Arguably one of the most scenic places in Bali, the Batur caldera is often just a lunch stop for busloads of casual visitors based in nearby Ubud or even in Kuta. I think it’s an insult to the sheer immensity of the area.
According to Wikipedia, a caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms shortly after the emptying of a magma chamber/reservoir in a volcanic eruption. When large volumes of magma are erupted over a short time, structural support for the rock above the magma chamber is lost. The ground surface then collapses downward into the emptied or partially emptied magma chamber, leaving a massive depression at the surface.
Imagine a bowl of soup with a crust over it. Next, soup leaks out through an opening, solidifies on the crust, weighing it down until the crust collapses inwards.
However, earlier publications I came across while I first explored the volcanic highlands of Indonesia explained calderas as huge volcanoes that blew their tops in massive explosions (instead of an implosion), leaving a basin with steep walls on all sides. Remnant volcanic activity may occur in smaller cones inside the “basin”. Sometimes, much of the bottom of the caldera becomes a sea of volcanic ash (pumice). Sometimes, lakes may form in the depression, as in the case of Batur and Rinjani.
Which version is correct? I guess it doesn’t matter. Calderas are huge. Some are big enough to swallow up the whole of Singapore. Standing anywhere on the crater rim and looking inwards gives you a spectacular view of a magnificent crater floor. In Batur’s case, there’s a lake, a mountain and dark stretches of lava fields.
26 years ago, I stayed in a horrible “hotel” in Kintamani, climbed Mt Batur at dawn and went back to Ubud after breakfast. I should have stayed in Ubud, travelled to Mt Batur predawn, climbed the mountain, hung around Kintamani for some nice daytime views inside and outside the caldera before returning to Ubud for the night. It was a quick exit after the climb with no time to check out the views inside the caldera. This trip, I decided to spend time inside the crater. It turned out to be a markedly different experience.
We booked a taxi from Ubud, departing at 11.00am. Within an hour, we were already almost at the crater rim. Independent travellers can expect to be stopped at the crater rim and pay some totally unofficial “toll fee”. As our driver would not be getting a share of it, he helped us avoid the mafia by taking a different route to the lake. It was a long way down from the viewpoint at Penelokan.
By then, it was noon and the clouds had moved in to obscure the view. The descent to the lake took some 20mins. The most happening place on the lake is Jalan Kedisan where most of the amenities are found. Many hotels and restaurants here have excellent views of the lake. Further down this road, is the climber’s road (Jalan Pendakian Gunung Batur). There is a car park for vehicles bringing climbers, most of whom are planning a predawn assault at 1717m. I decided not to climb Batur this time round as I had two very unwilling followers in tow; not so much the climb but more the getting up 4.00am.
Having noticed some buildings near the summit of Batur, I suspect that climbing this mountain may give a very different experience from the one I had the last time.
We were staying at Volcano Guesthouse, tucked in a quiet corner near the second hot spring resort at Songan. Compared to the rip off place I stayed 26 years ago, Volcano Guesthouse was excellent. The room was relatively clean and comfortable. The only issue was the lack of charging points.
We had a late lunch and decided to try out the local fish, ikan mujair. It’s actually a tilapia and a very valuable commodity to the people here. Apparently, aquaculture took off rapidly in Lake Batur in the 1990s and today, the fish is in abundant supply in restaurants all over the district. In line with things Balinese, a certain amount of sacredness is attached to the fish. Mass die-offs have occurred, so rituals have been performed and pollutants checked.
A meal with the fish – this particular dish is called Mujair Nyat Nyat – should always be accompanied by a lighted candle. Though tilapia is considered a poor man’s fish, this dish holds a special meaning for the visitor. It was also delicious.
The video below shows how Mujair Nyat Nyat is cooked. The restaurant where we had it didn’t allow us in the kitchen, so I’d need to borrow someone else’s video. This is an authentic Balinese dish of the region and I think it’s fair to point out that some Singaporean “influencers” who make YouTube videos of “Balinese food vlogs” with dishes like Western salads and steaks are not just insulting the local culture but also the intelligence of their followers.
While waiting for our room to be ready, I took a walk to the lava field we passed by on the way to the guesthouse. It was about 1km away. It was around 1.00pm and the sun was roasting again. Batur’s last eruption was in 2000, but it wasn’t a very major one. The lava field we’re seeing today is believed to date from the 1968 eruption. Today, it’s overgrown with grasses even though the black once-molten rock is still evident.
As this is a good viewpoint for photos of Mt Batur, makeshift warungs selling drinks and snacks have cast their retail nets for cars and bikes that stop by for a selfie or two. Out on the lava field, some of the warungs were constructed out of lava rock stacked together.
As lighting wasn’t ideal for the perfect shot of Mt Batur, I decided to cross the road to the lakeside. A 200m path that cuts through a vegetable plot and a house guarded by a couple of ferocious dogs leads the way to a very crude, sloppy-looking concrete platform that didn’t look Balinese at all; lacking the refinement and attention to detail of Tirta Gangga.
A few other smaller trails lead the way almost to the edge of the water or to some “shelter” overlooking the lake. The structures didn’t look old, but they looked like they were abandoned halfway through their construction. Out on the water not far from the shore, were the fish pens, their precious commodity carefully separated from the wild species which are free for all who have brought their fishing rods.
Settled into our rooms, I thought of paying a visit to the hot spring just next to our homestay. The entrance fee turned out to be most ridiculous.
Back at the homestay, I booked our transport to Munduk. I learned my lesson and readily accepted what was offered. There was nothing to do until dinner. As the sun set, temperatures began to plunge. There was no wind. A cooling spell descended upon the lakeside settlement. By then, the hot spring resorts had shut their doors and the crowds at Kintamani must have flowed back into the busy beaches.
A simple dinner was taken. The sun set behind Batur, casting a curious glow on the eastern wall of the caldera. Darkness set in rapidly and after a brief visit to the convenience store for some night snacks and drinks, we were in bed, fiddling with our phones, munching on potato chips and sipping fruit juice until I gave the order for lights off.
I woke up at about 5.00am the next morning. I thought I would be woken by climbers leaving for Batur, but apparently, there were none in our homestay. I checked the thermometer and got the following surprise.
Surprised? This place sits at an altitude of only 1031m on the shore of Lake Batur, but as you can see, it’s significantly colder than Genting Highlands 1865m. You can see the effects of construction and development. We didn’t bring warm clothing on this trip, so I decided to wait for the sun to rise before going out. By the time there was enough light to go for a morning walk, the temperature had rising to the late teens.
With the kids still in bed, I headed off to the lava field. I walked briskly, as if I were chasing some schedule, but it was not a working schedule. It was something far more precious and wonderful. It was a moment, a moment with the the morning sun stretching out over the horizon, the cool fresh air simmering through the night and the immovable mountains dressed in gold.
I crossed the road to the other side. It was a moment worth catching. The lake was like a shimmering sheet of ice, the sun slowly rising overhead to bring out its true colours. I walked back to wake the kids up for breakfast.
At 11.00am, a car was delivered just outside the homestay. A young man then emerged from the private quarters of the homestay and identified himself as the driver. Yes, they were keeping it in the family. Our driver turned out to be very friendly and helpful. I was hoping that he could stop at Penelokan for a few pictures, but by the time we reached the crater rim, the clouds had moved in and Batur was lost in them.
Kintamani only had two crappy guesthouses in 1993. Today’s Kintamani has dozens of hotels, restaurants and shops everywhere. The quiet road is now a major artery with a traffic jam to boot. Our journey on the crater rim road ended roughly around Penulisan with a flight of stairs going up to Pura Puncak Penulisan, a temple with a view of the caldera.
A sharp turn and descent to the west brings us to the district of Catur. It’s still in the highlands, but this area is distinguished by the numerous orange plantations. We then came to a massive bridge, the Jembatan Tukad Bangkung. It spans a very deep ravine and is often touted as the highest bridge in Asia.
The road goes south towards Ubud, but before that, there’s a tortuous detour going up north again towards Bedugul. Before long, we ran into a traffic jam for Bedugul is another must-take Instagram site.
From the shores of Danau Bratan (lake at Bedugul), we climbed up another crater rim road to Wanagiri which overlooks another lake, Danau Buyan. It’s the largest of 3 lakes in the region.
Years ago, Wanagiri was one of my best kept secrets in Bali, but nowadays, the place is brimming with al fresco dining and selfie platforms! There are also guesthouses located further from the edge. Further to the west, is the last and smallest lake – Danau Tamblingan. The area between the two lakes is now a major draw for Instagramers.
Having said that, the opening of accommodations means that the stayer can get up early in the morning before the crowds arrive from Kuta or Ubud. The guesthouses also offer trekking services to sites I have not even heard off. So take heart, there’s still plenty of potential around Wanagiri.
Our final destination for the day was Munduk and fortunately, this tranquil village in north Bali is still quiet and peaceful, mainly because there is no Instagramable “icon”. Our driver drove into Pondok Asri, a rustic yet very pleasant place to stay for the next two days.
To be continued …