Friday, September 20, 2013

A Photographers' Trek to the Eerie Crater Lake of Kawah Putih

A fallen tree trunk was strewn across the uphill trail, blocking the way from just below my chest down. Thick leafy shrubs lined both sides of the path fit for only one person. I climbed a mound of soil on one side of the trail and straddled the obstacle one leg at a time in order to get through.

It was about six when we started trekking through this mossy forest. The morning dew in these mountains left the leaves wet, the trees damp, and the trail slippery. On any given trip, I would be more than glad to go on nature walks like this. This time, however, I was unprepared. Having to work until the wee hours the previous night and leaving for the mountains very early that morning meant I only had about an hour of sleep. Not knowing some trekking would be involved that day, I wore jeans and walking shoes with traction so little you could easily glide through the ground with it.

As soon as I arrived at the forest clearing on top of the hill, however, it all paid off. Below us laid an eerie-looking, constantly steaming lake gleaming in an opaque teal color—Kawah Putih.

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
The eerie-looking, constantly steaming lake of Kawah Putih.

Situated at an elevation of 2,400 meters above sea level, Kawah Putih is a crater lake found on the slopes of one of the many volcanoes of Java Island, Mount Patuha. The relatively stable volcano is located around 40 kilometers southwest of Bandung, about two hours away. Though Kawah Putih literally means white crater, the lake often changes color from white, green, brown, and the day of our visit, teal.

The site around Kawah Putih has been developed into a tourist attraction, complete with a gift shop, restrooms, warung (or food shacks), and a shuttle van ferrying visitors from the main road and the entrance which is a further 10-minute ride up the mountains from the highway. From here, tourists enter the site towards the pebbly shores on one side of the sulfuric lake.

Not us though.

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
Of course. Traveling with photographers meant straying off the path to get the best views.

I came to Kawah Putih with a large group of professional photographers and photography enthusiasts. Some came from Bandung, others from the Indonesian capital Jakarta, and the organizer from Singapore. Naturally, as with any self-respecting photographer, these ones knew where to find the best views.

"Did we just walk past the entrance? Why are we stumbling through this rocky dirt road?" I thought to myself as I followed the pack.

The road led us to a field of tea plantations which rolled through hills and mountains. I was fairly curious about it given it was the first time I was seeing a verdant farm of this kind. Also, I love tea. After everybody had finishing taking a few shots, I was still wondering how do we get to Kawah Putih, which at this juncture was nowhere in sight.

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
Verdant tea hills around Kawah Putih. I was fairly curious about them because, well, I love tea.

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
I wondered what delicious teas these ones must make.

"Up!" the main man Pak Fendi, i.e., the veteran photographer, signaled to everybody. He pointed to a narrow trail which snaked up through the hills.

The trek was fairly easy. I climbed slowly given my unpreparedness for the activity, and well, I always climbed slowly when I trekked. The trail was narrow, only able to fit one person, and though visible, did not seem well-trodden. Being at these altitudes, the plants that grew here included various types of ferns and shrubs, most of which were covered in moss.

In the end, the trek up only took around 30 minutes. Many in the group were already busy taking photos from the clearing on top of the hill when I arrived. Dry tree trunks seemed to have been slewed in front of us blocking part of the views but making for eerie photographs of Kawah Putih.

I looked down on the shores of the crater lake and saw people who looked like tiny dots. I reckoned the close-up views from there were great, but better than from here? I highly doubted it.

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
View of Kawah Putih from the forest clearing on top of the hill overlooking the crater lake

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
Dry tree trunks which seemed to have been slewed around the area made for eerie photographs.
Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
From here, people on the shores of Kawah Putih looked like tiny dots.

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
Being with professional photographers and photography enthusiasts meant finding the finest views, and these views clearly were.

A few more photos of Kawah Putih, these ones taken from the shores of the crater lake:

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
There were only a few other tourists that weekend visiting Kawah Putih. It was still Ramadan and tourist attractions everywhere seemed fairly quiet.

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
I wondered how trees grew in such poisonous surroundings in the first place.
Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
Not your typical beach. Fun fact: It's acidic.

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
An island in a sea of sulfur, a treacherously beautiful sea of sulfur

Which natural eerie place did you travel to lately?

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