Mount Batur is at the center of two concentric calderas, or volcanic depressions, in Batur village in the Kintamani district of Bali. I have read that travellers sign up for a hike to this volcano to witness the most picturesque sunrise from its collapsed top.
I have never hiked a mountain before, let alone an active volcano.
I get into the white-coloured eight seater van at 2:30 a.m. with three old college friends for the Batur sunrise trek. As we drive from our homestay in Ubud to the foot of this 5,633 ft. high mountain, the driver tells us that the volcano has been frequently active since it’s first eruption in 1804 to the most recent one in 2000.
I am wearing my Reebok black and pink sports shoes, a friend’s warm rain jacket and the headlight that our guides gave us. We begin climbing at 4 a.m. It’s pitch dark and I can’t see anything except the rocks and grass that my headlight points at. For the first 20 minutes, the terrain is mostly level and there are small steps that lead us to our first stop.
Soon after, the topography changes. The climb gets steep, muddier and rough. I slip sometimes due to the rocks and pebbles and fight through a tingling sensation in my legs as the pointed shrubs prick through my thick jeans.
Our guides are a 13-year-old girl, who is about 4 ft. tall and 16-year-old Yan Ady, a gregarious boy with an average build. They climb the mountain every night. They tell me that the Balinese consider mountains as the home of the gods.
As we continue talking about folklore, they stop abruptly. They fold their legs, close their eyes and sit in front of a rock decorated with flowers and colored chalk powder. They say it’s the mountain God of Batur. They pray here everyday.
The Balinese have strong faith in Hindu mythology. I feel amused when Ady begins talking about Ramayana and Mahabharata. I grew up in India, listening to these legends, but I never took them as seriously as he does. He animatedly tells us the story of the time he ate beef by mistake and his neck became dark.
In Bali, eating beef is stigmatized due to religious beliefs. I am a little astounded that Ady actually believes that eating meat could affect someone’s skin colour.
Our guides belong to traditional Balinese families and live in ancient homes built by their ancestors. Ady tells us that people of the island never sell their homes because they’re considered symbols of their lineage and the residence of their family God. Staying away from their family household is therefore considered unfortunate.
This reminds me of my experience in the island the year before. I had signed up for an eco-cycling tour where our guide took us to traditional Balinese homes. Every house had certain elevated portions. The eldest couple of the house resided in the most elevated room. This room was passed on to the newly wed couple for a few days after their marriage to give them added prominence. Each household had a temple where offerings were made and everyone was obligated to pray. When I discuss this custom with Ady, he says that people of the island who neglect these rituals are considered evil.
I feel self-conscious. Is he judging me for being so far from my home? Does he consider me vicious?
We are at about 4,500 ft. when dawn breaks in. We see an enormous fresh-water lake, Danau Batur, on one side. This lake is the primary source of irrigation for Central Bali and is therefore also revered.
Clouds float in the blue sky like huge dabs of cotton. The mountain is covered with a striking spread of alpine lichens, palm trees, jackfruit trees, banyan, bamboo and pine trees. Massive terrace rice fields and thousands of small village homes make the sight spectacular. Before I can absorb the beauty of the expanse, the girl points toward the top of the mountain. My legs twitch with the fear of experiencing similar pain and struggle for another thirty minutes.
She grabs my hand with the surprising strength of a young body and pulls me upward. Despite my sore legs, she genuinely believes that the mountain God can help me reach the top before sunrise. Her faith keeps me going.
As I take the last few steps toward the mountain, I sigh with relief. Everyone is sitting on the edges of the mountain top, their eyes set toward the east. I join them.
Sitting atop this sacred volcano, with a cup of Balinese coffee in my hands, I watch the sun rise. The sky is a fusion of orange, yellow, lavender and pink layers. For the next few moments, I find myself trusting in the sanctity of the surroundings.
Written by Nikita Mandhani