Recently Harsha and I went to Bali. We had only five days and decided to divide between staying at Ubud and at Canggu as both places are known for not only scenic landscapes but also an abundance of vegan food.
I agreed immediately when Harsha suggested a hike as I have been consciously including some physical activities into my daily routine, post-retirement, for fear of becoming lazy, and because I enjoy climbing immensely as an activity by itself. 😀
The sunrise as seen from Mount Batur and Mt. Agung is said to be one of the most scenic spots of Bali, and both are popular treks for hikers visiting Bali. Since Mt. Agung has been on an eruption spree ( this was at the end of June 2018), the trek along that route has been cancelled. For me the thrill was the hike rather than the scene, though, I concede that the sunrise was a beautiful, refreshing experience.
As with any hike, there are some features that make this one unique and it’s sensible to consider a few points before climbing, especially when you are visiting from abroad; weather conditions, attire, terrain and hence footwear, minimal things you will need on the hike, whether you need a guide, difficulty of the trek and personal fitness levels.
Weather conditions and planning your vacation to include the hike
Since Indonesia is a country known for active volcanoes it is advisable to check the volcanic and seismic activity before you plan a vacation, whether or not hiking, as such situations may lead to random flight cancellations. We reached Bali on the 30th of June, a couple of days after Mt. Agung – about 18km from Mt. Batur – erupted. We were quite lucky that our flight was not cancelled and that Mt. Batur was declared safe. We could in fact, from our perches on Mt. Batur, see some residual volcanic activity in the form of pale orange fumes still spewing from Mt. Agung, which added to the beauty and shades of dawn.
Why we went with a tour operator
- We were unfamiliar with the country, language, trail and terrain.
- We do not drive motor bikes or cars. Cycling at that hour wasn’t an option.
- We are amateur trekkers, at best.
- We did not want to stress out over one hike, as the break, though short, was meant to be relaxing.
Overall experience of the tour operator, the guides, cost incurred and the hike
Tourism is one of Bali’s chief source of income and you will find many taxi and tour operators along the shops lining the roads. We booked with Uma Kutuh Sunrise Trekking Tour through an agent on Jalan Hanoman at Ubud the day we reached. Prior booking before arrival is not really required but is an option as most operators have an online presence.
On the designated day, our tour guide picked up two other people from our hotel who were booked with another tour operator, by mistake, instead of us. We waited for almost an hour at the hotel lobby before we went back to our room. We had a contact number that we called, to no avail. By 4:00 a.m the operator had realised the error and came back to the hotel, and offered to drop us at a higher point and a shorter trek. We however refused as we had already resigned to going back to bed, and wanting to do the hike as planned, and the tour operator agreed to let us do the trek the next day. It was a good thing as we would definitely have missed the sunrise if we had gone ahead at that hour.
We were picked up the next day by a eleven-seater bus outside our hotel at about 2:00 a.m., and after gathering the rest of the troupe at various points till 2:30 a.m, we were taken to a local tea stall for a slice of cake and tea. Here we were provided boxed breakfast containing an egg, a banana, a bread-butter sandwich and a 500 ml bottle of water. Being vegan, the eggs in our boxes were replaced with bananas and we were given bread slices with a small packet of jam. This was probably the most disappointing feature for us, as we were looking forward to eating freshly fried bananas atop Mt. Batur. At least that’s what the brochure mentioned – not cold, boxed breakfast. We left after about 15 minutes.
After an hour long drive we reached the base of Mt. Batur. Two toilets were available near the parking lot, and they – well – help get the job done. Water was available even if the flush did not work. Expect long queues and carry your own pee cloth.
There were at least ten groups like ours, not including smaller groups that came without guides. Our guides were Aryani and Adi. The trek began at 4:00 a.m. The night sky was pitch dark and the moon was almost whole but the light wasn’t enough to see the trail. We were provided flashlights by the guides. As we started the trek we could see pools of lights swinging ahead of us and upto the top. Some climbers behind wanted to move ahead faster. It was certainly not a quiet trek what with the amount of stomping by so many of us. I would have liked a more leisurely pace and less touristy season but the situation was unavoidable.
Aryani kindly paced with me as I was the last in our group. She offered me her hand in a couple of steep places despite my protests, and close to the top where it was extremely steep she took me along a different route with lesser incline. It was longer though.
After descent, our group gathered at the base with our guides and we were dropped back to our respective hotels. It was about 11:00 a.m by the time we reached and we slept most of the way back.
Cost of tour
IDR 350K per person i.e., INR Rs.1650/- or 24 USD approx. The cost was inclusive of guides, flashlights and box-breakfast, and of IDR 100K paid in advance at the time of booking.
Cost of tea at the top of the mountain was IDR 30K per mug.
The scene atop Mt. Batur
The sunrise was glorious. The dark night sky changed to grey, peach, tomato red, yellow, grey, blue and orange and back to yellow in seconds, and not necessarily in that order. The clouds swimming atop the mountain, playing peek-a-boo with the rays of dawn add to the beauty. At a distance we could see residual faint orange fumes smoking from Mount Agung.
What makes the sunrise at Batur special is not just the sun rise but that you witness all this standing atop an active volcano! That is what makes it spectacular.
The descent was fast though slippery, and now that it was day, we could admire the beauty of the trail, the lake at the base of the mountain, the tomato vines on the road side, and the volcanic soil. We picked up two small volcanic stones as souvenirs.
I looked back after we had descended and reached the road trail. It was a picture post card!
Backpack essentials for the climb
- Headlamp. The guide will provide a flashlight but a headlamp keeps your hands free, hence highly recommended.
- Energy bars / dates / dry fruits etc. that you might want to nibble on during the climb. Please carry the wrappers back with you. There are tents on the top of the mountain that sell tea.
- Lightweight warm fleece or sports jacket / hoodie – essential.
- Lightweight rain jacket.
- Bottle of water as the quantity provided by the guide may not be enough.
- Sturdy stick or hiking pole – optional.
- A first-aid kit if going without a guide.
- A few bananas or a light sandwich, as the ones provided to our group was mostly wasted as they were raw and the sandwich was just so-so.
What to wear during the climb
Being an active volcano Mt. Batur is strewn in volcanic ash and stony rubble. The trek begins on a pukkah road that turns into a stony trail in about 100m. The soil is dry and loose and in many places the climb is quite steep. It didn’t help that we are both just a little over 5 feet. We were lucky it did not rain.
The climate in Ubud at the time we went was quite hot and there were no rains.
Shoes: A pair of ankle high trekking shoes is best but trainers with deep grooves are good enough, if you are used to hiking. I had a fracture last year and recently after a trek I developed tendon inflammation as my sports shoes did not protect my ankle adequately, so these days I prefer wearing ankle-high trekking boots on treks/hikes. Hiking in sandals, floaters or normal vibram shoes (those not meant for trekking) is not advisable as the path is stony and you may end up causing trauma to your soles, especially toes and nails. The gravelly trail causes one to slip often and it is necessary to wear shoes with excellent grip on loose soil. If in doubt, carry a sturdy stick or hiking pole.
Clothes: At the start of the climb, at 4:00 a.m, it will be quite cool but I’d recommend not wearing a jacket as you will feel warm within minutes of walking. Atop the mountain, at about 6:00 a.m it turns very breezy and the cold sends shivers down the spine, making a warm jacket a necessity. Harsha brought only a thin cotton wrap but luckily, we came across a kind French couple who loaned her their extra fleece blanket. Preferably wear moisture wicking, stretchable tights to allow easy movement of limbs while climbing steeper portions and wear full-sleeved tee-shirt to avoid scrapes. If you are travelling during rainy season do carry a lightweight rain jacket.
Though the terrain is loose and slippery at places, and stony, it is a hike suitable for beginners too. The height gained during ascent is not much, though one must proceed with a little care and try not to match pace with faster hikers. The trek takes about two hours and the guides tend to move the group fast. My aim was to enjoy the hike and be able to look around and admire the moon and stars (there were no stars that night but since GOT, one without the other seems incomplete!). I took a breather when I needed one, and in the process I reached the top about 15-20 minutes later than the rest of my group. I neither missed the sunrise nor did I get exhausted and was happy with my pace. That said, I tried to stay as close as possible with the rest of the group.
Words – Harini
Photographs – Harini and Harsha