From Bali's Peak
    Category: Forbes Life By : Eli Freedman Read : 1399 Date : Thursday, September 05, 2013 - 06:18:12

    Eli Freedman / Forbes Indonesia

    As the sun rises over the horizon framed by Mt. Rinjani's dark silhouette and sets the sky ablaze, it's easy to understand why the Balinese believe that Mt. Agung is the mountain chosen by the gods to be their dwelling. From the lookout point at the summit (the highest place in Bali, at 3,050 meters) it captures a spectacular view of Bali and the neighboring island of Lombok shrouded in pink clouds spreading out before the mountain into the sea. On clear days, one can even see Mt. Merapi hundreds of miles away in Java.

    Mt. Agung is the holiest mountain on Bali, and in every Hindu temple on the island there is a shrine dedicated to Mt. Agung. Bali's “mother” temple, Besakih temple, is located on the slopes of Mt. Agung (and is also the largest Hindu temple on the island, formed as complex of 22 different temples).

    Balinese legend has it that Mt. Agung was created when Lord Shiva took a fragment of the spiritual axis of the universe, the mythical Mt. Meru, and formed Mt. Agung as a smaller replica of Mt. Meru. It is an active volcano, and its last major eruption in 1963 killed 2,000, one of the deadliest eruptions in the last century. Mt. Agung is also the fifth tallest volcano in Indonesia. As the last eruption was half a century ago, climbers now are welcome to trek to the peak. However, a guide is required to lead the way and get the necessary permits, as the trek is sometimes closed due to religious ceremonies being held around the mountain. There are three paths that are normally used to get to the top.

    In order to catch the sunrise at 6:30 am, climbers taking the Besakih route have to start the climb at 11:30 pm. At this time, the temperatures are cooler and the sky is filled with stars, as the mountain's base is far from any pollution. After the guide says his prayers at a small temple that marks the start of the trail, the climbs begins, illuminated by headlamps.

    The trail starts in the forest. At first the trail slopes gently upward, until it starts to follow various ridges that rise up higher and higher. In many places the roots of large trees have grown over the trail creating the illusion that one isn't mountain climbing, but instead climbing a staircase created by the roots.  Even though the summit is invisible in the dark, one can feel its constant presence hovering over the jungle. Eventually the trees start to shrink and the forest thins until, about two hours from the peak, one hits the timberline.  

    The last part of the climb becomes less of a hike and more of a scramble over large volcanic rocks, evidence of the mountain's violent history. Out of the jungle, on the bare stony slope, the silence is broken only by the clatter of stones underfoot. As one moves closer to the top, clouds move in at lower levels hugging the sides of the mountain, creating an illusion of being separated from the earth below. The multitude of stars above also seem to become more clear.