One-A-Week # 3 Hilltop temples and the threat of exploding volcanoes

The sun had barely risen above the horizon when we exited our hotel room at the Rama Sinta in Candidasa, Bali. There was a faint breeze that made the weather cool enough that I would have worn a jumper if I had packed one. Me and Wanida – my partner – were up early because we were heading to a temple that sits atop Mount Lempuyang and it would take nearly 1.5 hrs to get their on our little scooter that we had hired from some backstreet phone shop that happened to hire out there scooter.

We were aiming to get their to watch the sunrise illuminate the valley, which flows between our temple and the adjacent Mount Agung which is an active volcano. Furthermore, we had to be back at the hotel by 12pm for our checkout, so we needed to have an early start. (Although we would have been getting up early regardless because the best time to visit the temple is in the accompaniment of dawns first light). With this in mind, we packed up all our camera gear, food and water in a bag, and headed off on our long ride through the peaceful mountainous region of Northeast Bali.

After winding our way through rugged mountain roads for about 45 mins, we finally emerged to a relatively flat stretch of land covered in rice paddies. By this time, the sun was just peaking over the horizon, illuminating the area and giving the rice fields a spectacular glow as the sun reflected off their waterbeds. We also got the first glimpse of where we were heading. In the distance amongst many other small hills, rose two large mountains sitting parallel to each other. One was slightly larger than the other – this was Mount Agung. The slightly smaller one was Mount Lempuyang. The temple we were heading too was on top, although we couldn’t actually see it as of yet because the mountain was covered in a dense, green growth of trees and other plants.

 

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We eventually reached the base of the mountain and the GPS was displaying that we had less than 3km to our destination. This would have been a good thing were it not for the road going straight up the mountain at a 25 degree angle almost continuously until we reached the temple and our scooter was not what you would call a ‘powerhouse’. (For most of our journey so far we had barely gone over 40km/h because the scooter was giving it all she could and simply couldn’t go any faster. And with 349,524 km on the gauge, I guess we couldn’t expect much more). We started the climb a bit pessimistic, but we eventually made it all the way there on the bike with no issues, keeping at a steady speed of 15km/h.

We were greeted by some friendly locals at the base of the temple’s stairs, whom offered out sarongs to guests for a small donation. We had a bit of trouble tying them around our waste – for those who don’t know, a sarong is basically a thin blanket-like shaped piece of fabric that you wear around your waste. We eventually got them to stay around our waste with some help from the local temple goers and began to ascend some 1500 stairs to the various temple ‘tourist attractions’.

It may have been a slow journey, but it was all well worth it when we finally reached the top and saw the view; we could see the land stretching out all the way to the ocean and the first true rays of sunlight illuminating the land. Even mount Agung was in full view, which is an unusual thing at the beginning of the wet season because it is usually coated in a blanket of clouds and only occasionally can be seen. But at that moment not a single cloud covered it. We were quick to snap some of the typical tourist photos between the temples gates while the view was perfect.

We spent about an hour wandering around to the various sections of the temple. (The temple isn’t actually a single temple, but about 7 individual temples that collectively make up the Pura Lempuyang Luhur). The heat of a Balinese day takes away your breath very quickly when doing anything a bit strenuous, so we decided to take a break and have some brunch. While sitting down, I turned on my 3G to see if there were any other interesting places in the area, but before I could do that I was met with a sudden influx of several notifications from news stations and concerned family sending messages; “Bali’s Mount Agung threatens to erupt for the first time in 50 years”; “Where are you? I hope you’re not near Mount Agung”; “Fears Bali’s Mount Agung volcano could erupt amid tremors”. Everyone seemed to be concerned about the mountain just 15km away from us, but up until that point, we had been completely clueless that anything perilous was occurring.

 

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From what I could gather about Mount Agung, in the last few days there was a spike in tremors around its base, prompting experts to predict a heightened likelihood of the volcano exploding after laying dormant for nearly 50 years. Despite this there were no warnings posted along the roads leading to the volcano, very few television stations covered this from what we could determine amongst the Balinese language, nor did many of the locals we asked even know about it.

We were unsure how to proceed, but seeing as though we had spent nearly 1.5 hours driving down windy and bumpy roads on a gutless scooter and we now had up to date status reports on the mountain we decided to hang around a bit longer before we returned to our bike and began the long drive back to the hotel to meet our check-out time. In retrospect, I’m not sure whether it was due to this warning or the fact that we were there so early, but it may explain why we only saw one other tourist the whole time we were there.

Although we were fine and the volcano still hasn’t exploded it highlights a dilemma others in a similar position to us may have faced; If you were in this situation, with knowledge of a volcanos potential explosion, would you still visit a temple directly adjacent to it?

 

 

 

 

**Unfortunately, I lost most of the images from this day because I formatted my memory card by mistake. The poor quality of all these pics is due to them being taken on a phone or GoPro. I almost wasn’t going to post this journal article because of this error.

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