It was a pleasant surprise to be contacted by the editor of Garuda Indonesia ‘Colours’ Inflight Magazines and asked to travel to Berastagi. I’ve done this trip mid January 2015, the purpose is to cover the exciting places, food, hiking mount Sibayak and of course took photos to be featured in the magazines. Surprisingly, they decided to also featured my photo as their front cover page for the month of March 2015 together with the article and photos.
Below is the full story and the photos.
Entrenched in Sumatra’s misty green highlands, Berastagi is a small town, stunningly verdant and cool compared to its bustling city cousin of Medan, 70km northward. Medan local Suwandi Chandra hits the road to explore this quaint agricultural escape and its resilient people.
Berastagi sits high (at about 1,300m) between two of Sumatra’s most active volcanoes. Mount Sibayak (2,212m) commands its place on the skyline due north, while Mount Sinabung (2,460m) towers even higher due west. The fertile volcanic hills in between them sprawl with rich rainforests, picturesque green fields and of course the town itself, which enjoys a cool climate all year round thanks to its strategic location. It’s no wonder this hilly little town is a popular weekend getaway for my fellow Medan-ites.
Berastagi is more than just a small town, however. It’s actually the main town here – with a population of just fewer than 50,000 – and technically it’s a subdistrict of the greater Karo Regency, linking the Karo highlands to the coastal city of Medan. I’m compelled to call it a small town for its charmingly quaint surrounds. Up to the 1900s Berastagi was but a village. It rose to prominence as a town in the 1920s when Dutch colonialists, attracted by the lush environs and cool climate, built a boarding school here.
Before being settled by the Dutch, the village was known for its rice agriculture and trade, which is where the town gets its name; Berastagi in the local dialect means ‘rice store’. Today you’ll find more than rice being sold in the markets. Berastagi is famous for its vegetables, fruits and flowers, which flourish in the cooler climate, and its very fertile soil.
I’d arranged accommodation at Nachelle Homestay, right beside the town’s main road and just a ten-minute walk from Berastagi city centre. It is a shophouse-style accommodation, run by a lovely couple, Mery and Abdy. The rooms and amenities are modest, but it’s clean and comfortable with all the necessities provided, including hot water.
Abdy, my host-cum-guide here in Berastagi, is a local man who speaks fluent English, French and Indonesian as well as the local Karo dialect. He took me up to the rooftop to show me the view: quite stunning. Mount Sinabung stood tall and proud, and all of a sudden it spat a plume of volcanic ash upward into the air. I was concerned at first, but Abdy assured me it was not a major eruption. Living next to a highly active volcano comes with a different set of challenges. He calmly gave me a mask to wear and suggested that we explore outside the city while waiting for the ash to settle. He took me to see the Sipiso-piso waterfalls, about 45 minutes from the homestay. Sipiso-piso literally means ‘knives’, the falls named for the jagged cliff walls from which they drop 120m to the narrow gorge below. It’s an absorbing sight. As a bonus, just opposite the falls you can see the northernmost tip of Indonesia’s biggest lake, Lake Toba.
On the way back into town, we stopped by two traditional villages – Dokan and Lingga – both of which still maintain the old Batak Karo way of life. One of the most distinctive aspects of their culture is their traditional Batak Karo architecture, which produces characterful houses of a unique square shape with angular facets and defining horned roofs. The water-buffalo horns on the roof are believed to protect the house’s occupants from danger and to ward off bad spirits. The beautiful painted patterns too have their own individual significance. The Karo people are natural craftsmen and artists. How could they not be inspired by the magnificent nature that they call their home? Abdy tells me one house typically fits eight families with only separators between each family inside the house.
We headed back to the homestay and called it a day. Back in town the ash had settled and the vibrant greenery surrounding Berastagi was now covered in a fine grey. August 29, 2010, marked the last major eruption of Mount Sinabung following 400 years of dormancy, forcing 30,000 people to be evacuated. It has been quietly rumbling with over 25 smaller intermittent eruptions since then. I was in awe to see the people of Berastagi back in their town resuming their lives even as the mighty mountain continues to grumble.
The next day Mother Nature was kinder to us. Abdy told me the winds had changed direction and were now blowing ash away from the town. Mery prepared a traditional dish as a special treat to start the day. Arsik is a traditional Batak dish of carp cooked with a rare spice called andaliman, which is related to Sichuan pepper. The colour of the carp was predominantly yellow because of the turmeric and the flavourful flesh was beautifully moist, soft and tender. She served it with rice, the perfect side dish as the fish had a wonderful curry-like (but more pungent) aroma.
Abdy had a surprise for me too. Later that day we drove up to Mount Sinabung and trekked up to a safe spot to enjoy the sunset. We were joined by many locals who also made the trek to appreciate this gift of nature in their back yard, despite the disconcerting mood the mountain had been in not more than 24 hours earlier. How the recent eruptions have affected the fair people of Berastagi is sad and unfortunate, yet at the same time the way these people have shown resilience and carried on with their lives is as inspiring as the majestic mountains themselves.
For full article please check the photos below:
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