Kersik Tua

Kersik Tua

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Darjeeling it’s not, but at 1500m, surrounded by tea plantations and dominated by the massive cone of Gunung Kerinci (3805m), Kersik Tua makes a pleasant base for exploring the northern end of Kerinci Seblat.

The town sprawls along one side of the main road, with tea plantations and the mountain on the other. The national park turn-off is indicated by a harimau (Sumatran tiger) statue.

Trekking gear, supplies, guides and transport can all be arranged here. There’s a market on Saturday and a BNI ATM. The village is 52km north of Sungai Penuh on the road to Padang and can be reached by any Padang–Kerinci bus. Minibuses (5000Rp, one hour) trundle from Sungai Penuh to Kersik Tua between 8am and 5pm.

There are several basic homestays. Subandi Homestay, just south of the statue, is the best base camp in the village. Subandi is a trove of local knowledge and can organise mountain, jungle and wildlife treks of varying difficulty and duration.

Other homestays include Home Stay Paiman, 200m south of Subandi (near the ATM), and Home Stay B Darmin, 300m north of the statue.

Gunung Merapi

Gunung Merapi

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The smouldering summit of Gunung Merapi (2891m) looms large over Bukittinggi to the east. Occasionally deemed too dangerous to climb, Merapi is Sumatra’s most active volcano.

If Merapi’s benign, then visitors typically hike overnight to view sunrise from the summit. The climb begins at the village of Koto Baru and it’s normally a 12-hour round trip. You’ll need good walking boots, warm clothing, a torch, food and drink.

It’s unwise to attempt the climb alone, and people are advised to take a guide or join a group. Travel agencies in Bukittinggi do guided trips to Merapi for around US$30 per person (minimum three people).

Harau Valley

Harau Valley

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Heading east from Bukittinggi takes you through the tapioca-growing area of Piladang, famous for keropok (tapioca crackers), and the sprawling agricultural centre of Payakumbuh. Of Minangkabau’s three clans, this is the territory of the 50 Kota (50 Villages) yellow branch. Paddies and daydreaming buffalos flank the narrow road that leads to the tiny village of Harau. Venture another 3km and spectacular 100m cliffs rise up to enclose the claustrophobic Harau Valley, 15km northeast of Payakumbuh and 55km from Bukittinggi.

Most tourists just pass through on a tour to Lemba Harau, a set of waterfalls that either trickles or plummets, depending on the weather. However, the Harau Valley is also the best-developed rock-climbing area in Sumatra. An excellent local contact is Ikbal at the Abdi Homestay, who offers guided climbing excursions for US$20. Check out www.climbing.com and www.rockclimbing.com for blogs and more information.

The recently opened Abdi Homestay is also a lovely place to stay. Rustic but spotless bungalows sit on the edge of verdant rice paddies and lotus ponds, and meals include one of the best chicken rendangs you’ll ever have. Owners Ikbal and Noni are energetic young hosts, and can arrange walks to nearby valleys and waterfalls. Lessons in cooking Minangkabau-style food are also available.

Right under the cliffs in the narrowest part of the valley is Echo Homestay, a beautiful place teeming with butterflies and surrounded by forests full of gibbons. Slum it in the basic thatched bungalows or splash out for the Minangkabau-style cottages.

Take a local bus from Bukittinggi to Sarilamak (13,000Rp), then a minivan to Harau village (3000Rp), and finally an ojek the rest of the way (3000Rp). Alternatively, take an ojek all the way from Sarilamak (12,000Rp). Harau can also be reached on a motorbike tour from Bukittinggi for 200,000Rp.

Danau Maninjau

Danau Maninjau

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The first glimpse of this perfectly formed volcanic lake sucks your breath away as your dilapidated bus lurches over the caldera lip and hurtles towards the first of the 44 (yep, they’re numbered) hairpin bends down to the lakeshore. Monkeys watch your progress from the crash barriers as the lush rainforest of the heights retreats from the ever-expanding farms and paddies of the lowlands.

When the traveller tide receded from Bukittinggi, Danau Maninjau was left high and dry. The locals looked to more sustainable sources of income and aquaculture to fill the void. Fish farms now dot the lake foreshore.

Ground zero is the intersection where the Bukittinggi highway meets the lake road in the middle of Maninjau village. Turn left or right and drive 60km and you’ll end up back here. The lake is 17km long, 8km wide and 460m above sea level. Most places of interest spread out north along the road to Bayur (3.5km) and beyond. Tell the conductor where you’re staying and you’ll be dropped off at the right spot.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/sumatra/danau-maninjau

Kerinci Seblat National Park (TNKS)

Kerinci Seblat National Park

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The largest national park in Sumatra, Kerinci Seblat National Park (Taman Nasional Kerinci Seblat; TNKS) covers a 350km swath of the Bukit Barisan range and protects close to 15,000 sq km of prime equatorial rainforest spread over four provinces, with almost 40% of the park falling within Jambi’s boundaries.

Most of the protected area is dense rainforest, and its inaccessibility is the very reason the park is one of the last strongholds of the endangered harimau (Sumatran tiger). Kerinci Seblat National Park is known as having the highest population and occurrence of tigers anywhere in Sumatra, with 80% of the park showing signs of the species.

Because of the great elevation range within the park, Kerinci has a unique diversity of flora and fauna. Edelweiss and other high-altitude flowers grow in the forest. Lower altitudes bring pitcher plants, orchids, rafflesia and the giant Amorphophallus.

As with many of Sumatra’s protected areas, encroachment by farmers, illegal logging and poaching are all serious issues for Kerinci. According to a July 2012 report, around 42,000 hectares (420 sq km) of the park’s total forests of 1.3 million hectares (13,000 sq km) have been lost.

Kerinci Seblat National Park sees relatively few visitors, and the park’s minimal tourist infrastructure is limited to the north around the dual attractions of Gunung Kerinci and Gunung Tujuh. While the park’s northern region is more visited, the southern area features elephants – absent in the north – and also has interesting forest-edge communities living within the park’s boundaries, and excellent trekking through pristine forests. Contact Luke Mackin in Sungai Penuh if you’re keen to explore the park’s southern reaches. There are buffer areas for local cultivation and agriculture at the northern and southern edges of the park.

Permits and guides are required to enter the park. Both can be arranged at the park office in Sungai Penuh or through your losmen. There is a park office at the entrance to Danau Gunung Tujuh, but it’s rarely staffed.

Permits cost 20,000Rp and guide rates are around 200,000Rp per day for an English-speaking guide. Be sure to clarify exactly what the rate entails, as camping gear, food and transport may be considered additional costs. A good contact for organising a guide is Luke Mackin in Sungai Penuh.

Kerinci’s climate is temperate, and downright cold as you gain altitude. Bring warm clothes and rain gear.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/kerinci-seblat-national-park-tnks-1322645

Kerinci Valley

Kerinci Valley

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Kerinci is a stunning mountain valley tucked away high in the Bukit Barisan on Jambi’s western border. Many of the cool, lush forests are protected as the Kerinci Seblat National Park. To the south is picturesque Danau Kerinci and a patchwork of rich farmland. Tea and cinnamon account for much of the valley’s wealth, with the former ringing the higher villages and the latter forming a buffer between farmland and rainforest.

Minangkabau and native Kerincinese make up most of the population, with a sprinkling of Batak and Javanese who are drawn by the rich soil. Kerinci is in Jambi province but has a close geographic proximity to Padang.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/kerinci-valley

Bukittinggi

Bukittinggi

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Early on a bright, clear morning, the market town of Bukittinggi sits high above the valley mists as three sentinels – fire-breathing Merapi, benign Singgalang and distant Sago – all look on impassively. Sun-ripened crops grow fat in the rich volcanic soil, as frogs call in the paddies, bendis (two-person horse-drawn carts) haul goods to the pasa (market), and the muezzin’s call sits lightly on the town. Modern life seems far removed.

Until 9am. Then the traffic starts up, and soon there’s a mile-long jam around the bus terminal and the air turns the colour of diesel. The mosques counter the traffic by cranking their amps to 11, while hotel staff try to pass off cold bread and jam as breakfast.

Such is the incongruity of modern Bukittinggi, blessed by nature, choked by mortals. Lush. Fertile. Busy. And at 930m above sea level, deliciously temperate all year round.

The town (alternatively named Tri Arga, which refers to the triumvirate of peaks) has had a chequered history, playing host at various times to Islamic reformists, Dutch colonials, Japanese invaders and Sumatran separatists.

Bukittinggi was once a mainstay of the banana-pancake trail, but regional instability, shorter visas and the rise of low-cost air carriers have seen the traveller tide reduced to a lower ebb. The town’s still definitely worth a visit though, and is a good base for setting out to the Harau Valley and Danau Maninjau.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/sumatra/bukittinggi

Padang

Padang

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Most visitors don’t give Sumatra’s third-largest city a second glance, convinced that it’s just another simmering urbo-Indonesian sprawl of traffic, smog and chaos. It’s also a city astride one of the planet’s most powerful seismic zones, centrally located on the tectonic hotspot where the Indo-Australian plate plunges under the Eurasian plate.

A devastating 7.6-magnitude earthquake did hit the city in 2009, killing more than 1000 people, and destroying hotels and public buildings. Some remote villages in the nearby Kerinci region were wiped out completely from landslides, while the Mentawai Islands, Pantai Bungus, Bukittinggi and Danau Maninjau escaped relatively unscathed. Other significant tremors without major damage followed in 2010 and 2012, and the Sumatran seismic battleground that triggered the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami continues to be active.

But sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, this once-humble fishing village is also reinventing itself, aided by cheap airfares and its proximity to the region’s power centres of Malaysia and Singapore. There’s a strong sense of cultural identity among the youthful, well-educated population, and Padang is the modern face of Minangkabau culture and the cuisine the region gave to the world.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/sumatra/padang