Bandung to Bali XXXii – To Tangkuban Perahu

The wheels of the angkot slip and screech through gravel as we wind up along Jalan Buniwangi toward Lembang and the mountain.

Bandung trails out along the road in a tumble of shacks, road-side warungs and small farm-houses with skirts of tended vegetable plots and flags of banana trees.
A veil of mist dampens the early noise as families stir into life and all around us smoke curls and the smell of oil bites at our nostrils.

We pass farmers and hawkers as they head to market on foot, on bikes, in small bemos.  Bundles of leafy greens bulge under straps of rope. Piles of fruit spring and bounce over shoulders and stacks of tight, neatly cut tubers rattle over the rutted road. Johnny sleeps pale and serene in the crook of mum’s arm while Matt leans out the window, his face scrunched up like a dog tasting the wind.

“But it’s a real volcano isn’t it Dad? A live one?” says Matt.

“You’re a live one,” Dad says before he goes on, “Yes Matt, it’s really alive but it’s sleeping at the moment.”

“Dormant,” says Tony.

Dad relishes the roll of the angkot as he tells the tale of the mountain, of Dayang Sumbi and her son Sangkuriang. The legend bumps along in between ruts and pot-holes and Dad has to stop to hold on to the door as the driver grinds the poor rusted van through its gears before starting the story off again.

“And so the mountain’s got a boat on top of it?” Matt hasn’t quite understood the ending.

“No it’s the shape of the mountain, ‘Tangkuban Perahu’, the top of the mountain is scooped out like an upside-down boat.”

“So his mum was magic and he killed his dad by mistake and then she sent him away and he didn’t know she was his mum and she made him build the dam and a boat and then she tricked him and made him angry and he tipped up the boat?”

“Yes Matt, it’s something like that –  it’s a very complicated story.” said Mum.

“Oedipal,” said Tony.

“How do you know what Oedipus is?” Mum looks a bit surprised.

“It’s in the bookshelf at home Mum.” I remind her.

“Bryan you should really put some of those books away until the children are older.”

“So will the volcano blow up today?”

“Erupt,” says Tony

Matt ignores him, “Will we see sparks and lava?”

“No I don’t think so Matt.” Dad says

Johnny stirs awake and makes out some of the half-told story.

“And the giants Dad? The giants build the dam? Are there giants?”

“Maybe once upon a time Johnny but not now I don’t think,” Mum calms his excitement.

We pass through Lembang. Dad points out the famous Bosscha Observatory and other pretty white colonial buildings which look down on Bandung, far away in the basin of the mountains.
Tangkuban Perahu shadows her from the North while Gunung Gunhur, another big volcano, is to her South. With their sisters, they have  laid a ring of rich earth in their ancient lava plane.

The driver turns right along Jalan Grand Hotel and follows the crest of the mountain to the outskirts of Lembang. Up we climb – higher and higher, with yet more hairpin bends tossing us from side to side – now hugging the mountain, then veering to the precipice, to stop at last on a straight stretch of road.

The small bus can no go no further, but a broad path slices a green belt around the shoulder of the mountain.

“Pergi sekitar jalan ini,” the driver shows Dad to follow the path ahead.

“Lalu pergi ke seberang atas sungai.” He waves away in the distance  to a crossing over the river.

 “Lalu naik gunung sedikit lebih jauh” – then to follow up the mountain a little further

“Untuk mencapai restoran” – to reach the restaurant. Ah we know that word.

Mum gathers up our cardigans and coats – Atang had said to prepare for cold air – “Lebih dinging!” he had cried with a mock shiver as he helped us out of the house in the darkness, sleepy and unsure of where we were heading.

Kiah held tight to Bart as we left. “Biarkan dia tinggal dengan saya,” she had whispered – let him stay with me. He was so much bigger now and could sit and laugh and hold court like a raja kejil Mum said.

After the close confines of the house at Jalan Bengawan and the suffocating air of Bandung we take to this new perjalanannya with relish. Matt and I feel the release as cool air mists around us and we race along the edge of glistening padi fields toward the sound of water in the distance.

My Tolkien and Lewis Carroll books have filled my mind with wondrous worlds, but now I step into a place of living magic – a land of the buto ijo (ogres) and other yet unseen spirits. As we pass along Gunung Putri – the Mountain Princess road, small raised posts holding offerings to Dewi Sri, the great goddess of fertility, remind us of the ageless link between the land and the gods.

Below, along the terrace ledges, whole families bend in reverence of their rice plots which layer and loop like ribbons into the valley. An occasional buffalo lends his weight to turn the rich mud, hocks deep and straining through the water. The ploughman follows in the mere shelter of his caping, his legs too, gleaming with mud. Matt runs on and over the bridge.

“Not far now Chas,” Matt calls as he leans out over the bridge, the gush of a waterfall sounds and the morning mist steams as hot water spills and rushes toward the valley beneath.

The path lies now between fields of drying stalks of rice sitting in caked earth with the forest rising dense and brooding behind.

Despite the sounds of the stirring mountain and the chance of giants beyond, the sight of the steep roof of the villa promises us something even more enticing.





8 thoughts on “Bandung to Bali XXXii – To Tangkuban Perahu

  1. You capture the feel of the place well as always, Chas. It brings back to me the sense of discovery when exploring such places for the first time. The pic of the old Dutch-style eatery reminds me of some that have survived in Malang and Semarang, among other places. Hope they’re maintained forever.


    • Thanks Mike – it’s nice to wind the memory back. My new job is taking me back to Indonesia which is wonderful but it’s extraordinarily different! Even to see the tourist attraction of the mountain these days is interesting – it certainly wasn’t much ventured to in the 70s. Hope to get to Malang and Semarang sometime – haven’t managed to venture there yet.


    • Hi Hilary – you’re great – can you be my editor? (I am so in need of that!) Perhaps that is the biologist in me – I never studied geology so I fall down badly there – but it’s fascinating stuff….


    • Thank you!! Hope to be back a bit more regularly again – new job settling in – 1 poorly child now doing a lot better etc. So I’m looking forward to some more art and writing in the cold winter hours here – hope you’re doing well!


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