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Telaga Warna’s turquoise waters
It was not easy getting to Central Java’s famous Dieng Plateau. The weekend I decided to make the trip – a long weekend — was the absolute worst time.
Tickets were sold out on luxury trains and all airline seats were taken.
Despite these setbacks, my determination was unfazed. I braved an overnight economy train from Senen station.
However, I got off in Purwokerto after eight hours because I was too tired to continue. After a good night’s rest at a hotel and a three hour bus ride, I arrived in Wonosobo. The Dieng Plateau was another 45 minutes from my homestay.
The bus ride up from the town center in Wonosobo to Dieng was unlike anything I had ever seen. The bus rolled past endless fields of potatoes, rice, cabbage, chili peppers, corn and scallions.
Steps were carved into the mountains’ sides as if to facilitate a visiting deity from the heavens. Farmers climbed steep hills with sacks filled with potatoes saddled across their shoulders. I marveled at their strength and endurance and wondered whether, if I lived like that for a month, I would finally lose these last 10 pounds?
The village on the Dieng Plateau’s main income comes from commercially supplying potatoes. In fact, the village is known for sending a few residents to Mecca for the annual Muslim pilgrimage, or haj.
Dieng’s striking habitat is a dichotomy of opposites. Lush green fields for farming juxtaposed against arid gravel near volcanic craters spewing sulfurous gas. Clear, fresh river water runs along the mountain side while acidic, yet stunning Lake Warna (Telaga Warna) is a must-see.
The word Dieng is derived from di hyang, meaning spiritual or abode of the gods. The earliest evidence of Hinduism in Indonesia can be traced back to Dieng.
At over 1,000 years old, the Arjuna Temple is still very sturdy. To the left of Arjuna are the Srikandi, Puntadewa and the Sambadra temples.
These temples are the oldest known structures in all of Java and, although they are not as architecturally splendid as Borobodur or Prambanan, they have significant archaeological importance.
Eight small Hindu temples, dating back to 750 CE, stand today on the Dieng Plateau. Archaeologists surmise that up to 400 temples once stood in this area.
The garden surrounding the temples is a cool place to relax. Looking around the temple grounds now, it is hard to imagine that it was once a swamp.
In 1814, a British soldier, Van Kinsbergen stumbled across the temples. Some 40 years later, the drying-out process was begun. Walking on the grounds feels a bit springy because the area used to be under water.
The shift in the landscape was sudden. One moment I was looking at green mountains with crops and the next, I was stepping in gravel and over tiny puddles of bubbling hot water. The Sikidang Crater is on a barren stretch of land, which is unusual as it is not on the volcano. Instead, it looks more like a well at the base of the volcano.
While approaching the crater, I detected a faint smell of sulfur. I waded past men selling masks, professing to “protect” my nose from the gas. The route to the crater is pretty straightforward — just follow the smoke.
Sikidang Crater at the base of volcanoAt first, I couldn’t see down into the crater because the steam was so thick. Then, the wind changed direction to reveal the crater. It looked like a huge pot of violently boiling water inside the earth.
Locals have turned the soil and gravel leading up to the crater into a miniature motorbike thrill park. The small hills, or rather heaped piles of gravel, form an obstacle course that the bikes ride over at high speeds.
I am again reminded that natural, local attractions make a living in small communities, such as this one. The only issue with these small economic units is that everyone is selling the same thing.
Arjuna Temple clusters built in the eighth centuryIn this case, there were many masks for sale. There is very little diversity in products. The crater’s heat measures around 98 degrees Celsius but this does not deter locals from collecting brimstones from the around the edge and selling them to visitors. It is said the stones’ minerals are a good treatment for acne and help smooth the skin.
Telaga Warna is one of the top sites to visit in Dieng. I was taken aback by the lake’s turquoise hues that I normally associate with the ocean. The bubbling sulfur deposits around the lake are quick reminders that this isn’t a beach, however. The gradation of colors from turquoise to midnight blue is sharp in the middle of the lake. I had read that when the sun was shining, parts of the lake appeared yellow in color. The sun didn’t make an appearance on this visit, but the range of blues was stunning.
Another microeconomy in Dieng is touring by ojek (motorcycle taxi). It is an entirely possible hike, but the ojek offer a welcome break if you’ve been hiking up hills for hours. Taking a hike up Mount Sikunir to see the sunrise is another popular activity at Dieng. At that time, visibility is low because of the mist and there are no lights on the path so be sure to bring a flash light.
I skipped this because, in order to see the sunrise, I had to set out at 3:30 a.m. Besides, I’m more of a watching-the-sunset-with-a-margarita in-hand kind of a girl.
— Photos by Diana O’Gilvie