32. Mountain Drive to the Dieng Plateau

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.

Colour lake panoramic

Despite the fact that driving is often a chore – and being a passenger can be an even worse bore – there really is such a thing as ‘a nice drive’. Driving through the English or French countryside in the summer for example, or along a Mediterranean coastal road on a bright sunny day. These are nice drives, but they don’t compare to the winding drive that takes you up six and a half thousand feet above sea level and through the clouds to the Dieng Plateau in Central Java. The landscape here is very different to the manicured British countryside with its ordered meadowland, hedgerows and dry-stone walls. It’s different to the opulent hues of expensively cultivated sunflower fields, vineyards and olive groves that flank the well-maintained highways and byways of Western Europe. It’s different to the bright, sundrenched vistas of a coastal road with its silvery, sheened oceans radiating optimism from the horizons between the blue sky and the sea. There is a raw, natural beauty to the landscape here that has an almost otherworldliness about it. Terraced hillsides of rice fields, tea and coffee plantations in hues of brown, blue and green feather into soft focus amidst pockets of cloud as you get higher and higher. Impossible villages nestle in valleys, up hillsides and amongst the rich, green carpets of jungle and tropical flora. Amidst the cluster of well warn rooftops, corrugated iron and bruised white-walled houses, the mint-coloured, domed peak and miranet of the central mosque is always the main feature, yet always secondary to the lush pile of unstoppable tropical flora that dominates the surrounding landscape. Manmade structures like Prambanan and Borobudur are impressive and they are great examples of human engineering and craftsmanship. But when you see nature’s work at its best, anything that man has created simply pales in comparison.

For almost three hours my eyes bathed in the spectacular views as we drove higher and higher. The temperature cooled as we moved further up into the clouds and the fresh air and mountain dew cleansed my lungs. I had exhausted a lot of my battery power on my camera and phone taking pictures of Borobudur and using Google to translate short bits of dialogue into Bahasa so that I could share some conversation with the driver. And as much as I wanted to save some power for my visit to the colour lake and the volcanic craters, I just had to get some pictures of the views so I asked Nana to pull up at a good spot.

Although the road wasn’t very wide, there wasn’t any traffic so it was safe enough to stand by the edge of the hill and take some photos. But unfortunately, my little digital Lumix and mobile phone camera with its panoramic setting just weren’t equipped to capture the beauty of the scenery, or the sheer vastness of it all. Nevertheless, I managed to capture enough of the image to bring back the memories of one of the high points of what was turning out to be a very satisfying day out.

Dieng

There had been no love ballads during the drive to the Dieng Plateau and Nana and I had barely exchanged a word. Beside the fact that I didn’t want to waste my phone battery with Google Translate, the scenery and the views during the drive needed no commentary. Nevertheless, as nice as the scenery was, after well over two and half hours of driving it was some relief to get out of the car and stretch my legs when we arrived at the Colour Lake.

There are several smaller Hindu temples that you can go and visit around the Dieng Plateau, but along with Kawah (crater) Sikidang, Telaga Warna is the main featured attraction of the area. Yet despite it being the weekend, there were no visitors that I could see. The ad-hoc car park across the road from the entrance of the attraction was more or less empty, but I paid the car park attendant a couple of thousand rupiahs nonetheless. It was almost chilly that high up and the moisture from the clouds had made the ground wet and a little muddy, which didn’t really add to what looked like a neglected, tired and uninviting attraction. To be honest, looking at it from the outside, with its faded signs and dusty ticket office, I wasn’t really bothered about going in. I would have rather kept my 100,000 IDR and used it to get something to eat. But I was there so I figured I may was well take a look. I really need not have bothered.

To say Telaga Warna is overrated is an understatement. Descriptions on the tourist websites describe the ‘incredible’ colours of the water. Shades of red, green, blue, white and violet they say. Well, perhaps September was the wrong season, but all I saw was a lake that was polluted by sulphur and as such had an unnatural turquoise colour with large patches of milky white in places. I walked around the edges to see if I was missing something and came across an Indonesian guy who I assumed worked there in some capacity. He didn’t speak a word of English but was nice enough to take me up to a spot on the surrounding hills where I could get a good view of the entire lake.

Colour lake 4

Telaga Warna, the not so colourful colour lake.

Colour lake 3

A slightly more colourful view.

From high up the lake looked a little better, but still no reds or violets, just the turquoise, greeny-blue of poison water. After the monumental Borobodur and the epic views on the long drive up to the Dieng Plateau, the colour lake was a grand anti climax. Even more so because I had a built up an appetite and I knew we were a long way from a good meal. Plus we were still supposed to be visiting the sulphur mines and Sikidang crater. It was almost four o’clock and it was a long drive of maybe three or four hours or more back to Yogyakarta. I was debating whether to give the crater a miss and head back home, but it seemed a waste to come all this way and not take a look. I returned to the car and asked Nana how long it would take to get there. Apparently it wasn’t too far so I decided to take a look.

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