A volcano, a canoe and a holy lake in Bali


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“Seriously, rain again?”

I was sensing a theme here.

Just like our cycle tour through the rice paddies a week earlier, it seemed both too wet and too early in the morning to be doing much of anything.  We were in a minivan driving away from Ubud, headed for the holy lake at the bottom of one of Bali’s highest peaks.  An active volcano, Mount Batur last erupted less than 20 years ago.  With a bit of luck it wouldn’t choose today to have another go.

C-Bali runs a range of tours in central Bali, including multi-day cycle, hiking and canoe tours.  We had opted for the shortest version, a half-day trip to canoe in the shadow of that looming volcano.  Still, it wouldn’t be Bali without rice paddies being involved somewhere along the way, so we stopped in a small village overlooking a terraced valley to admire the view.

I’d thought I’d seen enough waterlogged bright green fields to last a lifetime, but judging by the number of photos I took, apparently I hadn’t.

Who knew?

Rice paddies in central Bali

Mount Batur was almost invisible as we crested the hill twenty minutes later, buried beneath a layer of fog.  The chances of a relaxed morning canoeing with the sun on our backs seemed remote, but once more the weather gods decided to smile down on us.

The steady rain slowed to a drizzle as we ate a light breakfast, finally stopping as we drained the last of our coffees.  Hauling the inflatable canoes onto our heads, our small group carried them gingerly down the broken trail.  A cyclone had destroyed the cement path a few months earlier, leaving only mud and rocks in its wake.

It has been a particularly wet rainy season in Bali this year, and the heavy overnight rains had raised the level of the lake another two metres.  Instead of pushing off from the shore, we waded knee deep in what had been corn fields the day before.  The farmer smiled resignedly as his pump struggled to return the water to where it had come from.

The lake was calm as we paddled out past the fishermen’s nets, the sun struggling to break through the clouds.  Nobody in the group looked too likely to tip their canoe over or knock themselves out with a wayward paddle, apparently, so we were sent out on our own to explore.

Lake Batur is considered holy by the Balinese, the water used to aid in crop fertility in return for an offering.  Legends tell of the giant Kbo Iwo, who agreed to dig a well to help in the rebuilding efforts after he had rampaged through the land.  The dirt he dug out became Mount Batur, and the well became the lake.  Not a bad excavation effort from that old giant, I have to say.

Temple on Lake Batur

After an hour of aimless yet enjoyable paddling, we regrouped close to a temple perched on the lake’s edge.  Pura Ulun Danu Batur is one of the most important temples in Bali, but isn’t found on any of the tourist maps.  Access is limited even for the locals, so it is no surprise that foreigners aren’t invited to wander round inside.

The only way to see the temple is from the vantage point of the lake, so we bobbed up and down a short distance offshore watching the daily activity and trying to take photos in the gentle swell.  .Our guide Rach, half of the husband and wife team that run C-Tours, gave us an amusing rundown on the ongoing series of lightening strikes that have plagued the temple just before the government-funded holy water ceremonies every five years.

Whether this is due to the metal rod in the roof acting as a lightening conductor or, as the locals believe, the ancient gods venting their displeasure on a temple devoted to Dewi Danu, it’s hard to say.

All too soon our time on the lake was coming to an end, a brisk paddle taking us back to the muddy bank.  Not a minute too soon, as it transpired – a crack of thunder while we dragged our canoe ashore turned into a deluge just after reaching the safety of the company offices.  The irony of nursing mild sunburn as the rain poured off the roof was not lost on me.

Rainy lakeside view, Mt Batur

Sunburn and aching muscles aside, canoeing on Lake Batur was an experience that we really enjoyed.  C-Bali is the only company with permission to canoe on the lake, and the owners’ love of the area is plain to see.  They lived there for many years, part of village life far from the crush of Kuta or tour buses in Ubud, and are part of several community projects to give something back to this beautiful region.

If only the rest of the tourism operators in Bali had the same commitment to sustainable tourism, hey?

C-Bali generously offered a discount on the tour in exchange for a review, but as always all opinions are my own.

5 Responses to “A volcano, a canoe and a holy lake in Bali

  • What a shame about the weather, but at least you still had an awesome time!

  • Nigel D
    7 years ago

    I really enjoyed the description of what is obviously a beautiful part of the globe. Great photos. Diving, surfing, canoeing – what will your next water adventure be?

  • I guess there’s no avoiding the rain there. We were going to go to Bali end of this year but had to cancel. Thanks for letting us “visit” Bali through your post! Sure hope to go one of these days!!

  • Looks amazing. I love exploring when it’s misty our, adds a sense of fantasy to a landscape. And canoeing through a paradise in Bali? Can’t beat that. Though I know how exhausting paddling for hours can be, it’s awesome they let you go off on your own!

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