“I was certainly not planning to go any closer to an active volcano. However, as I dug into my Nasi Goreng – I considered the opportunity to try something different and address my fear of heights.” Nidhi Dinesh shares her first-time hike to Mount Batur – an active volcano on the island of Bali, Indonesia.

“Who doesn’t love birthday surprises?” remarked my husband as I reluctantly packed our bags for a holiday. For once, my husband had surpassed all expectations and done something romantic on my birthday. To begin with, he remembered my birthday, got me flowers and flight tickets to Bali.

Given the recent volcanic eruptions in December 2018 and February 2019 on Mount Agung and ensuing travel advisories my reaction was justified. He tried to allay my fears by saying that it might be a quiet time to visit Bali, Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination. Despite my initial fears, the trip turned out to be rather peaceful… until…

Photo of sunrise atop Mount Batur

Sunrise atop Mount Batur

Soaking in the splendid views and tucking in my favourite food, I was in bliss until my husband suggested that we catch the sunrise atop Mount Batur. I was stumped! I was certainly not planning to go any closer to an active volcano. However, as I dug into my Nasi Goreng at a Kintamani restaurant overlooking Mount Batur – I considered the opportunity to try something different and address my fear of heights. Besides, this was supposed to be a witching hour climb, so if I couldn’t see anything, surely there was no room for fear?

We started our journey at 2.30am. From our meeting point, the volcano looked majestic under the full moonlight with streaks of lightning in rumbling clouds just above it. The area was abuzz with activity with climbers of all ages, sizes and climbing experience. I could see a trail of flashlights all the way up to the summit. Clearly, this was a popular trek with around 500 people making the climb daily. We met our guide, Johnny – full of energy and a huge Shah Rukh Khan fan. We began our journey under the guiding light of the moon and my Bollywood-struck Balinese Guide.

The Climb up

Photo of volcanic soil from Mount BaturWe started our ascent in complete darkness. Johnny flashed his light towards the farms of spring onion, tomato and aubergine. He explained that the volcanic soil is very fertile and perfect for farming. Further along, we saw a shrine of Lord Ganesha, a Hindu deity worshipped at the onset of a new task/journey to remove obstacles from our path. I prayed for our safety and for dry weather, as the lightning intensified. As we stepped on the dirt path made of moist volcanic soil and numerous rocks and pebbles, I wondered if these rocks were once tucked safely beneath the volcano and probably violently expelled through various eruptions. The wet weather and pebbles made the path slippery. A big rock that my husband stepped on gave way and began rolling, and if not for quick reflex it would have landed on my foot. My husband, reading my rising anxiety, suggested we focus on our breathing.

Every now and then we paused to see how far we had come and admired the twinkling lights in the villages below. While some climbers zoomed past us, a few others took their own time. One enthusiastic father carried his infant in a baby carrier, and the little one waved at all the climbers as if cheering them on.

Soon the path became narrower and one had to be careful of the steep fall on the sides. Nevertheless, we moved ahead steadily. Slipping, stumbling and weaving our way through the meandering trail of jagged and steaming rocks, we approached our first viewing point from where we could see the silhouettes of Mount Abang, Mount Agung and the caldera.

The toughest part of the climb

Our guide warned us of the rocky terrain and the torturous climb that lay ahead. But having come so far, it was hard to turn away from the summit. This proved to be the hardest part of our climb. As we deployed our hands to climb higher, I wondered if the volcano had saved its toughest part for the strongest climbers. Finally, the darkness gave way to the beautiful pink and orange hues of the rising sun. Our guide pointed towards a serene spot. To access this, we had to navigate a narrow path with a huge crater on one side and a sharp drop on the other.

Views of the crater and caldera

I slowly followed our guide and tried my best to not look at either side. With the cool wind hitting my face, clouds floating beneath my feet, mystical mountains and palette of magical colours painted above us – this moment seemed perfect and blessed.

Full of awe towards nature’s work, I admired the views of the village, the Batur Lake, the massive crater with steam oozing from below and the contented faces of fellow climbers. As I breathed in the stillness of this moment, I was thankful that I could climb the volcano and wondered how this gentle giant could sometimes be fiery and intimidating. As John Muir aptly said: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”. I understood the value of taking chances. As I sat there, breathing in the crisp mountain air, I realised that only when we walk in the valley of fear, will we ever climb the mountain of courage. I recalled these lines by Brene Brown: “Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up. Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience the connection.” And at that moment something rare happened – I turned to my husband and said, “You were right. Thank you for this gift.”

Photo of the signpost of the summit

Click on the video to see Nidhi share the Video log of her trek up Mount Batur. She created this video in collaboration with Namaste Switzerland.


About the author

Photo of Nidhi DineshNidhi worked as a researcher with the National University of Singapore. She also worked as cabin crew in Singapore Airlines. On moving to Switzerland, she started writing on topics of travel, politics and public policy that have been published in The Hindu and The Quint. Connect with her on LinkedIn and YouTube.

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