One of the most remarkable thing about Indonesia is the enormous amount of surprises it has. I have always thought of Indonesia as a summer palace, California’s Catalina Island kind of summer, only that over here, summer lasts the whole year. I tend to associate Indonesia with everything that entails a good summer vibe: warm, beach, fun, short sleeves and flip-flops.
The image of Indonesia as a hot tropical country was ingrained so deep in me that sometimes I forgot that this island country stretches 5,271 kilometres from east to west, and 2,210 kilometres from north to south. It is bound to have certain places within its borders that don’t necessarily conform with the all-year-long summer pattern.
As much as it is blessed with the most beautiful beaches you can ever see, it is also blessed with plateaus; areas of highland, raised significantly from the surrounding area. The closest plateau from Jakarta is Dieng Plateau in Central Java, raised about 2,000 metres above sea level. The name Dieng came from “Di Hyang”, Sanskrit words for ‘a place where the gods reside’. Dieng Plateau was once covered by at least 400 Hindu temples and thus, was long time ago a temple city of the priests.
One fine day, a friend of mine, Ratna asked me if I had any plans for the long Eid-al-Fitr holiday. I laid out my perfect plan of some serious sleeping series and swallowing some books, but of course Ratna came up with something more adventurous.
“Let’s go to Dieng. There is this open trip, here are the pictures and here’s the link.”
I was pretty much sold.
I somehow managed to drag Indra into this and registered for Langgeng Wisata’s open trip. Open trip was something new to me, and I must say it was quite an experience. We set out from Plaza Semanggi, Jakarta. Firman, our tour guide stuffed all 19 of us — most were strangers to one another — in an Elf bus along with our bags and snacks. Being the master of curling up anytime-anywhere, I didn’t have a lot of trouble adjusting my position. Poor Indra and his prized long legs though, he was practically trapped.
The journey was estimated to be 12 hours long and Firman suggested us to get some sleep so we’ll be up for some hiking and trekking by the time we arrived. At some point when we were in Cipali highway, I woke up to a jolt. The bus driver probably determined to get us there 4 hours earlier, since he seemed to completely forgotten about speed limit or that the bus was actually equipped with a brake.
I could not sleep and it was strange because I am very famous for my ability to sleep on the bus/train/airplane/pedicab/taxi/you-name-it, but for once the speed scared me so I texted that one person who walks in a starlight in another world and sent him my location. I was not sure where I was (partly because I have major problem with reading maps), but that one person translated the map and informed me that I was an hour away from Dieng.
We finally arrived at 04.30 AM and I happily stepped out of the bus in the hope to stretch my arms and legs.
It was freezing cold. Okay, the temperature was just 7°C, but being the cold blooded Komodo Dragon that I was, I ran back to the Elf bus, put on some layers and decided to get some sleep. Two hours later it was breakfast time and thanking my much needed 2-hours power nap, I was ready to enjoy Dieng.
Dieng plateau is a big complex of caldera; a cauldron-like craters formed by the eruption of Mount Prau (2.565 metres). Kawah Sikidang, Kawah Sileri and Kawah Sinila are one of the many craters that made up this big volcanic complex in Central Java. Firman told us that Kawah Sikidang will be our first stop of the day.
There’s something so eerie about this place. Maybe it was the strong sulfur smell, or perhaps because it was a barren of land surrounded by random hills and smoky pond. Kawah Sikidang was barricaded by bamboo fence and behind it, you can see the mixture of hot water and grey mud bubbling endlessly.
I didn’t fully understand the nature of these craters until we arrived in our next stop. Firman half forced us to go inside the Dieng Theatre where a short documentary about the plateau was played for us. I was amused by how fast Indra fell asleep. The theatre could probably use newer version of the documentary and add more interactive element to it, but the information contained in the 20 minutes documentary was invaluable. I was reminded that Indonesia is surrounded by active volcanoes and learnt that volcanic craters are not to be taken lightly.
Some of the craters in Dieng emitted poisonous gas. The others are prone to eruption. In 1979, one of the craters, Kawah Sinila suddenly erupted. Sinila’s eruption triggered other craters to crack, erupt, and emitted poisonous gas. The villagers woke up in horror and tried to save themselves. They headed to the city of Batur and unknowingly entered an area heavily covered by the poisonous, odourless, colourless CO2 and H2S (hydrogen sulfide) from the nearby Kawah Timbang. Within minutes 149 people fell on the street and died that dawn.
I remember the documentary showed the old yellowish pictures of the bodies on the street and thought to myself how awful that was. I was already blabbering to Indra about how people need an early warning system and a clear evacuation path even before he woke up. Little that I know that two days later, when I was safe and sound at home, another crater (Sileri) erupted and injured ten people. It hit me hard that I was visiting active craters, craters that can erupt anytime without warning. It hit me hard, that life is a fragile thing.
Dieng Theatre also served as the doorway to Batu Pandang Ratapan Angin and Telaga Warna. Batu Pandang overlooks Telaga Warna and Telaga Pengilon. I have always had a thing with height, so my eyes were spoiled, quite literally, with the view from Batu Pandang.
From there we walked through a short trekking path that opened up to Telaga Warna, the very lake we just witnessed from Batu Pandang. Telaga Warna changes its color every now and then, due to the high sulphur it contains. I think the very first thing I noticed was how serene the lake is. That day the surrounding area was bustling with visitors, but the lake was so quiet as if it was not disturbed at all by other voices.
Being so used to the hustle bustle of a big city like Jakarta, I felt at peace quite instantly in Dieng. People are generally more friendly, easy going and no one was rushing anything. Life goes on a slightly slower pace here. Dieng is also the first place I’ve ever visited in Indonesia that has, unbelievably, a constant temperature of 15°C or lower throughout the day. Remember when I used to attach the word “summer” to Indonesia? It’s all history now. The local people said that it was, in fact, summer at that time and thus Dieng was warmer than the usual. Jakarta is almost always 30°C at least, so I had no complain and took the change of the weather happily.
After series of up-and-down short hikes, Firman told us that he was going to take us to Tuk Bimo Lukar; Dieng’s very own fountain of youth. Tuk Bimo Lukar is sacred to the Hindu and drinking the water was said to guarantee you eternal youth. I was not in particular seeking for a fountain of youth — according to Sir Indra I look like a 10 years old anyway–, but the prospect of fresh cold water is tempting after half day of hiking so I jumped in and hence this picture:
After convincing one another that we looked younger and fairer, we concluded our day by visiting Candi Arjuna complex. The complex was old and you can sense it. It might have been the oldest Hindu temple in Java, built some 1,200 years ago.
Candi Arjuna complex was set in a square layout on top of the grass that acted like a green carpet. I was a tad disappointed though, for they were all empty temples, since all of the statues have been either stolen or removed to Kailasa Museum in Dieng and we did not have that museum in our itinerary.
We spent the rest of the afternoon there, relaxing, giggling, walking around the complex, watching the sun set slowly and after taking a thousand more silly pictures, we headed back.
The next morning, we woke up at dawn and made our way to Puncak Sikunir. It was 2 in the morning and judging from my attire, I was obviously an eskimo walking inside the house. Learned from my mistake the previous morning, I was pretty sure it was going to be freezing. To my surprise, it was not even that cold. I soon was feeling way too warm and took off my jacket and scarf. Indra yawned and walked passed me saying, “It is not (yawn) going to get cold until a couple more hours.” I cannot comprehend this. How can 2 in the morning be warmer than 5 in the morning?
Firman was firm and serious when he told us to be punctual, since we were not only hunting the sunrise view, but also, apparently, hunting for the spot to watch the sunrise. We were early so we had sometime to nibble on some finger food before the hike. Firman took the lead of the group and asked some of the guys to act as a “sweeper”, making sure no one was left behind. It was a beautiful 30 minutes hike, nothing too heavy or crazy, except the starry night sky show above us.
I have always been, and always will be, captivated by the stars. It was quite literally a sky full of stars. Between the yawn and the cold (it did get colder at around 4AM to 5AM), I remembered exactly why I willingly left the bed and dressed as an eskimo in the middle of the night. The view was simply amazing, I will do it all over again.
Thanks to Firman, we secured the second best spot to watch the sunrise. I sat with Indra and Adi on a rock overlooking Mount Sindoro and Mount Prabu. It was dark but not quiet at all. People from all over the place were being excited, on the border of annoying, and screaming or shouting chant to each other. I closed my eyes and tried to shut all the other noises. Once I succeeded, I felt like my soul was having a deep conversation with the morning itself.
“..the Earth is flat.”
I opened my eyes and stared at Adi who was sitting on my left. “Ha?” –was the appropriate response, so I “ha” him.
Adi laughed and explained about a series of YouTube videos discussing the possibility of Earth shaped as a flat plane or disk. All the time I could not get image of Earth as a pancake out of my mind, no matter how many times “mental image be gone” I murmured.
Adi, Indra and I entered into some philosophical talk about the Earth, mountain, the world, and life in general after that. That was always the magic of a mountain– or a hill, or maybe the magic of dawn: It gets people to talk about all sort of things they would not talk about otherwise. The “heavy” topic; philosophical thoughts, values, wonder and dreams. Those conversations at the same time made me miss mountain climbing again.
People began to cheer even louder and we saw a stripe of orange in the dark night sky, and the sun slowly rise. I could not tell if it was more of orange, crimson, or like a rose on fire, if there is such color in the world.
The stars dimmed one by one, as if making way for the sun’s soft glow to reach us. It started as one small stripe and then it spread all over the sky. As it did, the sky was tinted with shades and gradation of orange, red, black, gray colors, it was majestic. The mountain backdrop added to the beauty of that morning and I quickly registered in my mind to make more time for this: for more sunrises.
Our group stayed for awhile until it was bright and we can clearly see the outlook of at least five mountains surrounding Puncak Sikunir. We picked up our trashes and walked back to the village. It took us longer to go back because everyone was heading back at the same time, so we had a sort of “traffic jam” there. Firman hastily showed us some other lakes visible from Puncak Sikunir but my mind was still fixed on that sunrise.
I wonder, don’t the sunrise and the sunset wear the same color?
“and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.“-Kahlil Gibran