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Getting around
Trip to the western highlands

Tourism in southern Sumatra is still undeveloped, roads and facilities outside Palembang are poor. The province however, does have many places of interest which can be reached in an easy way by public transport, hired car or minivan. Climaxes are Pasemah Plateau with it's old megalyths, and the beautiful Danau Ranau, a big crater lake on the border with Lampung.

Both are in the rough vulcanis highlands along the western border of the province, which means a full day drive to get there, and another day to go home again, and the roads are not good as well. Shelter and food are simple, but these inconveniences are compensated by the adventurous environment and the very friendly population.

The curvy main road west of Palembang is full of holes and inmediately tests the endurance of the passengers. The first fifty kilometers, the route crosses flat, swampy regions with nice kampungs, built on pillars. Children bath and swimm in muddy water, men fish from small canoo's with nest and javelins and women prepare rice.

The big Padang-restaurants along the road are opened all day and night, for the travellers convienience. The drivers like to take the shortest time, and drive aboutr 100 km/h on these roads. But when they see a checkpoint of the police, they hit the brakes, and pass at slow speed.

Slowly the terrain raises above the swampy area and the traveller is welcomed into forested areas with friendly villages, where wooden houses and fenced gardens are enclosed in flowering bourgainvillae.
Picture: Big house
The first big city, about two hours from Palembang (96 km), is Prabumulih, oil city and also a railroad crossing. The area produces delicious pineapples; tasty sweet ones are for sale for as little as a few cents. Here, the road splits. Turn left (towards the south) before Danau Ranau towards Baturaja. Then keep driving to Pasemah and Sumindo, 85 km west of Prabumulih.

This route takes you along dense plantations and nice villages; warungs along the road sell pineapples, melons and papaya's. After about 40 km a turn on the right takes to Pendopo, where in 1889m the first oil was found. Nowadays the southern Sumatran sources are the most productive of entire Indonesia. The roads in this area are really bad, even the worst driver will adapt his speed here.

Muara Enim, the next stop, is a quiet city on the point where the rivers Enim and Lematang come together. It offers a reasonable hotel (Hotel Rene). The road splits again and leads to Lahat and pagaralam on the right (west) and to Baturaja on the left (south). The close city of Tanjung Enim, 13 km to the south, is the biggest open coal mine of Indonesia.


From Muara Enim there is a good road towards Lahat in the west (43 km). There, the eastern plains turn into the first hiulls of the Bukit Barisan, with panoramic views over sawah's and the lingering river Lematang. The residents collect stones from the river to sell them to contractors. The fertile slopes are a good base for cultivating coffee and rice.

After the harvest the beans and rice is to be dried along the road. Stop 11 km before Lahat at the river to have a view on Gunung Serelo, the ellipse peak with a small point in the form of a finger (Bukit Tunjuk or Finger Hill). From the village of Sukacinta a path leads to the peak, a popular trip for the local youth.

The average-sized city of Lahat is the next stop, a traffic centre on the Trans Sumatra highway and a good starting point for a visit to Pagaralam in the Pasemah district. Especially the road to Pagaramal is very nice. Shortly after Lahat is starts to ascend to a plateau with a view on the river Lematang, at the foot of an almost vertical rock. After the Pulau Pinang the view over the mountains start to get really big, peaks wherever you look.

Highlands of Sumindo

On the way back to Palembang, to travelling towards the south to Danau Ranau or Lampung, a detour of one day can be made towards the highlands of Sumindo; a wealthy, very nice region, accessible through a lingering mountain road south of the highway Lahat Pagaralam. The area is low populated, with small settlements and it thrives on the coffee cultures. Go out early and take all time for the breathtaking environment. Public transport is unreliable; charter a minivan and take lunch with you.

Turn towards the south near Tanjung Tebat, about half way (30 km) between Lahat and Pagaralam, close to the sharp turn in the road. From here, the ascend to the village of Kota Agung starts with a nice view on Gunung Serelo in the east. Turn left in Kota Agung towards Muara Tiga (4 km), and take the road to the right, towards Pulau Panggung.
Past Muara Tiga the roads gets worse, with holes the size of a baththub. The far views, however are the best. Steel slopes offer magnificent panoramic views on mountain edges and hills, densely forested with durian trees of 20 metres high. Fresh durians only cost a fraction of the ones in Jakarta. After every curve there are ricefields which seem to be excavated in the landscape.

The road to Pulau Panggung is very varying; one moment the road runs through dense rainforests, and just a few minutes later it runs through open ricefields with fresh rice, gently moving in the wind. After Pulau Panggung, where drinks and food can be bought, the road gets smaller and lingers along sharp and dangerous curves. Small pieces of forest are chopped down for the construction of coffee plantations.

This one and a half hour trip to Sugihwaras is very spectacular. About two kilometers before Sugihwaras the road makes a steep descend; at the right side is the 60 metre high fall. A new road of half a kilometer leads to a parking lot; from here it's less than one kilometer on foot to the bamboo bridge over the river, and another 500 metres to the fall itself. It's the biggest of the province. Back in Sugihwaras the road on the left leads to Muara Enim and Palembang, and on the right to Baturaja and Danau Ranau.

Gua Putri caves

The dark trip through the fascinating Gua Putri, near Padang Bindu along the main road, 35 km west of Baturaja, demands some guts. The rocks can be very slippery once in a while, so good shoes with a good profile are not to be forgotten. Guides with lights and torches guide the visitors and give detailed information (mostly in Indonesian) about legends which are strongly connected to the caves.

The main cave is about 150 metres long, the widest point is about 15 to 20 metres. In some places the ceiling is 12 metres high, on other places only 1,5 metres. The ceiling is scattered with hundreds of bats; when light desturbs them, they will fly out all together and just miss the visitors.

To enter the deeper parts of the caves you have to be slender enough to pass very narrow points. Legendaric stories tell about a king which had his palace in this cave, and every room has it's own story. The stalagmites and stalactites with their special form resemble a throne or fall.

Spectacular Danau Ranau

For most people Danau Ranau is the climax of a bisit to the western highlands of Sumatra Selatan. This blinking crater lake is located in the old caldera of Gunung Seminung (1340 metres), an active vulcano on the border of the province Lampung. It's 16 km long and 9 km wide, and has a depth of 300 metres.

The climate in these highlands is nice cool and the remote location offers a wealthy vegetation, crystal clear water and beautifull trips to a nearby fall, hot source and an island in the lake. However the lake is very popular among the local population in the weekends, it's not spoiled by tourism yet.

Banding Agung, along the northern shore, is the most important agricultural and fishery community along the lake and does have several clean and cheap losmen. The residents live from the cultivation of coffee, tobacco and clove. Furthermore, rice is grown, as well as juicy pineapples, bananas and avocado's, which are sold very cheap locally.

The lake is full of fish, which are grilled in small restaurants at the lakeside. The blinking, golden sunset reflect fishermen in canoo's on the flat lake, with a silhouet of the mountains at the back.
Picture: Dark cave
The other city, Kota Batu, on the southeastern shore of the lake, doesn't offer accomodation, but between Banding Agung and Kota Batu is Wisma Pusri Ranau, a small state hotel. The manager speaks English well enough and is a very good course of information; he's a good cook and likes to meet foreigners.

There's much to do around the lake. A trip of fifteen minutes from Wisma Pusri leads through some forests along coffee plantations and ricefields to the Subik fall, which scatters on the rocks not too far from the lake itself.

Other trips, this time on the lake by a hired boat, takes you to a hot water source at the foot of Gunung Sdemuning. The source now is separated from the lake by a wall, so the hot and the cold water can't mix anymore. But be carefull, the warm water really it hot, and the sand nearby can be very warm as well. Snorkling is also possible, and unsure swimmers can get an inflated inner tyre.

Across the hot water source is a small island which is known as Pulau Marisa. A local legend tells about a handsome young princes, Putri Aisah, which had two lovers, Sipahit Lidah (Bitter Tongue) and Simata Empat (Four Eyes). She promised to marry the one, who could build a bridge over the entire lake in one night.

When the sun rose, Pulau Marisa was the only part of the bridge that was finishes, to both lovers were rejected. On the island, the palm trees offer some shade, ideal to have a rest or a sleep.

Adventurous people can also make an expedition to the peak of Gunung Seminung. There also is a centre where elephants are tamed and elephants can be hired for a jungle 'safari'.

Last revised on April 05, 2012
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