Wawo Muda: The New Crater Lakes of Flores

In 2001 a volcanic eruption in Central Flores created a massive crater, changing the skyline of the local area forever and turning a vast swathe of land into volcanic ash dotted with dead, branchless tree trunks defiantly pointing upwards to the sky. Water that entered this gigantic crater formed five lakes.

Bajawa and MountainsLike the more famous Kelimutu crater lakes, the Wawo Muda lakes change colour according to the mineral content of the water. Unlike Kelimutu, however, the Wawo Muda lakes sometimes dry up, particularly during the dry season. When I visited in mid-April only two lakes were visible.

Trekking to the Crater

After driving for a short distance up through the town of Bajawa with my guide, Johannes, we paused at the entrance gate to the Wawo Muda area. There was nobody around so we continued on without being able to pay an entrance fee. Parking our motorbike at someone’s house, we continued on foot, uphill and along, and uphill some more. We passed coffee plantations; coffee from this area is exported as far as the US. Some brave locals rode their motorbikes up the steep and narrow country footpath, while others walked up the hill towards their plantations. Many vegetables and fruits are grown here, in addition to coffee, often in mixed plantations.

Johannes pointed out interesting trees and plants along the way. I smelt the crushed up leaves of the eucalyptus tree which, here in Indonesia, is used to make an oil called minyak kayu putih, applied to the skin to relieve numerous ailments. I saw coffee beans before the roasting process, all wet and white, and I learnt how in Flores they plant a particular type of tree before planting the coffee plants; these trees, spread throughout the plantation, improve the quality of the coffee. I smelt the roots of a plant used to make tiger balm, and saw enormous bamboo growing by the side of the path.

Tiger Balm Plant

This root is used to make tiger balm

As we climbed higher I looked out across a breathtaking vista of the whole town of Bajawa with Mount Inerie in the background and many large hills surrounding it.

Wawo Muda Lakes

It was scorching hot as we climbed the final stretch up to the crater rim. Then, between the trees, I glimpsed Wawo Muda. The large crater area was almost completely bare of vegetation, with only a few brave trees that had grown since the eruption. Dead, blackened tree trunks dotted the area. I could see two light brown lakes.

It is possible to climb down into the crater and get closer to the lakes, but it is a long way back up. Local people sometimes gather sulphur there, which I was told is used to reduce itchiness of the skin.

We walked around the crater edge to see the lakes from several angles. Since Wawo Muda is not a developed tourist destination, there are no handrails and I was careful not to slip on the little stones that line the ground. The view across the volcanic landscape and the two lakes was eerie and other-worldly.

Wawo MudaHow to Visit Wawo Muda

If you like a short trek through some interesting countryside, visit Wawo Muda before it dries up. The entrance to the area is a short drive from Bajawa, and you face a trek of one to two hours depending on where you start walking. Motorbikes can drive up the footpath so you have less walking, but the hike up through the plantations is pleasant.

Johannes was an excellent guide, extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the local area, as well as the development of Wawo Muda crater and the surrounding mountains. He also offers tours to other attractions in the Bajawa region, such as to Soa hot springs, climbing Mount Inerie and visiting traditional Ngada villages, and he regularly runs tours across the whole island of Flores. He can be contacted by email at johannes.guide@yahoo.com and by telephone on +62 (0)81 353 061310.


Kelimutu: Volcanic Crater Lakes of the Dead

Staring at the milky blue waters I could see why some people were tempted to dive in as if goaded by an invisible spirit to swim in the beautiful lake, slipping off their sandals and jumping to their deaths in the poisonous volcanic water.

Big Blue LakesJourney to the Crater Brim

Earlier I had dragged myself out of bed at 4am (what kind of holiday is this, I had thought) in nearby Moni, and hopped on the back of a motorbike with my guide for the day, Udin, for the journey up to Kelimutu for sunrise. These volcanic crater lakes are the number one item on every visitor’s must-see list for Flores, and justifiably so.

The road twisted and bended, climbing upwards, cloudy in places so we could see only a few metres ahead. I was relieved I had opted to take a guide rather than hire a motorbike myself. Pausing at the entrance to Kelimutu National Park, I showed my KITAS (long-term Indonesian visa) and got in for the local price of Rp. 11,000 including parking and a camera permit. The usual price for foreigners is Rp. 20,000 for the ticket, Rp. 50,000 for a camera permit and Rp. 3,000 for parking. We arrived in the car park and began our walk up to the top. It was still dark and I used the torch I had brought, though the moonlight also lit our path.

Walking up steps and along a path, with a final climb up to the main viewing area, called Inspiration Point, we arrived somewhat out of breath, but pleasantly warmed by the 30 minute hike. Up at the top, the weather was cold, with a strong wind blowing.

A Disappointing Dawn

Unfortunately the cloudy start to the day was a sign of things to come. We couldn’t see the lakes, or indeed anything at all around the viewing point, since everything was shrouded in clouds. Then suddenly the wind blew, the clouds parted for an instant and I glimpsed the Kelimutu lakes.

Black lakeAs I watched, the sun now having risen, without any great dawn view that day, the clouds once again enveloped the viewing point and then it rained. I sheltered with the other visitors beside the concrete platform that marks the centre of Inspiration Point, though there was no roofed area. We waited for the rain to stop, and then after some more waiting, the lakes became visible once more.

Vast Lakes of Colour

I was blown away by the sheer enormity of the three Kelimutu lakes. Having seen photos prior to my trip, and having visited various other volcanic lakes in Indonesia, I hadn’t expected them to be so expansive. A sign states that the black lake covers 4.5 hectares with a depth of 67m. However, my guide believed this to be inaccurate due to the difficulties of measuring the lake’s size.

The lakes change colour from time to time, and were black, turquoise blue and lighter blue on my visit, all colours opaque. Each lake has a name: the black lake is called Ata Bupu, the light blue Nuamuri Ko’ofai, and the turquoise lake is called Ata Polo. The transitions in colour are believed to be caused by the concentration of minerals entering the water, which being in a live volcanic crater, has a high sulphur content. In some places I could see some bubbles at the water’s surface and the wind created ripples across all three lakes. Steep, high cliffs surround the lakes, and it is certainly a very long way down.

Blue lakesSpirits of the Dead

Besides science, the lakes play a significant role in the traditional beliefs in the Kelimutu region. Local people believe that a dead person’s soul enters one of the three lakes; there is one lake, Ata Polo, for the souls of people who have committed evil, a second lake, Ata Bupu, for the souls of old people who have died and a third, Nuamuri Ko’ofai, for the souls of those who have died young. As a result of this, offerings are made to the spirits residing in the lakes.

My guide told me about people who have wilfully jumped into one of the lakes, without intending to commit suicide. He described one visitor who was with friends at Inspiration Point before decided to walk back down towards the car park alone, while his friends were still admiring the view. Later his sandals were found, which had been taken off, showing that he had jumped and not fallen into the lake. Apparently several people have died in this way, and it is believed that they were tempted into the water by the spirits of the lake. Indeed the milky blue waters can appear deceptively inviting.

In fact, the poisonous waters are thick with minerals and sulphur, and therefore extremely dangerous. Several people have died in the lakes over the past few years, including locals. It is very difficult to retrieve corpses from the lakes, because they are pushed and pulled around by the volcanic strength of the bubbling magma underneath.

Rachel at KelimutuWalking around the Crater Rim

As well as admiring the view at Inspiration Point, it is possible to walk around to the farthest lake, walking along the crater rim. We walked along the paved, fenced pathway until it ended, and then continued on the clay-like ground, following the crater rim of the turquoise blue lake. The clouds had cleared to reveal an amazing view and as the sunlight hit the blue waters, the colours appeared ever more vivid.

Returning to the parking area via a different path, I was relieved I hadn’t dived into the black or blue water, and I could understand why Kelimutu has such a powerful pull for local people and tourists alike.

How to Visit Kelimutu

There are many homestays and hostels in nearby Moni village, which has become the tourist centre for visitors to Kelimutu. You can travel from Moni to Kelimutu (13km according to my old Lonely Planet) by motorbike as I did, either with a guide or by renting your own bike. A single ride up to Kelimutu on the back of a bike costs from Rp. 25,000. If you want a guide to drive you, escort you on the walk up and tell you interesting stories, this will cost more. I paid Rp. 130,000 for a full day’s guiding and motorbike tour to Kelimutu and then to other places around Moni. You can walk back down from Kelimutu to Moni, following a shortcut, and visiting a hot spring and a waterfall on the way. Some visitors choose to trek up to Kelimutu, but if you’re planning to be there at sunrise, it’s probably wise to go by motorbike. Cars and minibuses are also available in Moni for groups to hire.

Route Map

The Island of Flores: An Introduction for the Inquisitive Traveller

Flores, located in eastern Indonesia, just east of Sumbawa, Rinca and Komodo islands, is a paradise island of forested hills, volcanoes and beaches. Although the major guidebooks all cover Flores and some tour operators offer trips to this island, Flores sees far fewer visitors than many other Indonesian islands; it is an absolute jewel of an island, waiting to be discovered by the mainstream tourism industry.

People of Flores

Flores has many regional languages and strong local cultures, still very much alive today. With travel limited by the mountainous terrain the local peoples have retained their individual languages and cultures much more than in other places I have visited. To speak to someone from a different ethnicity, the national language, Indonesian, is used. Unlike much of Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world, Flores has a Catholic majority, with many people following thWeavers of Nuandarie religion quite strictly.

I found the people of Flores to be honest about information such as prices, and genuinely helpful, which was a welcome break from the tourist rip-offs and downright dishonest conmen in certain other parts of Indonesia.

Traversing the Island

With a long shape, measuring 450km from east to west, Flores has only one main road, a two-lane bendy asphalt strip that weaves through forested hills and mountains and along the south coast, covering over 600km with its twists and turns. Most travellers choose to enter at either the eastern port of Maumere or at Labuan Bajo in the west, both of which have airports, and travel in a west or east direction, exiting via the other port. Ende, located on the south coast in the middle of the east-west route also has an airport, offering another port of entry.

Due to the twisty nature of the road, it can easily take an hour to travel only 30km, and the journeys easily cause motion sickness. The road is fairly quiet and there are certainly no traffic jams! As an independent traveller you have several transport options. You can hire a car and driver for around Rp. 500,000 per day, which may work out well for groups. Travelling alone as I did, however, this becomes too expensive. You can hire a motorbike, but if you aren’t used to riding on twisty mountain roads this would be a very tiring option. There are public buses where you ride amongst the chickens, goats and pigs that are being transported. This is definitely the cheapest option, but if you want something nicer, try bemos. These are minibuses that ply the same route (there is after all only one main route, with two directions).

Kelimutu Coloured Crater LakesEven more pleasant, however, is going by “travel”. Here in Flores the word “travel” is used to refer to public cars, just like ordinary cars, but with yellow number plates, which are allowed to pick up and drop off passengers. You can avoid traipsing to and from bus terminals and order a “travel” to collect you from your hotel and take you to your hotel at your destination. Essentially you get to travel by comfortable car, with other passengers, for a fraction of the price of hiring your own car and driver. This was my chosen form of transport to traverse the island.

My Route

According to Wikipedia Flores has a population of 1,831,000, much of which consists of villages and hamlets spread across the island. Entering at Maumere, Flores’s largest town though it’s really not very big, it is possible to go east to Larantuka, or head west to Moni, which is what I did. Paga makes a nice place to stop for a rest by the beach, to eat grilled fish, freshly caught.

Moni is the village with accommodation that is closest to Kelimutu. These coloured volcanic lakes are justifiably at the top of every visitor’s must-see list for Flores. The fresh air and picturesque countryside may tempt you to spend a few days relaxing in Moni, visiting nearby villages, waterfalls, hotsprings and more.

The next destination for many visitors is Ende. I chose not to spend the night in Ende, but in changing cars there I was able to see its black sand beach. People will tell you to go there to see the blue stones on the beach, but I saw loads of them collected in piles by the roadside as I headed towards Bajawa and they didn’t seem that special.

Traditional Ngada HousesIt is worth spending time looking around the Bajawa area, which offers an array of sights. I trekked up to Wawo Muda volcanic lakes and visited traditional Ngada villages, both of which I highly recommend. There is also a hot spring at Soa where you can bathe in the waters, and the town of Bajawa itself is worth a look around.

After Bajawa I stopped at Ruteng for a night, and stayed at a Catholic convent. If you have time and transport there are sights to be seen in the mountainous countryside around Ruteng which is in the Manggarai ethnic region, including terraced rice fields.

The final leg of my journey was to Labuan Bajo in the far west of Flores, an entry or exit point for most visitors to the island, and starting place for tours to see the famous Komodo dragons lizards on the neighbouring islands of Rinca and Komodo. I’ll be covering Flores in more detail in forthcoming articles, so follow AnySomewhere.com if you are curious to know more about this jewel of an island.

Sumatra: Lake Maninjau

Lake Maninjau is a fairly short bus ride from Bukittinggi. I took an angkot (minibus) to the bus terminal (Rp.2000) and from there caught the bus to Maninjau (Rp.15000), or rather I boarded the bus and then waited for an hour while it filled up with passengers before departing. Lake Maninjau is, like Lake Toba, the result of a volcanic eruption, a lake in a crater. The last part of the journey took us straight down into the crater via a series of 44 numbered hairpin bends on the narrow road. Having picked a seat near the front so I didn’t feel sick, it was terrifying watching the bus so nearly going off the side of the road as it slowly turned the tight corners. I was glad I wasn’t driving!

Alighting in the town named after the lake, Maninjau, I walked down the main road and out of the town towards the area with homestays. Maninjau itself seemed a fairly unremarkable small town, with some traditional Minangkabau shaped rooftops. Many of the houses were built from wooden planks, with little window panes, and the typical corrugated metal roofs. I liked seeing these quaint houses.

Houses near the lake

Houses near the lake

After looking at two homestays which did not impress me, I saw the turning to Cafe and Homestay 44, a small path leading down from the main road to the edge of the lake. I followed the path and came to a series of wooden bungalows and a cafe. The beach area was kept as a grassy garden with palm trees and some steps leading down to the water’s edge. This was a beautiful peaceful setting. I got a simple but nice wooden bungalow for Rp.40000 per night. The bathroom was shared with two other rooms but there were no other guests while I was there.

The woman who ran Homestay 44, named after those hairpin bends, was very friendly. She and her husband, who had since passed away, set up the cafe and homestay in the early 1990s. They were always busy with guests. Then, in 1998, Krismon, the massive economic crisis, hit Indonesia, and their business and others in the area suffered terribly. Since then the local tourism industry has never fully recovered. Now the homestay is run by her grown-up children as well. I ate meals at the cafe and found them always delicious, with ample portions. Whether Indonesian or Western food, the flavour was just right. One of the sons told me he had spent a month learning to cook Western food from a Dutch man. It was also wonderful for me to stay in a place where I could relax without people trying to sell me things. I hope places like Homestay 44 manage to survive.

Lake Maninjau is much smaller than Lake Toba, but still impressively large, and having seen Lake Toba just a few days before, Maninjau is the second largest lake I’ve ever seen. Lake Maninjau is also more peaceful than Lake Toba. The only boats I saw were fishermans’ canoes, and down at the edge of the lake there was hardly anyone around. I spent time just watching the clouds move up and down over the hills on the opposite side of the lake, about 8km away. Sometimes it was possibly to clearly make out houses over there, and at other times it was like looking out to sea, with everything completely hidden by cloud. I paddled and looked at the pebbles on the lake floor. I had been told that the water is not so clean these days, and there were a few pieces of rubbish floating in it, so I declined to swim.

fisherman on the lake shrouded in clouds

fisherman on the lake shrouded in clouds

Unfortunately I could only spend two nights in this beautiful place, and even worse, it rained almost all the time. When it rained heavily on my first night I was told that it hadn’t rained for weeks before that. The next day I had a little walk around the area, still admiring the quaint wooden houses. Yose, one of the sons who runs the homestay, told me that some of these houses were around a hundred years old. He pointed to one large metal-roofed house in particular and explained that it was so big because in the past it would have been the home for several families, as in traditional Minangkabau houses. In this area the Minangkabau shaped roofs are rare but the traditional lifestyle did exist. Nowadays that house is inhabited by just one family, and people no longer live such a communal lifestyle as in the past.

Then the rain started again, and it rained for the rest of the day and nearly all night. What with the clouds and the rain I didn’t do various things that I might have, like climbing Lawang Top, the hill from which you can see a full view of the lake on a clear day, or going to the hot spring nearby. But I enjoyed spending time at Lake Maninjau and getting to know people there. The next day, still raining lightly, I left for Padang, the final stop on my Sumatra trip.

looking across the lake

looking across the lake

Sumatra: Lake Toba

From Dokan it is impossible to get a direct bus to Parapat, on the shore of Lake Toba, so I first travelled to Pematangsiantar (commonly called Siantar, Rp.15000, two hours plus on bumpy roads), then changed to a Parapat bus (Rp.10000, one hour max). As the bus began its final descent to Lake Toba there was suddenly a stunning vista across the lake. I had never seen a lake anything like as big as this – it looked as big as the sea! Lake Toba is indeed the largest lake in Southeast Asia, and the largest volcanic lake in the world, created around 70-80,000 years ago by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. It is so big you cannot see clearly from one end to the other.

The bus dropped me off in Parapat and I headed for the ferry to Samosir Island. Although not technically an island because of being connected to the mainland by a strip of land, Samosir is commonly called an island. It was created by magma pushing upwards fron the bottom of the caldera. I had heard many stories about Samosir from friends so I was keen to check it out.

Following a recommendation from a fellow traveller I decided to stay at Lekjon. The ferry from Parapat (Rp.7000) drops off passengers at hotel jetties around Tuktuk, a jutting-out piece of land on the edge of Samosir, so it is good to have some idea of where you want to stay. Lekjon had large clean rooms overlooking the lake with hot water and balcony for Rp.50000 and that was just right for me. (Rooms with only cold water cost Rp.40000.)

Lake Toba

Lake Toba

Tuktuk is full of hotels, hostels and homestays as well as restaurants and other facilities for international guests. Clearly it was once a thriving tourist destination, but now many hotels are barely ticking over and some have fallen into disrepair or closed down. According to one hotel worker, this fall in trade was caused by the Bali bomb. Another factor that may account for a lack of resurgence in trade is access to the area. From any direction you are looking at several hours of narrow potholed roads, fine for your average backpacker, but less acceptable for more upmarket hotel clientele.

The following day, after lying in bed looking at the amazing view from my window, I ventured out on foot. Motorbike hire was prohibitively expensive for me, at around Rp.80000 a day. I walked for an hour or more, following the road around the edge of Tuktuk to Ambarita, on Samosir. The views across the lake with its surrounding hills were spectacular, as were the elaborate and colourful Batak graves dotted around. Arriving at Ambarita I went to look at the 300 year old stone chairs and tables that are there. Apparently these were used for meetings of the village chiefs or elders.

300 year old stone tables and chairs

300 year old stone tables and chairs

I then hopped in an angkot (minibus) and headed to Pangururan, Samosir’s main town. Angkots do not go as far as Tuktuk so it is necessary to walk or hitch a ride to Samosir proper first. The angkot journey, which followed the road around the edge of the island (the centre is made up of steep hills), took about an hour and cost Rp.10000. Apparently Samosir is almost as big as Singapore, but with a far smaller population.

Pangururan is a hot dusty little town. I was very hungry by this point, not having eaten yet, so I found a small cafe and tried the local speciality, babi panggang (grilled pork). Being a Muslim country, in most of Indonesia it is hard to find pork, but here in Christian Batak region it is one of their main dishes.

A friend had recommended that I go to Bp. Doro’s shop where he makes handicraft products from the water hyacinth that grows in Lake Toba. This plant is considered a nuisance because of its rampant growth in the lake. Following directions I found my way to the shop, which directly overlooks the lake, and was welcomed in. Bp. Doro was busy at his work, taking the dried hyacinth stems and twisting and weaving them into complex shapes. On shelves above and around him were his finished products: bags, sandals, mats and even a lampshade. His friendly wife runs a small cafe at the shop and there was a small group of men relaxing there, on a break from work. In addition to making and selling products Bp. Doro runs workshops for individuals and groups, teaching handicraft skills with the plant. He already has experience teaching groups of foreigners, and has received orders for his products from abroad. The finished product is rather like that made of thin bamboo or rattan. I had a drink and chatted to Bp. Doro, his wife and friends. One of them, Inceng, who was keen to practise his English, told me about his job monitoring the water quality of the lake. The water hyacinth is considered a pest, and also a symptom of low water quality. Campaigns to keep the lake clean are in evidence, with banners and posters on display, for example, on the ships that ferry passengers across the lake.

Fisherman and passenger ferry

Fisherman and passenger ferry

Having spent the afternoon with Bp. Doro and friends I made my way back to my hotel, first by angkot to the Tuktuk junction (simpang Tuktuk) then on foot, probably several miles, following the road around the edge of the island. It had been a tiring but worthwhile day. If you would like to visit Bp. Doro’s shop, go to: Bp. Handoro Gurning, Jl Danau Toba, depan Rumah Dinas Bupati, Pangururan. You will be welcomed in, I’m sure.

The next day I spent on full relaxation and watching the fish in the lake. Toba can be a very peaceful area and it would have been easy to spend longer there, doing not much at all. In the evening I went to a performance of traditional Batak music at Samosir Cottages. Although put on for tourists, it was very interesting to see the Batak musical instruments and hear the songs. The all-male group played Batak drums, guitars, a lute, a bamboo flute, a xylophone and a beer bottle. And three of them sung together. It was a really good show, with helpful English explanations of the meaning of each song. The upbeat lively music made a good finale to my time in the Batak region.

Leaving Samosir and the Lake Toba area, I boarded the ferry to Parapat. As I gazed across the enormous expanse of water I mentally said good bye to this fantastic view. Feeling the waves caused by the wind rocking the ferry it did feel like I was at sea, but without the saltiness and that sea smell.

Lake Toba

Lake Toba

I had lunch in Parapat while waiting for my bus. It is a small but bustling town with many people coming through on their way to and from Samosir, or coming to shop at the daily market. I took a minibus to the bus terminal (Rp.2000), and was glad I did, because it turned out to be some distance from the main town. Then I boarded the nightbus for the long journey to Bukittinggi.

Dieng Plateau (Dataran Tinggi Dieng), Central Java

Located at a height of over 2000m above sea level and surrounded by mountains, the Dieng Plateau (Dataran Tinggi Dieng in Indonesian), is an amazing area – breathtakingly beautiful and both geologically and historically fascinating, but off the main tourist trail.

We took a public bus from Solo (Surakarta) to Wonosobo (six hours though we were told it usually takes four, ticket price: Rp. 27,000), an angkot (little yellow minibus, Rp. 2000 each) from the bus terminal to the market, and then a microbus from Wonosobo to Dieng (one hour, Rp. 8000 each). When we got on the microbus we took the two remaining seats, and so in my mind the bus was full and would depart. Not here. We waited as more and more passengers got on, taking up all available space, sitting on the edges of seats and standing. Bags of rice and other goods were places under the seats. Eventually the bus departed.

The area around Dieng is extremely hilly and the roads are typical mountain roads with hairpin bends. I was amazed this tiny bus, full to bursting, could pull its load up the steep hills.

Fortunately more passengers got off than on, and we arrived in Dieng in one piece. We checked out one of the hostels mentioned in my outdated Lonely Planet book and decided to stay there (see previous article). It was already 5pm and we were shattered from the journey, so we had a quiet night in. I ventured out to buy some water and saw that (or rather couldn’t see because) Dieng was completely misty, the clouds had come down, and it was hard to see more than a few metres in the darkness.

The next day we got up early and, after breakfast, set out on foot to explore. Brandishing our little map from the Lonely Planet we walked first in the direction of Telaga Warna (Coloured Lake), while taking in the breathtaking views around the village. The land is heavily farmed – mainly vegetable-growing, especially potatoes – and all except the steepest land is planted. The hills are terraced, often right up to their peaks.

We arrived at the ticket booth for the Dieng sights and bought our tickets (Rp. 12,000 each though the advertised rate for foreigners is Rp. 40,000). The countryside that immediately surrounds Telaga Warna and its neighbour Telaga Pengilon (Mirror Lake) is not used for agriculture and has been left forested. Due to the high altitude, the flora of the area is totally different to that across most of Java, and unless you are into mountain climbing, you are unlikely to see some of these trees and plants anywhere else.

First we walked up a hill to the left of Telaga Warna, from which we could see both lakes. It was a beautiful view, with the greens of Telaga Warna clearly visible and contrasting with the bluer colour of Telaga Pengilon. After walking back down the hill, we followed the signs around Telaga Warna in the direction of Goa Semar (Semar Cave). The smell of sulphur from these volcanic crater lakes was quite strong, and we could see little areas of bubbles where the water was being boiled by magma underneath. Semar is a popular character in Javanese wayang kulit (traditional shadow puppet theatre), and this cave named after him is used for meditation. Unfortunately the cave was locked, as was nearby cave Goa Sumur. We asked a passerby why it was locked and she said that there was usually a keyholder present to open it. Goa Jaran was open, but looked very slippery (this is the rainy season) so we didn’t go inside. Despite not being able to enter the caves, the walk around the lakes gave us stunning views across the mountains, and although it is a touristic area with some paved footpaths, the countryside has largely been left alone in its natural beauty.

Telaga Warna

Telaga Warna (Coloured Lake)

We walked back to the main entrance and were about to leave when we were told to walk up to Dieng Plateau Theatre and watch the film. We weren’t particularly enthusiastic about this, as we wanted to get on to see the temples. But it turned out to be a very interesting film about the Dieng area, its volcanic activity, and traditional culture, in Indonesian with English subtitles.

The plateau was created by a huge volcanic eruption, which led to the formation of the small mountains that surround the plateau. We learnt that the whole area is still extremely active. The last major eruption from one of the craters was in 1979 when hundreds of villagers lost their lives. Some of the craters emit poisonous carbon dioxide while others give off steam.

One of the more unusual traditions of the area is that the children grow dreadlocks in their hair, which is either considered a good or bad omen. The dreadlocked hair is then cut off in a special ceremony and floated down the river in order to release the child from evil.

The Dieng Plateau Theatre is built at the peak of one of the hills surrounding the lakes. There is a spectacular view across to Sikidang Crater, which continuously belches steam/gas. We ate chips – the Dieng area is one of the main producers of potatoes, so chips (kentang goreng) are sold everywhere and are the most delicious I have tasted in Indonesia.

Sikidang Crater

Sikidang Crater emitting gas/steam

After walking down the hill from the theatre we inadvertently walked the wrong way and ended up at Sembungan village – this is apparently the highest village in Java. After walking back the way we came, we made the correct turning towards Candi Bima (Bima Temple).

The temples in the Dieng area are Hindu and date from around the eighth century, when this area was thought to be the starting point for Hinduism in Java, and one of its strongest areas. Interestingly, today the Dieng area is strongly Islamic; the vast majority of women wear the jilbab and the mosques are large and lavish for such a rural area.

We looked at Candi Bima. Bima is one of the characters from the Javanese wayang kulit tradition (shadow puppet theatre), and in modern times the Dieng temples have all been named after wayang characters. Candi Bima is thought to be one of the first of the temples to have been built and is characterised by the stone faces that peer out, as if from windows, in the upper part of the structure.

Candi Bima

Detail on Candi Bima (Bima Temple)

We continued walking to Candi Gatotkaca (another wayang character). I was pleased that all the temples are still open to visitors – you can walk right up to them and even go inside. The Dieng Museum is near Candi Gatotkaca. I was expecting some kind of run-down disappointment but the museum had been recently refurbished and was full of fascinating information about the local area, the temples and geology, and cultural traditions. It was interesting to compare the temples with those in other parts of Java and also with Hindu temples in India. Unfortunately the text was exclusively in Indonesian, unlike that at many other museums across Java which feature some sort of English explanation.

Siapa gendong? Siapa digendong?

From the museum: Who is carrying and who is being carried? A local form of entertainment

From the museum a footpath led straight across the flat area of the plateau to the Arjuna Complex, the largest group of temples in the Dieng area. There are five temples arranged in a small area: Semar, Arjuna, Srikandi, Puntadewa and Sembadra. All have been named in modern times after wayang characters. The Arjuna temple closely mirrors the design of Indian temples, and as the temples become more recent they take on a more Javanese design, further removed from their Indian origins. Also near the Arjuna Complex are the remains of a Dharmasala, a raised platform used for preparation for ceremonies, and a wooden replica.

Candi Arjuna

Candi Arjuna (Arjuna Temple) that resembles those found in India

We wanted to buy some purwaceng tea as a souvenir. This plant is grown in the Dieng area and said to have aphrodisiac and stamina-improving qualities. We stopped at one shop and looked at the varieties on sale: tea, coffee, dried plant, powdered plant. Then we were shocked to see the price – Rp. 50,000 for ten tea bags – this is the same price as imported tea in Java, and normal tea costs less than a tenth of that. So we decided not to buy any purwaceng.

We then headed for Candi Dwarawati (named after a kingdom in the wayang tradition, not a character like the other temples). This is located on the other side of Dieng village up a hill. The views once again, were amazing. I particularly liked seeing the hills which are completely terraced, right up to their peaks. Imagine the daily walk to work though! Candi Dwarawati is quite large compared to some of the other temples. On the steps were the remains of incense sticks and inside the temple we saw evidence of Hindu offerings which show that the temple is still in use, despite being located in this strongly Islamic area. This is a good sign that it will continue to be protected and preserved, not only as an ancient monument to the past, but by those who continue to worship here.

Terraced Hill 


This hill and many others have been terraced right up to their peaks for agriculture

Returning from Candi Dwarawati the rain began. Actually it had been raining on and off all day, but nothing compared to this downpour. Our feet got soaked inside our shoes as we walked back into the village. We found a nice-looking warung (cheap cafe or food stall) and had a well-deserved meal. The rain eased off and on our way back to the hotel we stopped at a fruit stall. On sale was a fruit we had seen growing on a tree earlier and we wanted to find out what it was. It turns out it is called carica (pronounced “karika”). While growing it’s green and then it turns yellow as it ripens. We tasted some and it was sweet with some bitterness. After peeling the fruit, the fleshy part next to the skin and its heavily seeded insides can be eaten. We bought a jar of prepared carica to take home, happy to have found a suitable souvenir of our trip

One day of looking around Dieng was enough for us on this mini-break, so we headed home. We had seen a lot in a very short time, from sulphurous craters and lakes to ancient Hindu temples and unfamiliar plants and trees. The views were breathtaking and the weather refreshingly cold.