Here’s the story of a country that worships its volcanoes.
The Ring of Fire. Doesn’t get more imposing than that. Yet, it understates the magnitude of the geological forces that are at play in the region. Much of the world we know today was forged in volcanic crucibles like these. The name, however, is a little deceptive. It isn’t a ring as much as it is an arch, and the pillar on which this arch stands is a little island nation we know as, Indonesia.
Pillar Of Fire
Home to a third of the world’s active volcanoes and having claimed over 100,000 lives in the last two centuries alone, Indonesia is one of the most geologically turbulent regions in the world. Earthquakes here are commonplace, and most sections of the country experience one to three tremors a day.
It isn’t all doom and lava though. Here, the Earth giveth, and the Earth taketh away. The volcanoes are responsible for Indonesia’s nutrient-rich soil, creating some of the most fertile and biodiverse ecological belts in the world. According to Andrew Marshall of the Associated Press, “In Indonesia, volcanoes are not just a fact of life, they are life itself. Volcanic ash enriches the soil; farmers on Java can harvest three crops of rice in a season. Farmers on neighboring Borneo, with only one volcano, can’t.”
As one would imagine, living in such proximity to these veritable titans has had an impact on the people and their culture. Volcanoes are feared, adored and deified. The Balinese are known to sleep with their heads placed facing the nearest volcano.
The Nage people of Flores, located in the south-central part of the island, bury their dead with the heads directed at the Mount Ebulobo. The Surakarta Sunanate and Yogyakarta Sultanate, both houses of Javanese royalty, make regular offerings to the volcano peak Merapi. The Javanese see certain sequences of volcanic expulsions as expressions of the often grumpy deity’s displeasure. The Tenggerese people, a Hindu ethnic group, throw food, fruit, birds and animals into the crater of Mount Bromo during the annual Yadnya Kasada Festival to placate their fiery Lord.
The temperament of volcanoes have a remarkable influence on every facet of local life; it has even decided the fate of many a political career. Loyalties have thus been exchanged. Religions have shifted. Empires, forged in fire have all returned to ash.Only the volcano remains impervious to time.
Volcano Hiking In Indonesia
Of the many Indonesian Islands, Java and Sumatra, are home to some of the most accessible volcanoes. Mount Sibayak in Sumatra is 4 hour hike from the town of Berastagi, a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the Sumatran lowland. On the way, you encounter remnants of longhouses that belong to the Karo Batak people in the North. The fog here is unpredictable, but it poses no danger other than the risk of missing out on a few majestic views.
The Ijen Crater in East Java is, however, not for those who expect to see the best Indonesia has to offer, in terms of comfort. Beauty comes at a price. Where else in the world can you see electric blue flames streaming down the mountain at night? Or a turquoise (and admittedly toxic) lake seated in a caldera almost 20 km wide? And all this is just a brief drip in the sensorial spin that volcanoes have bestowed upon this island nation forged in the fires of creation. So, if you ever feel the need to transmute your sense of reckless abandon into deep-seated humility, volcano hiking in the islands of Indonesia will do the trick.
Gazing at the white-hot heat of an active volcano one is forced to reflect on the deeper issues that affect us all; the fault lines that misalign us from taking on wider perspectives begin to shift toward the undeniable truth that we are part of a world that is greater than the sum total of our individual desires. All this on a simple holiday – a hop, skip and jump away from India. You convinced? If yes, then resist the urge to double tap your heart out on Instagram. Instead, go find, Indonesia.
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Note : Header Image Credit : DONNY C HENRY/INSTAGRAM