Part of Kerinci lore, the crater of the volcano, called Taman Dewa – or “garden of the gods,” is said to be the place that local hero Depati Parbo meditated before a big battle with the invading Dutch forces, and as a result, Dutch bullets had no effect on him.
I finally had the opportunity to visit this off-the-beaten path destination with the good folks of Pencinta Alam Gunung Raya (Nature Lovers of the Gunung Raya sub-district of southern Kerinci). Part of their mission is to help clean up rubbish from the forest, help patrol against poachers and bird hunters, and raise awareness in their area about conservation issues. They’re also extremely enthusiastic about showing visitors their piece of paradise, and so wanting to support them in that and help build their capacity for ecotourism, Dave, five Nature Lovers, and I headed to the village of Talang Kemuning to begin the trek. The village of Talang Kemuning, like many villages in Kerinci, relies on cinnamon production. Almost every day you’ll see lines of it drying in the streets.
While making our final preparations in the village, it became clear while talking that what I had originally heard was a four hour hike to the summit was actually closer to six hours! As we headed off, the first part of our trek, as with most every trek in Kerinci, took us through rice fields and farmland, and along deep gorges dug out over decades by water buffalo hauling bamboo and other forest products back and forth between the jungle and the village.
After about an hour and a half, we reached the edge of the cinnamon forest. Not too far away, we could hear the calls of siamang gibbons, marking the boundaries of their territory with elaborate songs – a real battle of the bands.
Cinnamon forests are as magical as they sound.
This huntsman spider was well adapted to blending in with the lichens and moss growing on the cinnamon tree bark.
From the cinnamon forest, the terrain became much steeper as we made our way up to a ridge trail, and finally entered true old-growth forest.
A pretty little Mountain Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus trivirgatus).
We eventually plateaued out into a flat area filled with various forest palms. I could just imagine a tiger stealthily stalking its prey through the undergrowth. A few months before, a young tiger trying to establish new territory preyed on a water buffalo on the edge of the nearby village – so I was definitely checking my six!
One of our group collected a little rattan that was growing across the path, for use as rope to help the climb down into the crater of the volcano.
There were some nice views of the forest as we gained elevation.
Things also became mistier, with more moss and epiphytes growing on everything, as we reached cloud-forest elevation.
The path took us to a section of very narrow ridge trails that dropped off steeply on either side, with quite a few pitcher plants snaking along the ground and hanging in the trees.
The landscape flattened out once again, with tall, thin trees towering over a bed of ferns. A great campsite, with a nearby stream for clean water. The trees seemed to be thinner due in part to the elevation….
…but also perhaps because of the nearby fumarole vents pointing to the volcanic activity below the surface.
In retrospect, we should have made camp here (in future treks, this will be the spot). Instead, we continued further up the mountain for about another final hour of steep hiking. Along the way, we saw what we thought might be the only recently discovered Impatiens Kunyitensis flower.
We finally reached the top! Down below we could see the “garden of the gods”, which would have to wait for the next day. As usually happens in the late afternoon, the skies were too cloudy to see very far. But even so, the view was worth it.
The steep terrain surrounding the crater, combined with volcanic activity under the surface, made the area prone to landslides. Here you can see steam and gasses rising above the rainforest canopy, and a giant landslide in the background. For this reason, combined with uneven and rocky terrain for setting up tents, we won’t be making camp along the crater next time! Seems a little too risky, and with a hard rain in the night, my restless sleep was punctuated with dreams of us sliding down the mountain to our doom!
The clouds did open briefly to give us a lovely view of the sunset.
In the morning, it was nice and clear and we could see all the way to the Indian Ocean.
I loved watching the clouds swirl around and swallow the rainforest below.
Dave and the Nature Lover guys headed down a steep path into the crater, while I stayed at the top like a coward. Come on, it rained hard all night and I had my camera equipment with me! …of course, I regret not going down now. Next time!
Fun fact: During Bear Grylls’ filming in Kerinci of Man vs. Wild, one of the helicopters they were using had some kind of mechanical issue, and had to crash land inside this crater. I’m always astonished when I think about how incredibly lucky and skilled that pilot was, to find this one flat piece of earth in the middle of such mountainous, rainforest covered terrain! Over a number of days/weeks, parts of the helicopter had to be disassembled and carried out of the crater, while locals hauled in new parts. Eventually the helicopter was able to take off again. Quite a feat! Unfortunately, parts of the ‘garden’ were damaged in the process, and only now seem to be recovering.
After Dave and the guys returned, the clouds moved back in (it being a cloud forest and all). Time for a quick group picture of Dave and the Nature Lovers, and then back down the mountain.
I just love how every surface on the mountaintop is covered in soft moss, and how the mist hushes all sounds. So peaceful and serene.
The clouds became really thick at one point, almost appearing to turn the whole world black and white.
We eventually made it back down the volcano and into familiar farmland.
All in all, it was a great trip. A bit more challenging than anticipated, but the interesting landscape and beautiful views more than made up for it. This is Sumatra after all – go into everything expecting the unexpected!
More photos here: