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Cool place on the Karo plateau

The picturesque city of Berastagi is located on an altitude of 1330 metres at the northern edgde of the Karo plateau, 68 kilometres south of Medan (about two hours by car). The climate is very nice: the days are remarkably mild, and the nights cool. Ther city was founded in the 1920's as a Dutch governmental location, including 9-hole golf course and big European villas.

Nowadays the city is loved by the residents of Medan, which go there during the weekends. It's also a welcome break in the trip towards Danau Toba. The big market offers a big variety of fresh fruit, flowers and vegetables. Berastagi is a good starting point for a closer encounter with the vulcanig highlands of the Karo.

About twenty km outside Medan the city problems are gone, and replaced by the forested feet of Bukit Barisan. Sharp u-turn offer panoramic views over green plateaus. Sembahe, fourty km from Medan, is an interesting, historical place. The path behind the shops leads towards the main bridge to a rubber plantation, about 500 metres upstream.

The first stone object from the Hoa Binh culture was found here in 1926. Nearby is the so called Rumah Umang, a stone grave room with rough reliefs dating back a few thousand years. In the season delicious durians can be bought along the road.
A few kilometres ahead is, on a steep slope, is the botanical garden of Sibolangit, an attractive piece of untouched rainforest with giant ferns and trees covered in moss. Botanics can enjoy the interesting diversity of local fauna, and bird watchers also have enough to see here. In the wet season the mosquitos and leeches form a bigger problem than expected.

Ten km before Berastagi, a turn towards the right brings you to the villages of Dalu and Semangat Gunung, at the foot of the active vulcano Gunung Sibayak (2094 metres). Here is the Lau Debuk Debuk ('Bubbling water'), a hot sulphur source which is seen as the home of the friendly forest spirits (watch the sacrifices like kretek sigarettes, pieces of bamboo or palmwood which are left at the shore of the waters).

It's one of the favorite meeting points of the friendly villagers, which take a bath together after sunset, when the cool air gives a good contrast with the hot sulphur-rich water. Watch with a cold beer or tea to the smoking vulcano and ask a traditional massager to get rid of the tiredness. The ones who want to climb Gunung Sibayak, can go the same way towards Semangat Gunung.

Tongkoh, seven kilometres before Berastagi, has arborethum from 1916, which is renamed into 'Big Bukit Barisan Forest Reservation'. This project from the local district leader contains a zoo, modern huts for weekend tourists and rides on elephants for children. The use of much concrete does not improve the environment, too bad.

A visit to Berastagi

Berastagi is a centre of vegetable-, flower- and fruit production; on a daily base loaded trucks head for Medan. One of the most popular products is the enormous yellow passionfruit (markisa), which is commonly made into a refreshing fruit-drink. The wide main street is covered with souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels, and the central market attracts farmers from all over the area.
Berastagi is dominated by the smoking Gunung Sibayak in the north; further west is Gunung Sibanung (2451 m). Both vulcanoes are to be climbed in one day, but not without any preparations. At the western side of the city Bukit Gundaling rises about 110 metres above the surrounding plateau; a park on top of the hill offers a nice view over the city and the vulanoes. This once was the Dutch holiday location; scattered between the new concrete hotels, there are still old, ramshackle bulgalows to be found. At the northern side of the city is the beautiful Bukit Kubu Hotel, a remainder from the colonial times, surrounded by a nine-hole golf course.

Traditional Karo villages

Around Berastagi there are many traditional villages, one is much more interesting than the other. Visit a number to compare them. The more known are Pecaren, Cinkes, Dokan, Barusjahe and Juhar. Many can only be reached along several mountain paths, or by taking several bemo, so it's nice to have a guide with you. The village of Pecaren, north of Berastagi, has a number of traditional houses with modern in between. It is easy to reach; the guide knows a small shop which sells woodcarved Karo and Minang statues.

Meanwhile the man of the house brings a serenade on his kecapi, while the mothers in traditional clothes watch. The most popular tourist village is Lingga, 16 km southwest of Berastagi and about five km north of Kabanjahe. Lingga is located on an altitude of 1200 metres near the source of Lau Garuk and has a number of rumah adat, some of them are said to be as old as 250 years.

The village is getting kind of ramshackle, because the cost of wood and labour is getting too high for building new houses. Guides shine a light on the different facettes of life among the Karo. So contains a wooden stairs near the house of the village leader a 'labour chair', on which some women still give birth, with dukun (medicine men) on their side. Staying a night is possible and for a small fee, traditional dances are performed.

Last revised on December 17, 2011
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