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Kintamani
Craters, temples and lakes

The mountainous region around Kintamani, centering around the spectacular volcanic caldera of the Mount Batur volcano with its deep crater lake and bubbling hot springs, is rugged with a high and wild beauty. Wonderful mountain air and dizzying views in all directions, as well as several important temples, are what make Kintamani one of the most memorable stops on the Bali tourist itinerary.

A drive-in volcano

Nearing Kintamani, the land rises steadily toward an almost featureless horizon - with only the mountains Mount Agung and Mount Abang volcanoes in view to the east and northeast, respectively. Suddenly, you crest a ridge to find yourself perched on the rim of a vast crater, measuring some 14 km (9 mi) across. Down in the crater sits the blackened cone of Mount Batur, surrounded to one side by the long, blue waters of Lake Batur, and on the other by lava fields and cultivated onion patches.

The great size of the crater implies that Mount Batur was once a much bigger mountain (as big perhaps as Mount Agung) which blew its top thousands of years ago. The volcano is still active - the last eruption occurred in 1994, springing from the lower western flank of the mountain and leaving a vast field of black, needle-sharp lava rock. Much of the crater, though, is now being farmed. Although rainfall is slight, farmers irrigate their crops (mostly cabbage and onions) water from the lake.

Lake Batur, Bali's largest lake, is the source that feeds an underground network of springs throughout the southern-central flanks of the mountain. Homage is paid here to the life-giving grace of the lake at Pura Ulun Danu Batur. The original temple down by the lake, but during the 1920s it was built anew on the western rim of the crater near the town of Kintamani.

Six very old settlements around the lake are called desa bintang danau ("stars of lake"): Songan, Abang, Buahan, Trunyan, Kedisan and Batur. People will tell you that these are "Bali Aga" villages, which some people take to mean "original Balinese" while others say it refers to the myth of Markendya, a legendary saint-sage who several bands of settlers to Bali from Desa Aga on Gunung Rating in East Java.

In any case, the term is in popular use, and there are a number of "Bali Aga" villages through out the mountains around Kintamani. They are distinguished by their unusual lay out and the uniformity of the houses - as if they all adhere to a single design. The traditional Mountain architecture is very interesting steep bamboo shingle roof and walls of clay, woven bamboo or wide wooden planks - but in many places this is disappearing, as houses are re-built using modern materials.

A paved road follows the crater's rim around its southern and western circumference. From the south, the first stop is Penelokan, which means "look-out," and indeed the views from here are stunning. Enterprising people are capitalizing on the panorama, and there are swarms of peddlers and a string of shops, restaurants and small hotels all along the road to Kintamani.

The goddess of the lake

As you go north from Penelokan toward Kintamani, you will soon spot the many meru of Pura Ulun Danu Batur. This is an imposing complex of nine temples, still undergoing construction. Ulun danu means the "head of the lake," and the original site of this temple was at the lake's northeastern corner - the "holiest" quarter, associated with the vitality of the sun as it approaches its zenith. Violent eruptions of the volcano in 1917 buried much of the area and took the lives of nearly a thousand people. Another serious eruption in 1926 forced the decision to rebuild the temple at its present site, high up on the rim of the crater.

With help from the Dutch colonial government, the shrines were dismantled and transported across the lava strewn landscape and up the steep sides of the crater - a staggering task, one imagines, especially without roads or machinery. People from the original village of Batur at the foot of the western flank of the volcano also moved up to the new location (Batur and Kalanganyar) to tend to the temple's maintenance and ceremonies. Lava from the 1917 eruption stopped only a few meters from the village, which somehow encouraged the people to rebuild the village, damaged by ash. The village persists, just beyond the 1965-1974 lava fields.

Ida Batari Dewi Ulun Danu is the goddess of the lake. Myriad springs on the south side of the mountain feed the rich rice-growing districts of Bangli and Gianyar. Tirta Empul in Tampaksiring is one of the springs fed by Lake Batur. The different temples in the complex thus reflect a concern with not only the invisible world, but the world of the living as well. The following is a description of the major shrines. Ask someone to point them out to you.

Pura Penataran Agung Batur is the principal temple, with five main courtyards. The dominant shrines are the merus; an 11-tiered one for the lake goddess and three 9-tiered ones for the gods of Mt Batur, Mt Agung, and Ida Batara Dalem Baturenggong, the deified king of Gelgel who is said to have ruled from 1460 to 1550. The Chinese-looking shrine to the northwest, with brightly painted statues, is for Ida Ratu Ayu Subandar, the patron saint of commerce. Another important shrine is the 3-tiered meru to Ida Ratu Ayu Kentel Gumi, who protects crops from disease.

  • Penataran Pura Jati is related to the source temple on the western edge of the lake.
  • Pura Tirta Bungkah is related to the hot springs down by the lake.
  • Pura Taman Sari and Pura Tirta. Mas Mampeh are concerned with agriculture.
  • Pura Sampian Wangi is dedicated to such crafts as weaving, sewing, the making of offerings and ceremonial cakes.
  • Pura Gunarali is where adolescent boys and girls can invoke help to develop their natural abilities.
  • Pura Padang Sila consists of forty-five stone shrines for the gods and goddesses of Pura Ulun Danu Batur.
The major odalan of the temple, attended by the people from all over Bali occurs sometime in March and runs for 11 days.

Pura Tulukbiu just next to Pura Ulun Danu is another relocated temple. 'Tulukbiu" is the old name of Abang, the second highest mountain in Bali at the southern edge of the Batur crater. The original temple was at the summit of Mt. Abang, and is said to have been built by the sage, Mpu Kuturan.

Panoramic frontier town

The village of Batur / Kalanganyar borders the town of Kintamani, an administrative center in the district of Bangli. This was formerly a way-station over the mountains that separate Buleleng (the old colonial headquarters of the Dutch) from the rest of Bali. second hotel built in Bali was in Kintamani but the place still looks like a frontier town: wooden huts and no-nonsense little cement boxes for the municipal offices. What one notices most is the delicious air and the vistas the crater to one side and all Bali extending to the sea on the other.

Up the road going north is a market, busy every three days on Hari Paseh in the Balinese calendar. This is interesting to visit to see the variety of produce from surrounding mountain farms - oranges, corn, vegetable, fruit and the usual vast array of flowers, dried fish, tools, livestock, pots and baskets, plus a big clothing market. You may also see men cuddling big furry Kintamani puppies highly prized all over Bali.

A temple of ancient kings

A few km past Kintamani on the right is the entrance to the temple Pura Tegeh Kuripan, also called Pura Penulisan, the highest construction on the island (1,745 in) until a TV tower was installed next door a few years ago. This temple is a powerful place ancient, royal and remote.

A long steep flight of stairs rises through the eleven terraces of the temple complex. The pyramidal form and the large stones that are still venerated there suggest that this place has been holy for many centuries.

From Pura Panarajon on the uppermost terrace, you can sometimes see as far as the north coast of Bali and the mountains of East Java. The proportions of the courtyard and various balai are modest, but the atmosphere is heavy with the solitude of hallowed kings. There are many sacred statues including lingga and mysterious fragments housed in the open pavilions. Of particular interest is a royal couple bearing the in8criptions "Anak Wungsu" and "Bhatari Mandul" dated Saka year 999 (A.D. 1077).

Mandul means "childless" and although it is impossible to know who this refers to, one interesting conjecture is that she was the Chinese Buddhist princess Subandar, whose shrine stands in Pura Ulun Danu, and that her barrenness was caused by a curse from a siwaite wizard.

From Sukawana, just to the right of the temple's entrance, you can follow a newly paved road that arcs along the northern rim of the crater, offering splendid views of the lava fields below. A steep drop takes you to Pinggan, overlooking the crater, and a road is now under construction to connect up with Blandingan and Songan down by the lake.

The more usual approach to the lake is from Penelokan, where a good road descends to the water's edge at Kedisan and heads over to Toyabungkah (Air Panas / Hot Spring). There are a number of hotels and restaurants here, and this is a good place from which to climb the volcano and explore the lake area.

The road to the lake winds down from Penelokan. Men waving and shouting at you at the top of the road are not trying to collect a toll, but want to sell you a boat trip to Trunyan. Best to smile and keep going.

At Kedisan at the bottom of the road you have to turn right or left. To the right, you will soon come to a little port with boat-taxis to Trunyan and points around the lake. The road to the left leads to Toyabungkah and Songan.

Of the lake villages, Trunyan is surely the most famous, and becoming notorious as a place not to visit after all. The village is virtually inaccessible except by boat, and on arrival the villagers will wade out to meet you and clamor for money. In Trunyan, it's okay to beg, yet the prosperous residents have re-built their houses in modern materials (cement block and zinc). Traditional architecture is rare.

Still, the place is interesting to some. In the Pura Gede Pancering Jagat is a unique, four-meter guardian statue, Da Tonte or Ratu Gede Pancering Jagat, but it is stored out of view in a closed meru. The people of Trunyan do not cremate their dead, but place them exposed under a sacred tree by the lakeshore that has the remarkable property of preventing the decomposing corpses from smelling. Tourists are aggressively solicited to visit the graveyard and see for themselves. This is further down from the village itself and you may ask to skip Trunyan and go directly to the gravesite or kuburan.

Trekking

If you've always wanted to walk around inside the crater of an active volcano, here's your chance. Mt. Batur is 1,717 m high, but the upper cone itself is only several hundred meters above the level of the lake and can be climbed and descended in a few hours. At the top, there's a warm crust of ground over the cauldron. Be sure to hire a guide, as it can be dangerous.

Each home stay can recommend a guide. Under the Volcano has guides for 2 euro per person; other home stays charge 8-9 euro.

It's best to start very early in the morning, around 4 am: it's cool and you're likely to see a wonderful sunrise. Your guide will probably find you before you find him. Choose someone friendly who is not charging a ridiculous amount of money: 4-5 euro is a fair price. Gede at Gede's Trekking near Kintamani market is a helpful contact. Another professional trekking guide service is Panorama Tourist Services, located near the Toya Bungkah Hot Spring. They also organize other trekking trips in the area.

There are several well-marked approaches to Batur. From Pura Jati, near Kedisan (where a large sign announces "Klim Prom Here-Please Polow, Wite Plag"), and from Toya Bungkah where the climb up and back takes about three hours. The latter route is notably easier.

Wear high-top shoes: the slopes are covered with fine dust. Other necessary supplies are drinking water and a snack or two. On reaching the summit your guide will boil some eggs (in the sand) and make coffee. If you're fortunate, a great view stretching all the way to Lombok will be revealed as the sun rises.

Going down is much easier than climbing up and it's possible to take another route down, via the hot spring at Toya Bungkah. Ask your guide to have a car ready to bring you back to the original starting point once you get down. The spring, set in a concrete pool, is not overly spectacular. Entrance is 1 euro. This trip is not recommended during the rainy season (November-April).

There's a good new road that circles the volcano rim from Penulisan east to Pinggan and Blandingan, where it comes to a dead end. Another route is to drive past Toya Bungkah to Songan and follow the sign west to Air Mampeh. The road leads to Penelokan through the caldera behind Batur. It is sometimes difficult to pass because of volcanic sand and stones

The public bathing spot at the Toya Bungkah Hot Springs is free and frequented mostly by Indonesians. There is now a large swimming facility, Tirta Sanjiwani, set in a lovely garden just above the lake. Two hot spring pools plus a huge regular swimming pool. You can take a personal spa for 25 euro, including a massage in your own little spa and bale. 10 euro for adults, a little less for children.


Last revised on January 24, 2010
    
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