Mount Agung: 5 faces of Bali’s holy volcano
Mount Agung is Bali’s most holy mountain, the abode of the gods.
With its 3031 metres, Mount Agung is visible from many locations and provides great photo opportunities. Looking through my archives, I picked my top 5 viewpoints.
Pura Agung Besakih
The Mother Temple of Bali is a complex of more than 80 temples sitting 1,000 metres high on the western slopes of Mount Agung. The Balinese believe the top of the majestic volcano is where the gods live. It was first mentioned in 1007 AD and today it is one of Bali’s top tourist attractions. Besides, it is still a centre of worship and arts.
Pura Agung Besakih is a delight to visit any time of the year. But if you happen to visit the island at the time of the Odalan, it will be the highlight of your holiday. During this festival, the temples receive special decoration and you can see processions of women in traditional costumes and hundreds of people praying. The next Odalan will be on 13 October 2017 and then on 11 May 2018. More information here.
The official name of this pretty provincial town has long been Semanapura but locals stick to the old one. It lies 25 km from Mount Agung just a few minutes from the sea. Today it is a sleepy, perhaps even a bit boring, place but it played an important role in the history of the island. It used to be the capital of the famed Majapahit empire. The title of the king was Dewa Agung. Then it became known as the last Balinese kingdom to surrender to the Dutch.
There are a number of sights to check out nearby so it’s a good idea to choose it as your base. The Puputan Monument in the centre of town commemorates the 200 heroes who died for independence in 1908. Two buildings of the old Klungklung Palace were restored and can be visited. There is an intriguing museum, a Hindu temple and a busy market, too, to keep you entertained.
For many visitors, Lombok is just a stopover to the popular Gilis but the island has a lot more to offer. Mount Rinjani, the second highest peak in Indonesia, dominates the skyline from most corners of Lombok. For an unforgettable hiking experience, I highly recommend a multiday walking trip to the top of the volcano. Or just to the crater rim, depending on your level of fitness.
The original inhabitants of the island, the Sasaks have their own language and culture. If you venture away from the beaches, you can visit their villages and see how the traditional songket cloth is woven. Of course, the main attraction is the beaches. The most accessible is Senggigi beach in the west. You can enjoy the sand, the sea and the breathtaking view of Bali’s Mount Agung as the sun sets.
The perfect cone of Mount Agung accompanies you wherever you roam in the eastern part of Bali. There are black sand beaches lined with colourful fishing boats, palace ruins and excellent diving spots in this region. But what impressed me most were the rice fields, banana and coconut plantations in the rural areas.
Looking for a relaxed beach in East Bali? Pasir Putih near Candidasa is exactly that. And the sand is (almost) white, just as the name suggests. Another coastal town that offers some secluded beaches is Padang Bai. And from its port you can reach the last destination on this list.
My personal favourite is a small island off the southern coast of Bali. When we first visited back in 2004 there were hardly any hotels. I had to stop people in the street to ask if I could rent their motorbikes. The second person said yes and we were speechless for two days. We returned two years ago and it was still incomparably friendly and quiet after Bali. And I believe Bali is still a magical place despite the tourist hordes.
Arriving from Sampalan or Kusamba, you find yourself on the northern coast of Penida. There are incredible views from here of Bali and Mount Agung. The first photo is from 2004, when most of the coast was occupied by alga plantations. I took the second one in 2015.
Rent a scooter and you can explore a world of breathtaking beaches, rocks and quiet villages with the kindest people on Earth. And the sooner you go the better. Though Penida is still unspoiled compared to Bali or the Gilis, things change fast. Two years ago this place had no visitors or facilities at all. I looked down from the edge of the rock but didn’t try to climb down because I thought I had things to do in this life. And now anyone (with guts) can walk down to one of the most amazing beaches you’ll ever see.