The Pasemah Highlands, tucked away in the Bukit Barisan west of Lahat, are famous for the mysterious megalithic monuments that dot the landscape. The stones have been dated back about 3000 years, but little else is known about them or the civilisation that carved them. While the museums of Palembang and Jakarta now house the pick of the stones, there are still plenty left in situ. The main town of the highlands is Pagaralam, 68km (two hours by bus) southwest of the Trans-Sumatran Hwy town of Lahat.
Considered to be the best examples of prehistoric stone sculpture in Indonesia, the Pasemah carvings fall into two distinct styles. The early style dates from around 3000 years ago and features fairly crude figures squatting with hands on knees or arms folded over chests. The best examples of this type are at a site called Tinggi Hari, 20km from Lahat, west of the small river town of Pulau Pinang.
The later style, incorporating expressive facial features, dates from about 2000 years ago and is far more elaborate. Examples include carvings of men riding, battling with snakes and struggling with elephants. There are also a couple of tigers – one guarding a representation of a human head between its paws. The natural curve of the rocks was used to create a three-dimensional effect, though all the sculptures are in bas-relief. Sculptures of this style are found throughout the villages around Pagaralam, although some take a bit of seeking out.
Tegurwangi, about 8km from Pagaralam on the road to Tanjung Sakti, is the home of the famous Batu Beribu, a cluster of four squat statues that sit under a small shelter by a stream. The site guardian will wander over and lead you to some nearby dolmen-style stone tombs. You can still make out a painting of three women and a dragon in one of them.
The village of Berlubai, 3km from Pagaralam, has its own Batu Gajah (Elephant Stone) sitting out among the rice paddies, as well as tombs and statues. There is a remarkable collection of stone carvings among the paddies near Tanjung Aru. Look out for the one of a man fighting a giant serpent.
The dormant volcano of Gunung Dempo is the highest (3159m) of the peaks surrounding the Pasemah Highlands and dominates Pagaralam. Allow two full days to complete the climb. A guide is strongly recommended as trails can be difficult to find. The lower slopes are used as a tea-growing area, and there are opelet from Pagaralam to the tea factory.
The best source of information about the highlands is the Hotel Mirasa, around 2km out of Pagaralam. They can also arrange transport to the carvings, and trekking guides if you’re keen to tackle Gunung Dempo. There are a couple of ATMs in the town’s dusty main street, and the nightly market features a lot of food stalls guaranteed to maximise your travel budget.
Every bus travelling along the Trans-Sumatran Hwy calls in at Lahat, nine hours northwest of Bandarlampung and 12 hours southeast of Padang. There are regular buses to Lahat from Palembang (60,000Rp, five hours), and the town is a stop on the train line from Palembang to Lubuklinggau. There are frequent small buses from Pagaralam to Lahat (15,000Rp, two hours) and Bengkulu (20,000Rp, six hours). There are opelet to the villages near Pagaralam from the town centre’s stasiun taksi (taxi station). All local opelet services cost 2000Rp.