they were motorbike taxies, and they were waiting to take fares downhill after the sunrise. They’d hoped we’d give up our search and give them a fare.

We had just about given up on finding the lookout, so we settled on some small concrete seats. We were on the side

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of a road and wasn’t ideal, but we were facing east, so hopefully we would have a fair view of the sunrise. With about an hour until sunrise, Andrew went for a wander and found a very overgrown small track that looked like it could lead to a small hill. We were walking towards the path when the motorbike guys suddenly ‘remembered’ the actual path to the sunrise lookout spot, and they told Susi about it. Andrew’s path would have also taken us there, but this path was wider and not at all overgrown.

At the top of the hill, we realised we were just above the tree line, and we were overjoyed to find a small rustic pavilion and a fabulous lookout over Lake Batur and the valley below us. To our left was the crater of Mount Batur and directly in front of us was Mount Abang, backlit by the slowly dawning sky. We could only just make out the outline of Lake Batur below us by following the line of twinkling lights on its shore. I pictured quiet homes with locals just waking up to their work days. Or hotels with staff having a quick nap

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between seeing guests off on their sunrise hikes and preparing breakfast for their return.

We were very surprised that we had this gorgeous place entirely to ourselves, and we relished the deep quiet of the mountainside. We had about 30 minutes to go until sunrise, and even though there was a clear view to the east, the top of Mount Batur was covered in a thick cloud – so we were dismayed for the group. It would be such an anti-climax having a washed-out sunrise after all that effort climbing the mountain.

It wasn’t the most brilliant sunrise I’ve seen, and even from our clear vantage point the sun kept being obscured by passing dark clouds. However, the sensation of being on the side of a volcanic mountain, combined with the serenity of the quiet woodland spread around us, added volumes to the pleasure of witnessing the sunrise. As a massive bonus, watching the valley and lake below us transform with the changing light was as beautiful as watching the sunrise itself. Whenever the clouds blew over, we could see that the sunrise colours were full of oranges and reds, and we all commented that it felt like

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a sunset rather than a sunrise. And golden hour was more like orange hour! This beautiful experience went a long way towards calming my annoyance at not being able to climb Mount Batur all the way to the top.

The morning light was gorgeous and clear by now, and it was a pleasure walking around in it. We could clearly see the black lines of old lava that had once flowed down the sides of the volcano in angry streams of fire. We were surrounded by pine trees with wiry foliage and eucalyptus trees with bright green leaves. I always think of eucalyptus trees as being solely native to Australia, but apparently the rainbow gum eucalyptus is native to Indonesia and some surrounding islands.

While waiting for the group to descend, Andrew and I explored the Hindu temple near us. It never ceases to amaze me that there are so many old temples and shrines built in the most inaccessible and remote of places in Indonesia. We eventually met up with everyone and piled into our minibus for the drive back to the hotel.

After a quick shower, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast with a gorgeous view

banana pancake and watermelon juicebanana pancake and watermelon juicebanana pancake and watermelon juice

of Mount Batur. I loved my fluffy banana pancake, which was accompanied by delicious watermelon juice and a fruit plate of pineapple, dragon fruit and watermelon. Something I haven’t yet mentioned was that on one corner of the hotel terrace, a large sculpture of two upturned hands had been built. It overhung the side of the terrace and was clearly targeted at the Instagram crowd… from a certain angle it could be made to look like you were suspended over the side of the mountain while being cradled by the two hands of the sculpture. We laughed at the corniness of it, but then promptly sat in it for photos! ????

Next we travel northwest to Lovina, a relaxed coastal town on the northern coast of Bali.


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