Friday October 18, 2019

A Sunrise Trek of Mount Batur in Bali

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I miss mountains. I miss hikes and fresh air and the thrill (and chill) of high places. So when I realised I had a long weekend ahead of me at the beginning of March I decided to do something about it.

Bali is only a 40-minute flight away from Surabaya so I resolved to do a sunrise trek among Bali’s volcanoes in order to sooth my soul.

Gunung Batur is 1717m, one of the several volcanic cones in what seems like a giant dish with water in its bottom. It was formed in an eruption in 1917 and has been active as recently as 1994. There are lots of tours there so once I’d arrived at my lovely hotel in Ubud (The Saren Indah, highly recommended for a relaxing break), I asked them to sign me up (I’m getting lazy in my travel habits out here), and then relaxed for the rest of the day, in preparation for my efforts.

The pick-up was 2 am. I’d indulged in lovely Balinese cuisine and a glass of wine before going to bed early, managing about four hours of sleep before my alarm went off. I rolled out of bed, pulled on my hiking gear and grabbed my new, lightweight rucksack. The car arrived and in I climbed, the first of three pickups around Ubud. Then we drove for about an hour in dozy silence, up towards the start of our trek at Toya Bungkah. But first, we stopped off at a little place that provided us with banana pancakes and coffee, and our ‘second breakfast’ for the summit (ultimately banana sandwiches and a boiled egg). Then we drove a further 15 minutes to meet our guide.

As I said, there are lots of tours, so it was no surprise to draw up to a huge car park filled with tired looking hikers gripping bottles of water and flashlights. We were organised into groups of four, given a flashlight if we didn’t have one (I’d remembered my head torch, naturally!) and sent on our way.

Our guide was, appropriately enough, named Dante, as in Dante’s Peak. The irony did not escape our group. He set a cracking pace, which was fine to begin with, but the route quickly became steep and is, by alternates, rocky or sandy. I was quickly reminded that I am not as young or fit as I was. Two months of battling an ear infection had stopped my gym visits early in January, so I quickly got out of breath compared to my younger, fitter companions. Additionally, although the ear infection was no longer rife, the aftermath of slight deafness continued, and I found myself feeling a bit dizzy the higher we climbed, which was a concern when I repeatedly stumbled. Dante, however, kept us going and made frequent rest stops.

Each rest gave us a wonderful nighttime view across Bali. The silhouette of Gunung Abang opposite us on the other side of the lake dominated the landscape, matched only by banks of cloud that regularly lit up with orange lightning. The sky was clear and the stars were out in abundance, lighting our way.

At one point we had a long rest while our guides prayed at a shrine before the steepest ascent to the summit. Bali is a Hindu country, although Balinese Hinduism is a unique blend of beliefs. They believe that spirits are everywhere and good spirits dwell in mountains and bring prosperity to people. Sadly, some groups were ignorant of local customs and failed to wait quietly while their guide prayed. It always disappoints me when people ignore local customs, as it takes very little to learn about and appreciate other people’s cultures and beliefs.

Mt. Batur is always busy, but especially so at weekends when groups of students are able to complete the walk. One thing that kept me moving against all the odds was the desire to get way from the shouting, music playing hordes and breath in the space and silence of the volcano. I’d positioned myself at the front of our group, knowing the slowest should set the pace, but I could feel the youngsters stepping on my heels behind me, perhaps not as used to walking in groups as I am. Still, I slogged on, determined to outpace them. It was more easily said than done, I can tell you.

We arrived at the summit in good time; it was still dark and clear when we arrived at the already crowded lookout. The sunrise wasn’t far behind us. The sky quickly took on a lighter glow behind Abang and the cloud-banks surrounding it. As the light increased, so did the cloud as heat and cold met. So the sunrise wasn’t a spectacular as I could have hoped. But never mind. I was high up (1717m); I was cold (such a nice feeling after constant heat and humidity – I even got to wear my favourite Rab feather down jacket and enjoy a hot chocolate from the food station near the top!); I had space around me, even though the top was crowded with snap happy student groups. I was happy to be there.

Once the day had well and truly begun and we’d been at the top for nearly an hour, we turned around and made our way back. The steep top was quickly managed, as it was mostly sand and, therefore, quick to descend using the ‘dig your heels in and slide’ method. We stopped briefly at the crater, active in 1994, and gazed at the still blackened landscape below it. We felt steam rising from fissures in the ground and dodged tourist savvy monkeys, greedy for anything they could get their hands on.

About half way down we diverted from the original route and took what could pass for a road to the bottom. It was certainly accessible to traffic as we dodged motorbikes laden with passengers and goods. It was also a good deal easier to walk after the rocky slog we had endured on the way up.

Dante discovered I was an English teacher, and, while teaching me some Indonesian phrases such as ‘kaki ku kaku’ meaning ‘my legs are stiff’, he grilled me in English grammar and the finer definitions between maybe and probably (amongst other things)!

Soon enough we were back at the car park fulfilling the ‘two hours up two hours down’ prophecy everyone had warned me about. Reunited with our driver we were quickly on our way, although the drive home seemed to take forever and I was desperate to get back and take a shower after my exertions. I had sensibly booked a massage for later that afternoon and, I have to say, it helped work out the stiffness really well. Of course, I was still rather sore for a good couple of days afterwards, but it was definitely worth every step. I had got my mountains fix, with added stars and lightning clouds and a tiny bit of sunrise, to make everything well in my world.

This article was first published at wattonswanderings.wordpress.com Image- yuwest.org

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Want to Test Your Nerves? Trek to Great Himalayan National Park

The starting point for any trekking route to the park is Kullu town, some 500 km from New Delhi and is accessible by road and air

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By Vishal Gulati

If you are an intrepid trekker and want to test your nerves in the highly inhospitable terrain and tough climatic conditions of Himachal Pradesh’s Tirthan and Parvati valleys, then a 1,171 sq km Great Himalayan National Park (GNHP) is your calling.

By paying a daily permit fee of Rs 100 per person, you can trek and also stay in inspection huts, some of them of British-era, dotted across the national park that is now a Unesco World Heritage site. For foreigners, the daily fee is Rs 500 per person.

Park authorities say the best time to trek in the park is from April to June and from October to November.

“The park offers moderate to strenuous trekking routes and it is more fit for professionals,” park Director Ajit Thakur told IANS.

He said that every year 1,500-1,600 trekkers, 10 per cent of whom are foreigners mainly from Europe and the US, come for trekking.

The GHNP, which is totally untouched by road network, has four valleys — Tirthan, Sainj, Jiwa Nal and Parvati.

The boundaries of the park are connected to the Pin Valley National Park, the Rupi-Bhawa Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kanawar Wildlife Sanctuary.

More than two dozen trekking routes in the park have been identified and local youths have been trained to assist the trekkers, he said.

Park officials said the treks of the Sainj and Tirthan valleys are quite popular among mountaineers.

It is advisable to hire local porters and guides trained by park authorities, as they are familiar with the local topography and climatic conditions.

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FILE – Trekkers hike through a densely forested area near Ghorepani, Nepal, Oct. 23, 2014. VOA

Park authorities have fixed rates for the guides. They charge Rs 2,500 per person per day which includes food, porter service and providing camping logistics.

There are 14 inspection huts inside the park where trekkers can camp.

Thakur said for those who don’t want to trudge arduous treks, the eco-zone areas adjacent to the park are the best options.

The eco zone provides a combination of natural and cultural experiences.

The trails in the eco-zone go through villages and offer an opportunity to interact with the villagers and observe their daily activities. The eco-zone contains 160 villages and hamlets.

No permit is required to go into the eco zone, where, on an average, 50,000 tourists come every year.

More than 50 travel agents are based in Sai Ropa, some 65 km from Mandi town, for conducting activities in mountaineering, backpacking, skiing, trekking and rafting.

There is an online booking facility for staying at the park-managed forest rest houses at Sai Ropa and Ropa. These are connected by road.

The trekking period days range from three to 15, depending upon the trek chosen.

Some trekking routes, like crossing the Jiwa Nala-Parvati river and the Pin-Parvati pass, demand excellent physical health and stamina, serious trekking experience and snow walking.

The Jiwa Nala-Parvati river valley 110-km trek is a seven-day hike, crossing the passes at Kandi Galu (3,627 m) and Phangchi Galu (4,636 m).

Likewise, the Pin Parvati pass (5,319 m) trek via Pulga is 90 km long and requires eight days.

The climate is temperate during summer. In winters, there is HIGHER possibility of snow stormsr. Snowfall occurs throughout the park which contains 49 glaciers of varying sizes.

The trek provides the opportunity to spot a wide range of western Himalayan biodiversity.

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The park, notified in the year 1999, is home to 203 bird species, including the western tragopan, the Himalayan monal, the koklas, the white-crested kalij and the cheer pheasant.

The famous mammals in the park are the leopard, the Himalayan black bear, the brown bear, the rhesus macaque and various herbivores like the goral – a small antelope, the blue sheep, the musk deer and the Himalayan tahr – a wild goat that lives on the steepest cliffs. These are commonly seen at higher slopes.

The starting point for any trekking route to the park is Kullu town, some 500 km from New Delhi and is accessible by road and air. (IANS)