High Above The Clouds On Bali’s Mountains
The cardinal directions of the Balinese are different to ours: kaja (north), kelod (south), kangin (east) and kauh (west). Whilst they seem similar, kaja is not precisely north but rather “to the mountain”, as water, which makes all life possible, comes from the springs of the mountain. Thus, kelod is to the south, but rather to the sea, where “used” water ends up. Mountains are thus highly respected here in Bali, bringing life through their streams that flow down into the lowland rivers, providing fertility to the land and rice fields. Bali is home to a few mountains, but here we bring to you three of our favourite mountain experiences.
Bali’s holy mountain! It is said in Balinese mythology that Mount Agung was once in fact the summit of Mount Semeru in East Java, the abode of the Hindu gods. The top of Semeru was sliced off and carried by Basuki the legendary dragon and placed upon Bali, which was at the time a turbulent piece of land with no weight to make it settle; Mount Agung thus held Bali in its place. Agung to this day has remained as Bali’s most respected mountain, home to Besakih, the mother temple, where the sleeping dragon, Basuki, sleeps and guards. The Balinese set the alignment of their houses, temples and prayers towards the kaja direction, north or mountain-ward, mainly towards this holy mountain.
Standing at 3,043 metres high on Bali’s eastern regency, Karangasem, Mount Agung is in fact an active volcano, last erupting back 1964, with power that solidifies this mountain’s godly reputation. Besakih Temple, on the southern slopes of Agung, was missed by the lava and pyroclastic flows of the eruption, showing to the Balinese that this truly was a holy place. The Balinese Hindus come regularly for pilgrimage and prayer, travelling up the six terraces and stopping at 22 different temples as they make their way to the top. The views, as you can imagine, are truly spectacular, revealing much of Bali’s south from high above the clouds. A trip to Besakih offers a beautiful blend of culture and nature all in one.
For pure nature-lovers however, the sunrise trek up the mountain is an incredibly rewarding experience. Starting at 2am at the Pura Pasar Agung Temple, already at 1,700m above sea level, the journey to the crater begins. You will first pass through thick vegetation along soft earth paths, dodging branches in the dark. As you climb, the trees begin to slowly fade away and the temperatures drop and the ground gets harder. Finally, at around 2,200m above sea-level the trees are gone and the sky above you opens up; if you’re lucky with the weather, the sky will be filled with thousands of brilliant stars, shining bright without any nearby light pollution. Finally, after a final scramble and climb up some rock faces, you will find yourself at Agung’s giant crater, perhaps steaming as it proves it continues to breathe. It will be around 6am, perfect to watch as the distant sun rises behind Lombok’s Mount Rinjani in the east, sending forth the beginnings of a new day. The light reveals the whole contour of Bali’s southern coast, and high above it all you are humbled by the sheer size of the Earth and how small we are compared to it.
The journey down, although difficult and tiring, is still a feast for the eyes as you finally can see the terrain you had just walked up in the dark. The trek is a challenging experience but one that really reveals the majesty of Mount Agung and it becomes obvious why the gods find comfort in these mountain abodes.
Moving from Karangasem to Bangli, going to the regency’s Kintamani is like travelling back in time, as village lifestyles and nature still reign ahead of anything. Situated inland of northeast Bali, Kintamani is home to one of the island’s most impressive landscapes, a giant caldera within which the natural beauties of Mount Batur and Lake Batur can be found.
Mount Batur, which towers at an impressive 1,717m above sea level, has long been a chosen destination for trekkers and hikers. Still an active volcano, with its last eruption being in the year 2000, Batur continues to spout its hot breath into the cool, alpine air of Kintamani. Alongside the breathing mountain is Bali’s largest lake, the sparkling, Danau (Lake) Batur.
Like Agung, one of the best things you can do in Kintamani is the sunrise trek up Mount Batur; it offers you the opportunity to see real Bali in every light, day to night – or in this case night to day. Starting at around 4am at the foot of the volcano, misty breathed, wrapped in warm clothing and geared with a headlamp, you will start your adventure in the dark. With only the narrow light of your lamp shining on the bare earth path leading the way, you will trek through the grasslands of the area surrounding Batur before heading into the sparse forest that begins the ascent. At times, your guides – and yes, trekking Batur requires a guide – may stop at the small shrines dotted on the way up for a prayer. It is these moments that separate any other type of trekking experience you have done, with trekking in Bali. Culture pervades all here and whilst you stand in this mountain forest in the mystic dark as local Balinese guides pray and worship, you will certainly feel a little part of the Bali’s soul, real Bali that is.
Continuing up, the trek gets harder. You will see a line of headlamps in the distance, snaking up the mountain, showing the changes of gradient in the land. The shallow jungle walk becomes a steep scramble. After a final push up the hardest section of loose sand, you reach the top, where resting groups await their prize in the fresh mountain air. At around 6.20am, the first signs of light pierce through the morning dew dramatically, rising over the giant caldera wall that before now was hidden behind a curtain of night. As the warming sun rises, slowly, a 360-degree panorama reveals itself, the giant Lake Batur sparkles and you finally see the huge caldera around you – which seems to dwarf your opinions of your Batur climb. These are the best views of Kintamani you will get, surely well worth the morning exercise.
For treks and hikes on Mount Agung or Batur, you must use a guide. We suggest using professionals such as those found at www.mudigoestothemountain.com, although at Batur you will be able to find local guides at the start point.
Just behind Batur is the arid Muntigunung, a hilly region in northeastern Bali that offers some of the best, yet least known, treks with breathtaking views on the island. Most visitors to Bali don’t know this unique, authentic trekking experience exists; but those who do are in for an amazing treat, for as they plunge into the bushes and misty hills, they’re not just trekking off a striking beaten path, but also retracing the steps of Muntigunung women who for centuries have walked the kilometres of the same trail through steep ravines to collect and carry water back to their village.
Muntigunung is hidden away from the tourists and wealth its southern counterparts have enjoyed for years. Even the majority of the visitors who have been to Kintamani are not aware of the existence of this area, which sadly is home to people who live in dire poverty. The area is very dry for eight months of the year, turning the soil into dust and it was therefore difficult for villagers to grow anything. Even when it rains, there are no rivers or streams, as the land quickly absorbs the water.
The population has to walk between 3 to 5 hours daily to collect their water from either Lake Batur or the North Coast. As there is not enough water for irrigation most of the year, people are not in a position to grow crops and to create income; abject poverty in the area is the result. Even more unfortunate, the villagers are not registered so they are not entitled to the health insurance assigned for the poor.
Then came Daniel Elber, a retired Swiss banker who came 10 years ago to Bali and made a huge difference to the villagers of Muntigunung. He set out to provide a water source in the area to give the villagers ample water supplies through the dry season. Not satisfied with that, he then assisted the villagers with an alternative and sustainable source of income to improve their circumstances. But while working on the water problem Daniel realised that the women of Muntigunung spent hours walking over the mountain to the road and took public transportation or hitched a ride to Ubud and Denpasar to spend the begging.
So Daniel’s next step was to set up a non-profit organisation and start trekking tours over the mountain with the women of the village trained as guides. The trekking tours have been set up and professionally marketed with the women in one village employed as guides. Two other surrounding villages are currently being set up as alternate trekking routes and the women in these two areas are also trained, with some trained to make straw hats that are sold in Seminyak and ubud boutiques. The trekking program is so successful that it was awarded with a Global Ecotourism Award in 2011.
Trekking tours can be set up for a minimum of two people and a maximum of 6-8 people. Trekkers are picked up from their hotels around 6am and driven north to Songan near Mount Batur. From there the trekkers walk a short way up and then it’s downhill into what is said to be the deepest valley on the island through some of the most beautiful countryside.
On the way there are frequent stops with a break at the villages to observe basket creations out of the Lontar palm leaves, productions of hammocks, cashew nuts processing, and an inspection of the water supply projects – these are initiatives designed by the Muntigunung Program to empower the villagers. Of course, on the way to each of the stops, trekkers are entertained by the breathtaking views of the surrounding.
Jalan Raya Buitan, Desa Buitan, Manggis, Karangasem
+62 363 41011
Muntigunung Community Social Enterprise
Muntigunung, Tianyar Barat, Kubu, Karangasem
+62 361 424 619