Climbing Mount Batur

To me, what is most fascinating about Indonesia is its volcanoes. They have often wreaked havoc, killed, destroyed and should be feared and perhaps loathed. But there is something very alluring about fumes coming out of rich green mountains, about lakes formed in craters, about black wastelands of dried lava.

So when I went to Bali, on top of my mind, above all the temples and the beaches, was a wish to see a crater upclose. Mount Batur, the second highest mountain in Bali is an active volcano, but it has not erupted since 1994. Our guide on the climb claimed it to be dormant, but I do not know if he was using the term loosely. At a height of ~1700m, Batur is not very difficult to climb, and quite a few people climb it to enjoy a beautiful sunrise over the ocean and behind Lake Batur. A sunrise climb seemed like a perfect way to enjoy the beautiful views of the lake.

Batur is towards the northern part of Bali, and the base of the climb is nearly an hour’s drive away from Ubud, the central part of Bali. We were staying in Nusa Dua – way south of the province, which meant that even in the wee hours of morning it would take us two hours just to reach the base. So it was at an ungodly hour of 1 am in the night that we woke up and started the journey. At 3 am, we were at the base. The weather at the base was beautiful – it was pitch dark and the stars were thus visible in their full glory. There was a gentle breeze, the coolest we had felt so far in Bali. You cannot do the climb without a guide, not because it is particularly dangerous, but because the union of guides will pester and follow you if you do not engage one of them. Internet rumors say that they even might try to mislead you. I of course did not want to test this, having a guide was comfortable, because I would not have found my way through the dark.

Though we climbed slowly and took a few breaks, we reached the summit at 4:30 am – there was still almost an hour to sunrise. The climb was deceptively simple at the beginning, but as we went forward, it got steeper. Moreover, the eruptions from the volcano have dried up to form lumps, which are round and brittle and do not give a good foothold. Wearing running shoes did not help (how many shoe types can you carry on a trip), as they did not grip too well in the fragile soil, and i found myself slipping a couple of times.

At the summit, while waiting for the sunrise we met with the shock of cold. The breeze had now turned into wind. We had not been warned of such low temperatures – neither did the other groups seem so well equipped. After seeing us shiver for a while, our guide took us to a higher point, where a woman was running a coffee shack. In her kitchen, the fire warmed us, as did a big tumbler of coffee. In a while, as there was some light, we came out, only to discover that the whole sky was covered in clouds – we were not going to have our sunrise after all. We sat down on the rocks, still waiting for some clouds to clear. Meanwhile, our guide brought us some boiled eggs and banana sandwiches (yes) for breakfast – something we ate hungrily and with relish.

For a while, the sun played hide and seek and we saw alternate sceneries of cloud cover and golden rays over Lake Batur. Sometimes we were even able to see behind upto Agung (the highest point in Bali). The clouded view to me somehow seemed even better than what a sunny view might have been, but I suppose I will have to go again to compare. All around were beautiful views – clouds floating by letting up the lake free sometime, then seizing it again.

While coming back, we stopped at one of the craters, from where steam was still coming out.I do not want to overuse the word beautiful – but I don’t know what else to say.

As expected, the climb down was far more difficult than going up. The lumps kept slipping beneath my feet and I had to often seek steadiness from Rupesh or the guide. Soon, the sun came up (wrong time, wrong place) and bore down in full strength. Out with the shades and sunscreens, which didn’t protect much.

We came back to the taxi dusty and tired. It helped that our next stop was a coffee plantation where got a taste of some very invigorating coffee.

Next time, I will probably want to go up mount Brumo – but that of course is a little more active 🙂


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