Purnama is the night of the full moon. In 1963 an English couple went to live high up on the slopes of Mt Agung, this supposedly extinct volcano. On the night of Purnama, the volcano blew its top. Things became very dramatic for several months, and Anna Mathews wrote a book about it, The Night of Purnama (Oxford in Asia Paperbacks). I have had this book for some years, and long been interested in going high up on Mt Agung to see where this all took place. I forced Broni to read the book, and once she had done so she was just as keen as I was.
The first part of the book is about the English couple coming to grips with living in Bali. Then the volcano erupts. Balinese Hindu religion revolves around the Kalender Bali and the ceremonies necessary to please/placate the gods. In 1963, a ceremony held once every hundred years, called Eka Dasa Rudra was due to be held high on Mt Agung, at Besakih, the mother temple. Travel agents from all over the world were due to arrive in Bali to see this spectacle. Consequently the government was keen to play down what was happening in East Bali, and the people affected were on their own.
The Mathews lived in a high village called Iseh which is on a ridge looking directly across to the volcano, so they had a birds’ eye view. About two thousand people in the villages were killed. Those who were still alive came down the mountain to avoid the lava. And went back up. They had nowhere else to go, and they wanted to protect any livestock or property they had left.
From Iseh, the Mathews could see the lights going back up the mountain at night, even though it was forbidden. They were friendly with a village headman/policeman and went with him up to the high villages and saw the death and devastation (and picked up a small puppy that they eventually took back to England.) Anna Mathews walked to Klung Kung and then Sanur.Having been up there now, it is just incredible. Read the book! I can’t tell the whole story, though I would like to. It’s gripping.
We first went to Sidemen. It was surprisingly high already. We stopped at a place where they were handweaving ikat cloth. No OH&S in Sidemen, or ergonomics. This is where my beautiful sarong had been made. I had seen ikat made before, but it was a more comprehensive look at the process here.
All the way up the road there were many trucks, carrying lava down to be used in building. At each small village would be a small roadblock of villagers taxing the trucks with a small fee (for ruining the road). Which they were. We passed up through Selat, a market town that features in the book, and beyond that we came to the quarry where the trucks were loading up with the lava. A little further on, we found a cliff overlooking the quarry where were able to stop and take photos.
We went further up, on and on. No trucks now. I wanted to visit the high villages where the people died and see what he terrain was like. Even on the Bali Pathfinder map (produced in Bali) not all the villages were showing. Had they been wiped out? There were two villages, Badeg Tengah and Badeg Kelodan, that I wanted to see. The people of one of those villages had practised black magic, so I wondered if a driver would take us. In fact our driver had not been there before, and we left him blissfully unaware of the black magic. So,up we went, through the Badegs. I hadn’t been able to find a village called Sorgres on the map. It was the village where the Mathews found their puppy. However on the way back down, our driver spotted a ‘Selamat Datang” (welcome) sign for Sorgra. It still exists, but is not even ‘a pub and a petrol pump’.
We came to the end of the road at Pura Pasar Agung (Temple of Agung market). The temple was way out of sight beyond the top of many stairs. We didn’t go up. We took photos of the vista from the car park. We could see for miles, all the way to the coast, but we were so high that in the photographs the landscape is obscured by the atmosphere.
We turned around and went down on our way to Iseh, which was on a different road, below Selat. We took a side trip for lunch near a town called Rendang. A hideous buffet at a restaurant with a beautiful view. That is where I sketched. When I looked at my photos aftwerwards, I was amazed how much more clearly I could see the distant landscape at the time, rather than in the photograph. Lost in the atmospheric mist.
After lunch we continueds to Iseh, where we located the house where the Mathews lived. There are black and white photos in the book, and we saw the same view across to the mountain which unfortunately was obscured by cloud.
Many of these places we visited are not on any map. Google is not good with Indonesia. You will find Sidemen, Selat, Iseh and probably Pura Pasar Agung at the end of the road, but the smaller villages don’t exist for most maps.
Thoughts from the day…. It was greener than I expected up near the end of the road. No lava flowing now or volcanic gases. The distances were phenomenal. It is steep and it is a long way. And it is HOT. Having both recently read the book we could appreciate the difficulty of walking the distances involved. We are both SO glad we went.