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An island and two mountains
Publication Date : 08-08-2013
Hike through Batukaru and Agung, Bali's highest peaks
Often times, the perfect "Bali getaway" is synonymous with sunbathing on its wonderful beaches and paying a visit to its magnificent ancient temples.
If you want to try something different, though, why not try climbing the island's highest peaks – Agung and Batukaru?
At 3,142 m above sea level, stratovolcano Mount Agung is the highest spot on Bali, and it last erupted in 1963.
The mountain is deemed as the sacred resting place of the gods in the eyes of Balinese Hindus. Using the local compass orientation, naga dewata, the peak of Mt. Agung is seen as Bali's “north” (or kaja in the local tongue), with south being anywhere seaward (called kelod).
As the Balinese are very vertically aligned, superstitions make locals sparse on the mountain side. However, on auspicious days of their calendars, the locals will still be available as hired guides for your mountaineering needs.
When hiking in general, do not sweat the small stuff. The important thing is reaching the peak, rain or shine.
When someone recommends something to you, never see it as a must.
For example, locals will firmly recommend hiring a hiking guide. The price will start in the millions of rupiah (hundreds of US dollars), but can be brought down to just a few hundred thousands, and should include coffee, and maybe arak (palm-based alcohol).
However, you can always substitute a stranger guide with an experienced acquaintance or joining a group of like-minded travellers on motorbike convoys.
Also recommended is to start the hike at 1am to catch sunrise and avoid the afternoon heat.
Two routes offering varied experiences will lead you to different peaks of the shattered caldera.
In line with the local Balinese wisdom, the largest mountain on the island has the most important temple at its foot – the Pura Besakih, Bali's “mother temple” in Karangasem regency.
From this temple, located on the peak's southwest, it's a long haul through ruffles of jungle and along blades of hardened magma with drop offs of fifty metres either side.
This route is the challenging one, and longer by a few hours.
The other path, ascending from Pasar Agung, south of the peak, is the most common path to the ecstasy that awaits all hikers. The trail is marked with spray paint, passes through thinning old-growth forest, giving way to a long and rugged stone path you sometimes have to scale.
At the peak, a clear day puts you eye-to-eye with Lombok's Mt. Rinjani, on the other side of the Lombok strait to the east.
Behind you, the cities and mountains of Bali skirt out towards the distant peaks of East Java--three or more islands in one, haunting turn-of-the-head.
In the figurative shadow of Agung, Batukaru is Bali's second tallest peak at 2,276 metres. It is also the site of the island's second largest temple – the Pura Luhur Batukaru.
This eye-leading bell curve also requires some blood-letting, the island's oldest forests being hung with leeches.
To get to the trail head you will have to pass through Tabanan, from where nearly all north-bound roads rise to the numerous, crowded subak hot springs at Batukaru’s foot.
The gorgeous mountain is not a popular hike. The local people of Tabanan will try and dissuade such exertion.
In a hot spring, the locals will warn of tigers--or the “spirits” of tigers, anyway.
The main road up would take you to Pura Luhur where you would be further setback by a group of pecalang (temple attendants), unknowingly notorious online for being discouraging, confusing, bureaucratic and for popping motorcycle tires.
As if the climb weren't challenging enough, it took four confrontations with these attendants and four separate trips to their temple before the way became clear: the way around.
Before leaving the town, when approaching the temple, take a right turn. Heading east, before Jatiluwih, there’s a road that leads to a smaller temple: this is the trail head, which is frequented by local hunters and hikers alike.
The oldest trees on the island tower with near-aggressive musculature along a steepening trail that is lush and overgrown.
Within a few hundred metres, the buffers break to the southeast, to Medewi beach and the vast blue ocean.
Being forested to the peak, Batukaru makes a great shady day hike.
Four to five hours and you will find not only has the trail been well trodden, there is even a small temple marking the peak.
The flat, grassy top is a vantage point extraordinaire; you'll want to run circles, before the three-hour trip down--perhaps.
Tempted to try Batukaru? Long pants, sleeves, and proper shoes are, again, recommended.
And while the leeches are small and can be easily plucked off, either the flame of a lighter or some salt works to make these pests release their prey.