Mar 22 2012

Bandung’s Tangkuban Parahu

Published by at 11:13 am under Java


Volcanoes. They’re the stuff of myth, legend and disaster — Indonesia has volcanoes in spades accompanied by stories born out of tragedies that occur around them from time to time. Tangkuban Parahu, the active volcano close to the city of Bandung, has a cute story behind its name related to its shape rather than its deadly past.

The main crater of Tangkuban Parahu, Kawah Ratu

The main crater of Tangkuban Parahu, Kawah Ratu.

According to Sundanese folklore, Tangkuban Parahu (literally upturned boat) gets its name from the story of Dayang Sumbi and her son Sangkuriang. Legend has it that Sangkuriang was banished by his mother at a young age for killing their dog which in some versions of the legend is also Sangkuriang’s father. After many years, Sangkuriang wanders into a random village and meets a beautiful lady whom he wants to marry. This lady turns out to be Sangkuriang’s mother, a fact which Sangkuriang denies. Of course, Dayang Sumbi doesn’t want to marry her son, so she devises a plan designed to cancel the wedding. She asks Sangkuriang to create a massive lake and build a boat for them to travel in on their honeymoon, all to completed by sunrise the following day. Sangkuriang agrees to this immense challenge and summons a cast of spirits to assist. As the task is nearing completion, Dayang Sumbi becomes worried and summons some spirits of her own to trick Sangkuriang’s spirits into thinking that it is dawn already, at which time they desert Sangkuriang. Sangkuriang now has no chance of completing the boat on his own and therefore kicks it in anger and it lands upside down in the north of Bandung where it still sits today.

Shops perched on the edge of the moody crater

Shops perched on the edge of the moody crater.

On a clear day, it’s possible to see the upturned boat shape from central Bandung and one can see how such a tale could be so prominent in a society that saw this odd-shaped mountain every day.

Stories aside, Tangkuban Parahu is a fantastic volcano to visit for those not interested in hour upon hour of hiking, as is the norm for volcanoes in Indonesia, such as Gunung Bromo. In fact, it’s possible to drive right to the crater edge of Tangkuban Parahu to grab a look at the immense crater below. Two moon-like craters at the summit of Tangkuban Parahu, Kawah Ratu and Kawah Upas, provide a stunning contrast to surrounding wildlife-filled forest. About a kilometre of walking on an uneven path takes you to the other side of Kawah Ratu, where Kawah Upas becomes visible and the crowds thin out — bliss.

The rickety fence which stops people from getting too close to death

The rickety fence that stops people from getting too close to death.

A third crater, Kawah Domas, is accessible by foot from the main carpark. Legend has it that soaking your feet in the hot springs here has therapeutic benefits. The jury is still out on that one, but it makes for an interesting detour nonetheless.

You can get up close and personal with volcanoes in Indonesia!

You can get up close and personal with volcanoes in Indonesia.

Getting to Tangkuban Parahu has a reputation for being a bit of a chore for independent travellers. The cheapest option is to catch a black Subang minibus from outside the Hilton Hotel on Jalan Pasirkaliki, 300 metres west of the train station. This bus stops right out the front of the Tangkuban Parahu entrance and costs 10,000 rupiah.

Once at the entrance to Tangkuban Parahu, there are a number of different options for getting to the top. The cheapest is to walk the 4.5km uphill to an altitude of 1800m, but this is for the fit only. Others will prefer to search for a charter vehicle such as an ojek or angkot, but prices are highly variable dependent on a number of factors such as weather, enthusiasm of driver and how likely you are to walk if you don’t get a good price. About 10,000 rupiah per person one way would be a good price. Getting back to Bandung is as simple as catching the black Subang bus from the entrance of Tangkuban Parahu to the centre of Bandung.

A ridge separating Kawah Ratu and Kawah Upas

A ridge separating Kawah Ratu and Kawah Upas

It’s advisable to head to Tangkuban Parahu early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the mist which both roll in around late morning. Although it’s generally not cold enough at Tangkuban Parahu to require you to wear jeans and long sleeves, it’s advisable to at least have a jacket packed as it does get quite cold when the unpredictable rain arrives.

Small lake at the bottom of Kawah Upas

Small lake at the bottom of Kawah Upas.

Discriminatory pricing is in full effect at Tangkuban Parahu with foreigners being charged 50,000 rupiah for entry versus 13,000 rupiah for locals or those with a long-term visa. Still, we reckon this place is well-worth a visit when in Bandung.

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