Up the Path of Sorrow

Posted on August 6, 2010


Slowly shifting waves of pink, saffron and orange wove an enchanting carpet of light that formed the perfect cradle for the new born sun. So small you could cup it in the palm of your hand, this perfect orb rose out of deep blue blankets of oblivion to greet us as we stood on top of Bali’s active volcano – Mt. Batur.

The cheerful voice of the on-duty staff shook me out of slumber at one o’clock in the morning. I’d settled into a restless sleep at a little past ten knowing that we had to be up in three hours bundled and ready to go on the fabled ‘Sunrise Trek’. I woke up my peacefully snoring husband, who was blissfully oblivious to the sharp ring of the telephone and I cursed our over developed sense of adventure. It was our last day on the mystical island of Bali and we thought it was poignantly significant to see the sun rise over the island we had both fallen in love with, I only hoped it would be worth the precious sacrifice of sleep.

Mt. Batur or Gunung Batur as it is called in Balinese (Gunung meaning mountain) is an active volcano standing 700 meters above sea level south-west of Gunung Agung – the highest point on the island and another active volcano. Mountains are considered very sacred to the Balinese people and all their houses are built to face their general direction, as they believe that the mountains are the abode of the gods. Watching the sunrise from atop these mountains is considered to be a spiritual journey rich with blessings.

We were picked up from our hotel at exactly two o’clock by a rather beat-up SUV that twisted and turned its way through roads as black as pitch. We had no idea where we were going, we didn’t know the names of our smiling guides, we had no new age communication devices in case of an emergency, we could do nothing more than hold on to the rickety door for dear life and pray to the mountain gods that we would reach in one piece.

We reached the base of Mt. Batur at a little past three o’clock and were engulfed by a swarm of tourists who were chattering in excitement and the cold as they prepared to make the two and a half-hour trek. We were introduced to Nyoman our rather nervous but sincere guide who handed us each a torch, asked us if we were ready and at our nod set off at a brisk pace.

We hadn’t anticipated the chill air and the exercise helped warm us as we settled into a comfortable pace.  There were at least 100 tourists with us on the pilgrimage and we filed up behind a long queue of torch lights and shadows.

The first 20 mins were easy, we were crossing a grass plain, with the tips of the alfa alfa brushing against my shoulder. We could hear shouts and singing from way ahead of us and I confidently whispered to my husband that this was going to be a piece of cake.

I have never been more incorrect in my life. We suddenly hit the wall of the mountain and that’s when the trek began. There was no gradually rising plain, no rest spots to take in the air and the night sky. It was a steep climb from bottom to top. There were a couple of Americans who excused themselves politely and set off at an enviable trot ahead of us and I regretted the delicious Ayam Betutu (a typical Balinese chicken dish) I had tucked into with much relish the previous night. After a lot of huffing and puffing and with Nyoman’s constant cajoling and confident reassurances we scrambled up the rocky path the lava had made when it had last erupted in 1999, an eruption that had completely wiped out two villages. To quote my husband, we were climbing the path of sorrow.

We finally made it to the top, ahead of a bunch of noisy kids who were groaning louder than I was, which provided me with some sadistic pleasure and made me feel better about my state of health.

It was 5:20, we had made it to the top in about 2 hours and our triumph was greeted by Bryan Adams bleating out “Please Forgive Me” through a portable stereo. Not exactly the best reception but nothing could take away the elation of having made it up the mountain and the pleasure of warming my cold hands on the steam billowing from the innards of Batur.

The breath-taking view of Gunung Agung across Lake Batur shimmering under the moonlight and the distant lights winking off as the day dawned, calmed our ragged breath and we settled onto a warm rock, biting into the delicious banana sandwich Nyoman had made for us as we waited for the sun to greet us.

Posted in: Travel