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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.