TANGKUBAN PERAHU........boiled eggs and a billion year old leaf
Not in my looniest dreams had i imagined that i would some day walk into a live volcano. But i did........I know that sounds like a stretched fantasy yarn. But if revise our perceptions about volcanoes and re-educate ourselves in descriptions, such a claim will not sound so daft after all. In our country volcanoes never figure in normal, perceived geography. They are in text books, fairy tales, sometimes in newspapers, and always evoke the mental association with the image of a perfectly conical mountain,furiously blowing its top in a blaze of red, orange and yellow illumination. Thats the standard "live" volcano ; and it was just such an image that popped in mind's eye when we heard that there was a friendly, neighbourhood "live volcano" about two hours away from where we lived in Sumedang-Bandung, Indonesia. And it being the biggest tourist attraction of the region, we just couldn't give it a miss. It last erupted in 1983 and exhibited some half-hearted saber rattling in 1992, but is generally swarming with tourists year round.
Visiting Tangkuban Perahu was higher education in the subject of volcanos. First and foremost being that a "live" volcano need not necessarily keep belching fumes and rumbling in readiness for pyrotechnics. Geothermal energy , visible as bubbling and boiling lakes and mud pools in the crater and the odour of sulphur permeating the air, denote liveliness. Second discovery, lush green vegetation can grow very close to the hot springs and thrive gloriously in the acrid atmosphere. Third wonder, scalding hot pools and icy cool mountain springs can co-exist in close proximity.
The sulphurous "smell of hell" starts assaulting us as soon as we start ascending the hill range. From afar, the hill looks like an upturned boat and it is this shape which gives it its Sundanese name ( Tangkuban Perahu = Upturned Boat) and a requisite legend, The Tale Of Dayang Sumbi, explaining the reason for that name . Very briefly, the folklore is about Prince Sangkuriang, a human, falling in love with a Heavenly Sprite named Dayang Sumbi and ardently wooing her for marriage. But the sprite cannot marry him because of a dark, complicated,Oedipus-complexed secret and in desperation to put him off ,sets him a difficult task as a condition for her consent. She demands that he build her a magnificent and magical ship ( boat) within a single night. Needless to say, the hero almost succeeds in completing the task, but the sprite takes the form of a rooster, crows loudly to signify dawn before the last finishing touch, thus making him a failure. The infuriated prince kicks his magnificent boat, which turns turtle and petrifies into a hill - this hill. No volcanoes in the story, except the fiery fury of the cheated prince.
The drive is cool and pleasant. Destination is the top of the ridge from where we have a panoramic view of the three main craters and the farther ranges, pockmarked and trailing faint plumes of smoke here and there. The top angle view is truly awesome. The craters are well defined and deep. At the bottom are greenish pools of steaming lakes. wild vegetation covers all but the bottom third part of the yawning craters. The ridge top is a buzzing hive of touristy paraphrenalia. Souvenirs, snacks, instant-photos.
The " Information" cabin is a mini museum with charts, photos and bulletin boards offering an overload of info. about the place. Here, we pay for a guide who will walk us through the jungle that covers the inner slope of the crater to its boiling bottom. With no well laid paths for the trek, we could get lost easily without a guide.
The three main craters are the Kawah Ratu , Kawah Domas and Kawah Upas. ( Kawah= Crater) Though Kawah Ratu ( ratu=Queen) is the main one, visitors are not allowed to descend it because it is tempermental and prone to issuing poisonous gases. The only one open to tourists is K.Domas.
The trek down the slope is pleasant, cool and enriched by the music of Nature. Which is basically a glorious silence, broken occassionally by bird calls and the gurgling of hidden brooks. The Guide automatically keeps his voice low. He tells us about volcanic activity in the region, lists the kinds of fauna and flora found there, points to interestingly coloured rocks, extols the virtues of sulphur as a bath salt.
Soon, the vegetation thins out and we are on rocky terrain, signalling our approach to the bottom. We are surprised to see some small stalls here, almost an hour away from the top. They are selling eggs. Eggs at the bottom of a volcano ? Thats surreal ! But the guide explains that we may, if we wish to, buy an egg to test the heat of the volcanic pool. He points to people dipping raw eggs into the water and pulling out well cooked sulphur flavoured boiled-eggs ! I dont think anyone eats them. Some shacks sell brilliant yellow sulphur in granular and chunky forms and i cannot resist buying a small sparkling souvenir rock. There are also some beautiful artifacts carved out of a soft wood that is naturally patterned in brown and cream colours resembling the common batik cloth. They call it Kayu Batik ( Batik Wood) and is said to grow well in the region.
Closer to the pool, we can feel the hot vaporous air. If one wants to walk around the pit, its advisable to tie a handkerchief over the nose. We take a brief stroll, observing that the rocks have retained at some places, the flow marks - layered like dropped cake batter ! - of the ancient lava flow. While returning, we spot something interesting. The imprint of some fern on a rock. A fossil ! Lovely to behold, but impossible to pry out of the vast boulder. Could be a billion years old.
The trek up to the vehicle does not take long, because, midway to the rim of the crater, is a deviation that takes us to a pretty good mud road connecting to another carpark on the flank of the hill. The usual practice here seems to be to drop visitors on the rim and pick them up here.
After the trek, most tourists head to Maribaya Hot Springs , a popular park nearby ,with well laid gardens , hot swimming pools, eateries, water falls, horse rides, kiddies play area.. ....regular picnic centre. Lembang, a very lovely hill station amply endowed with Eden-like natural beauty is another neighbourhood here worth driving through to catch the road back to Bandung. The steaming basket loads of boiled corn and bunches of luscious carrots sold along the road are as much a treat to the eye as to the tongue.
Brief Sojourns in Jakarta
Jakarta is not too far from Bandung. There's an excellent train that traverses some exquisite scenery between the two cities . Jakarta was, for us, always just a stopover station. The only time we really got to stay there for two whole days was during a Ramzan Holiday, when almost everything was shut down, so there was hardly any sightseeing done. But we did visit the famous theme park at Ancol and saw a wonderful Imax film about Indonesia.
On another stopover visit, I had the opportunity to see an opera, a traditional dance drama , the story of which was Gatotkacha's wedding. Here's the programme sheet that carries the story too: Strange names and strange story !