There’s a certain holiday I envisioned with the mention of Bali. It included sunny beaches overlooking crystal-clear water, ornate temples with decades of history, and traditional dances telling stories of years gone by. To top it all, there would be water sports to excite even a non-swimmer like me.
So why was I packing a pair of sports shoes in my suitcase? Two words: Mount Batur. It is an active volcano in northeastern Bali, whose 1,717-metre summit is the perfect point from where to witness the sunrise. The thrill of climbing a volcano with a very real chance of erupting cemented it in my itinerary.
The adventure started at 3 a.m., when a friend and I climbed into a car that would take us from Ubud in southwest Bali to the base of the volcano. As the car sneaked through dark lanes during the hour-long drive, we keenly watched the starry sky, awaiting a glimpse of Mount Batur. All I could think about along the way was that the volcano had erupted a mere 14 years ago. Just a short while later we were standing at its base, warming ourselves with strong Balinese coffee. The tour guide geared us up for the trek with a torch, a bottle of water, and advice about sticking to the path.
The moonlight barely pierced through the tall trees on the dark night as we followed the guides closely up the narrow trail. Loose rocks dotted the path, but posed no danger because we spotted them easily with the torches strapped around our wrists. The three-hour hike wasn’t very taxing, getting steep only towards the end. Just as we reached the summit, the night sky started transitioning to a deep blue, and a welcome yellow line marked the horizon. The rays of the morning sun slowly began filling the sky.
The immense Lake Batur and the many villages spread around it came out of hiding. The baby-blue sky was reflected in the crystalline water of Bali’s largest crater lake. The towering Mount Agung, the island nation’s highest point and almost twice the stature of Mount Batur, loomed before us. Now that it was light, our guides took us across the top of the volcano, allowing us a peek into the safer craters. We didn’t see bubbling lava, but the steaming chunks of black rock served just as well to remind me that we were standing on an explosive tract of land.
Thankfully, there was breakfast to distract us. It is difficult to beat the experience of eating tropical mangosteen fruit, bread, and eggs (freshly boiled in the steam of the volcano), facing that majestic view.
Soon enough, though, the impending harshness of the Bali sun forced us to make our way back down. Blame it on the hearty breakfast or the adrenaline coursing through our veins, but we all had a noticeable spring in our step while descending.
Now, when I think of the island, I picture a glistening crater lake protected by two active volcanoes, Together, they preserve the charm of old-world Bali, unmatched by any other attraction.
The access point to Mount Batur is Kintamani, 35 km/1 hour northeast of Ubud. Several tour companies organise the sunrise trek to the volcano (IDR 4,50,000-7,50,000/₹2,200-3,800 per head). The writer travelled with Bali Sunrise Tours, and the package included pick-up and drop to the hotel, coffee, water, snacks, and a torch. The guides were friendly and helpful (www.balisunrisetours.com; IDR 5,50,000/₹2,770 from Ubud). Alternatively, tourists can make their way to Kintamani and hire a guide there. Climbing Mount Batur without a guide is not advisable.
[This was published in National Geographic Traveller’s July 2014 Anniversary issue]