Batukaru: Sight, Sound, Taste

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Asia, Indonesia
One Morning at Sarinbuana, Batukaru

One Morning at Sarinbuana, Batukaru

The silver minibus speeds through the main highway that connects Bali’s cultural heart at Ubud with the volcanic lakes of Bratan as well as Buyan and Tamblingan further north. Short moments after passing by a roadside traditional market where fresh local fruits and vegetables are on display, our driver, Gede, makes an abrupt turn to a small road.

We are then transported through small villages on Bali’s highlands towards the slopes of Mount Batukaru, an extinct volcano which at 2,276 m is the second tallest peak on the island. The farther we escape the country road, the more tranquil what lies beyond the car’s windows becomes. At this part of Bali, it appears, tourism only plays a minor role in the local economy, unlike in many parts of the island, chiefly in the south.

Gede keeps driving on a seemingly endless village road, until he suddenly makes a turn to an even narrower one-car-only road. He continues driving at a low, constant speed, making sure the car’s tires stay on two cemented paths, which at some parts look rather slippery, that go deep into the dense foliage of the verdant valley.

With every moment passes by as Gede carefully navigates the car through the winding road, the more the words of another driver a few days earlier resonate in my head. “Oh, Sarinbuana! That is really an adventure. It’s far from the main road and difficult to reach. You can only go there by a 4×4 vehicle.”

But our car is just a minivan, more appropriate for city streets than difficult roads.

Just past lunchtime I heave a sigh of relief as we finally arrive at an eco-lodge in the village of Sarinbuana, virtually surrounded by pristine forests with only a small number of villagers’ houses at sight. It is here where we will spend the next two nights and find out what this peaceful remote corner of the island has to offer.

A Soul-Rejuvenating View

A Soul-Rejuvenating View

Inside the Homy Restaurant

Inside the Cozy Restaurant

A Floral Arrangement at A Pavilion

A Floral Arrangement at A Pavilion

Within a short walk distance from the eco-lodge is the entrance way to the village’s subak temple, an uphill moss-covered pathway leading to a small temple dedicated to the fertility gods and goddesses. A signboard stands at the mouth of the leafy path with photos of the wild animals spotted in the rainforest, home to some of Bali’s most endangered species.

Wayan, our guide, works on rice fields as a farmer when there is no tourist. He used to work at Kuta, but returning to his native Batukaru region, he says, brings peace to him. Not only tourists alike, he has also taken researchers to the woods which helped him understand better the rich diversity of flora and fauna within the forest proper. However the only sound we hear during the first half of the hike comes from our own footsteps and camera shutters.

Wayan introduced to James and I some of the forest’s unique treasures. Growing among other trees, giant pandanus trees dwarf us as we get off the trail and draw ourselves closer to them to truly appreciate their enormity, more fitting for the time when dinosaurs still dominated the planet. Another bizarre plant we find is spider fern, whose bud grows at the tip of a leaf for a maximum exposure to sunlight.

Every now and then Wayan stops and takes random wild fruits, from trees as well as the undergrowth. With his Swiss army knife he skillfully cuts a forest fig in half, then shows its inner parts to us. Also he cuts another round inedible fruit to reveal what’s inside the thick skin. His love of nature is palpable from his excitement in telling us as many things about the forest as he knows, albeit occasionally the amount of information is too much to absorb.

Just as we think we would not see any animals, a big butterfly flies right in front of us, its white wings speckled with black dots and lines. It is one of the biggest butterflies I have ever seen in my life, yet it flaps its wings so gently, indifferent to the human presence a few meters away. Later we learn it is the Malabar tree-nymph, native to India but found in abundance at the slopes of Mount Batukaru.

Not long afterwards the forest canopy comes into an impromptu riot.

Twigs and branches high up there shake, plausibly caused by a bird or two with considerable size. Is it a pigeon? Is it an eagle? We cannot tell for the forest’s dense leafy world of overlapping branches and leaves obstructs our view of the bird.

Then there are leeches, squiggling on the wet stone track waiting patiently for an unassuming human to cross its path. Me. Contrary to what I always imagined, leech bite in fact does not feel painful at all, only a slight tingling sensation on the patch of skin where the leech dangles.

As we arrive at the overgrown temple grounds, an inquisitive male macaque jumps off a tree, then strides across the bushes before coming up to the same pavilion where we are sitting to take a break from the hike. Wayan knows the monkey very well and he opens his small backpack to show the curious company that there is nothing he can steal from us.

A Spider Orchid

A Spider Orchid

Natural Beauty Abounds

Natural Beauty Abounds

A Yellow Bloom amid the Greens

A Yellow Bloom amid the Greens

Forest Blossoms

Forest Blossoms

Wild Berries

Wild Berries

Into the Woods

Into the Woods

Giant Pandanus Trees Soar High above the Forest Floor

Giant Pandanus Trees Soar High above the Forest Floor

Bird's-Nest Ferns Up on the Forest Canopy

Bird’s-Nest Ferns Up on the Forest Canopy

A Baby Spider Fern on the Tip of A Leaf

A Baby Spider Fern on the Tip of A Leaf

Wild Mushrooms on A Dead Tree Trunk

Wild Mushrooms on A Dead Tree Trunk

Heart-Shaped Leaves All over the Forest Floor

Heart-Shaped Leaves All over the Forest Floor

An Elegant Malabar Tree-Nymph

An Graceful Malabar Tree-Nymph

An Inquisitive Macaque

An Inquisitive Macaque

The Village's Pura Subak

The Village’s Pura Subak (Water/Agriculture Temple)

A Sweeping View of Batukaru's Pristine Rainforest

A Sweeping View of Batukaru’s Pristine Rainforest

As clouds gather in the sky, we get ready to walk back to our lodge. We go through the same route, but midway the downhill path Wayan asks us if we want to take a shortcut which apparently takes us through a dirt track where cocoa trees grow along the way. Wayan stops near one of the trees, takes a cocoa pod, and cuts it in half to reveal the white beans, each covered in sweet white soft pulp.

The eco-lodge itself is home to a plethora of fruit trees and medicinal shrubs. Just outside our two-storey bungalow an avocado tree grows on a hillside while closer to the restaurant a cornucopia of plants thrive in the fertile volcanic soil, including mangosteen, soursop, passionfruit, chili, cucumber, lettuce, pepper, vanilla, durian, pomelo, dill, galangal, and pretty much everything else the restaurant needs for its mostly vegan-friendly meals.

At the restaurant a small chalkboard describes the homemade vegan desserts available: non-dairy chocolate mousse, coconut-based ‘cheesecake’, and ice cream with salak crumble. “We make everything from what we can find in the gardens,” says Iluh, the cordial restaurant staff and cook.

Before coming to the eco lodge we had already planned to take its cooking class, but during our stay, and after some delicious vegan dishes I eat at the restaurant, we know the cooking class will be an interesting one. Made, a more serious-looking but no less friendly cook, is the one who teaches us to make Balinese nasi campur – rice with several dishes on the side. Before us is a beautifully-arranged platter of ingredients I’m mostly familiar with except a white bulbous vegetable called bongkot.

We start with making bumbu genep, a basic condiment for many Balinese dishes, using garlic, shallot, ginger, chili, turmeric, lengkuas (greater galangal), kencur (lesser galangal), and coriander seed.

“Balinese people usually make bumbu genep in large amount,” Made explains and adds, “we put it in a jar and use it whenever we cook.”

Perkedel jagung, or corn fritters, is the first dish we make, using bumbu genep to bind all the different ingredients together and give the fritter a punchy, rich flavor. Then we make chicken and chopped kaffir lime leaf in coconut milk, tofu cooked with chopped tomato and capsicum, and tempeh in kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and palm sugar.

Later we learn that the dinner we prepare is not only for us, but also for a Dutch couple who celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in this secluded, peaceful place. I can only hope that I won’t disappoint them, and most importantly, Made.

That night as we finish our desserts rain starts to pour. Bali’s highlands are known as a place where rain and clouds are something of a normality, as described by many drivers on our previous trips. But at this forest-surrounded accommodation I finally learn the consequences of living in such a pristine environment setting. As the rain stops, the dark forest and gardens are suddenly busy with different kinds of flying insects, all attracted to the lights at our bungalow, the restaurant, and everywhere else with light bulbs.

From the upper floor of our balcony – all windows and doors closed, most lights turned off – I watch in horror as swarms of flying termites and other critters fly frantically around the remaining lights downstairs, outside the bungalow. The biggest number of insects I have ever seen in my life, all painting invisible, dizzying flight patterns in the air.

The next morning the lower floor of our bungalow is covered with dead termites, much to James’ disgust. But such is the small price we have to pay to live in such a healthy environment, where we can breathe fresh air everyday, eat decent food made from the freshest of produce, wake up to the sound of lutung every morning and be lullabied by the sound of insects before going to bed every night. Such a small price for our well-being and sanity indeed.

Ripening Jackfruits

Ripening Jackfruits

Inedible Forest Fig

Inedible Forest Fig

Another Inedible Fruit from the Forest

Another Inedible Fruit from the Forest

Rotting Pandanus Fruit

Rotting Pandanus Fruit

Fennels, Fresh from the Tree

Dill, Fresh from the Tree

Juicy and Addictive Mangosteen

Juicy and Addictive Mangosteen

Salak, Native to Java and Sumatra

Salak, Native to Java and Sumatra

Baby Soursop

Baby Soursop

Fresh Ingredients to Make Hearty Dinner

Fresh Ingredients to Make Hearty Dinner

Mortar and Pestle, Essential in Mixing All the Ingredients

Mortar and Pestle, Essential in Mixing All the Ingredients

One Hour Later

One Hour Later

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

78 thoughts on “Batukaru: Sight, Sound, Taste”

    • True, it’s a perfect place to escape the noise and hectic life of a big city. Plus it was also where I was introduced to a great variety of healthy vegan dishes.

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  1. Suasana pedesaan dan hutan yang cocok jadi tempat pensiun. Aneka buah yang tumbuh di hutannya menggoda, belum lagi wangi aroma kayu. Dirimu selalu mendeskripsikan suasana pedesaan dengan begitu indah dan menarik lewat foto. Dan tulisan ini sukses bikin galau pingin cepat pindah ke desa aja hehehe

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    • Suasana tenang, angin semilir, suara yang muncul bukan dari kendaraan bermotor tapi dari riuh rendah binatang di hutan, ahh… memang damai. Aku selalu tergoda untuk tinggal di pedesaan, tapi kadang masih belum bisa lepas dari ‘kenyamanan’ hidup di kota dimana segala sesuatu, kecuali udara bersih, mudah didapat. 🙂 Thank you, Halim.

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  2. What a nice place to stay Bama. I would like to visit that Eco Lodge someday.
    So, bumbu genep is the main recipe for all Balinese dishes? How long it can be stored?

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    • I wish I stayed longer, so I’d have ample time to learn how to cook more Balinese dishes. 🙂
      She didn’t really say how long, but another driver told me that it could last for months. How many months exactly, I have no idea.

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      • Teach me please ,,, so it will be “ilmu yang bermanfaat, berkah dunia akhirat” 😉

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  3. Gara says:

    What a complete Bali experience :)). And the only thing I know about Watukaru is the Watukaru Temple only–one of the six greatest temples in the entire island :haha. OK, I think I should explore the island more thoroughly, once I have time for doing so :)).
    Reading about it reminds me of my father–he is so experienced about all plants and flowers–and he is a great chef, too. I am usually asked to do the mortar and pestle thing whenever he wants to make dishes. Oh, I can’t wait for this July, because Galungan will arrive!
    Base genep is one of the basic pastes in Balinese dishes, but it isn’t my favourite :haha. I like bawang jahe better! :haha.

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    • Oh, I didn’t know about Batukaru’s alternative spelling, but Watukaru really makes more sense. Unfortunately I didn’t go to that temple — maybe on my next trip. 🙂
      I’m always amazed by people who know the names of plants and animals, especially those living not far from they live; that makes me wish I paid more attention to taxonomy or biology class in general. Where will you celebrate Galungan? Will you go back to Bali?

      I never heard of bawang jahe paste. Which Balinese dishes are made using those condiments?

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      • Gara says:

        I haven’t gone to that temple before, but as the Top 6 in Bali, I think you have to go there, Mas :hehe.
        Yes, and I am amazed too when they know the local name of those plants and animals–it really helps when you want to buy something in the market but you don’t know how to call it :haha.
        This year I’ll go to Lombok, Mas :hehe. I celebrated it in Bali last year, so this year I should come to Lombok.
        Hm, just like base genep, it’s a basic paste so theoretically you could use it with anything–chicken or meat and they all will be tasted well :)).

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      • Noted! 🙂 Will you go to Rinjani as well? That trip/hike still is the most physically- and mentally-challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life. But the funny thing is now I actually miss it! 😀 Ahh, I see. I should look up those condiments the next time I try Balinese dishes.

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  4. Such exquisite flora and fauna and beautiful documentation. Thanks for sharing, it’s so fantastic to be able to see such an in depth post about somewhere I’ve never been – you’ve inspired me!

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    • I wish I managed to take some photos of the bird, but my camera and lens were not powerful enough, and the thick canopy made any observation difficult. However it was a nice hike, indeed. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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    • I just checked the info on dill, and you’re right. I guess when I went it happened to be just in time for harvesting.

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  5. Your photos and description were wonderful; I feel like I’ve visited there myself! Thanks for NOT including photos of the leeches or the swarming (or dead) insects!

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    • Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed this post. The funny thing is I almost included a photo of the leech, but then had a second thought. 🙂

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    • It really was wonderful, even though we didn’t see as many wild animals as we would have loved. Our forest walk guide actually introduced us to wild rhubarb; it had this distinctive tart yet refreshing taste. As for the leeches, James was only bitten by one, while I probably three or four. 🙂 I really enjoyed your post and photos (especially the flowers and insects) from your walk in Laos, Alison.

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  6. Hi Bama – nature, a wonderland, which you have beautifully captured. I enjoyed heart leave picture and the spider orchid. I found the spider’s eyes in there too.
    – Ruta

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    • Thank you, Ruta. Nature truly is one big wonderland for us to enjoy with all the colorful flora and fauna. I had to look at that spider orchid photo again, and you’re right, it has the eyes too.

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  7. Hello Bama! 🙂 I like your detailed articles, it’s like you bring us there also–with your lovely photos, so relaxing … I want to experience too.
    I saw your content about your travel in Philippines, i’m so glad you visit my country with amazing pictures also. 😀

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    • Hi Nicholas. Thank you for dropping by and leaving such a kind comment. In the Philippines I’ve only been to Manila, which reminded me so much of Jakarta. But one day I’ll make sure to revisit your country to explore its beautiful landscapes!

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      • Haha! Thank you for recognizing me Nicholas. LOL! I had used that name on facebook for 5 years, then just this year I decided to use my original. Anyway, Manila is a great place if you are looking back on the inside of the old town from Spanish era. You should also explore the beauty of our forest and the white sand around the islands. You are always welcome here. I hope to see you in person. Salamat! 🙂

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      • So should I call you Nikko? One thing I noticed when I was in Manila, apart from its apparent similarities with Jakarta, was the abundance of Spanish colonial buildings which I personally think were more grandeur than the Dutch buildings in the Indonesian capital. I would love to visit El Nido, Banaue rice terraces, and Mount Mayon, among other places.

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      • It’s up to you! 🙂 Really? nice! sad to say I can’t just relate the whole thing because I haven’t been there, but’ thank you very much I’ve learned it from you. Don’t worry because after my studies. I’ll make sure to visit your country and do the same blog as you do around the world. 🙂 yeah! those are great place to visit, especially the rice terraces and Mount Mayon. You try also the Palawan and Bohol. 🙂

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      • Bohol is also on my wishlist. 🙂 Good luck with your studies and have a great trip afterwards!

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  8. Wow Bama, I loved your macro shots of the flowers – my favourite is the one with the ant; its glistening black body really stands out on the white petals and orange stamens. In that photo the flower has the look and feel of glass! Your account and pictures brought me right back there… I was so glad I wore long socks on the forest hike while our bungalow had a broom downstairs. Sweeping a cloud of dead termites and broken wings into the grass is not something I’ll forget for a very long time!

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    • Wow, what a compliment, James! Thanks! I didn’t think much when I took that photo, so I was really lucky to capture that image just at the right time. The socks didn’t stop the leeches from biting my feet. I guess mosquitoes love you more, but I’m a big magnet for leeches. 🙂 Yea, I remember how it looked like downstairs the next morning. I had to tiptoe to the bathroom.

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  9. Great shots. I like all the images. I recall when I was in village the inedible fruit that you posted here has a really tall tree.

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    • Thank you for your kind comment! So you’ve been to the same village? or was it in another village? I think my guide told me the name of that inedible fruit, but I just can’t remember. 🙂

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    • Rileks, pake banget. Perjalanan ke sananya cukup susah dan panjang sih, tapi sepadan sama apa yang didapatkan.

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  10. Pure bliss!! I am longing to escape into a retreat quite like this Bama. Your photos are fantastic. And now you have me craving jackfruit curry! 😦

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    • Another reason for you to visit Bali I guess. 😀 Actually here in Java we have a very popular dish made from young jackfruit. I wonder if there’s Indian influence on it. Thanks Madhu!

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  11. Hi Bama, it must have been refreshing to a visit this place away from the usual tourist bustle of Bali. It’s wonderful to know that there’s still pockets of Bali that are not too dependent on tourist money. What a wonderful eco-lodge. The vegetations are incredible. I was transfixed with those beautiful orchids. I have not seen those varieties before. And those fruits – it was delightful to see the familiar ones and the unfamiliar. Ah, that cooking must have been a great experience. You’re finished products look so delicious. I’m sure the Dutch couple found it special. I hope to make it to his place when I visit Bali in person, although you already made me feel transported through your lovely photos and narratives.

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    • I wish I had the whole week at the eco-lodge as it was very refreshing, rejuvenating, and inspiring. That short stay provided me with the idea of having my own garden one day so whenever I need salad, all I have to do is go to the garden and take anything I want. 🙂 I really hope the Dutch couple liked it, as much as I enjoyed eating it. Marisol, Bali surely has pockets of tranquil places like this for those who want to stay away from the hustle and bustle.

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  12. This really sounds like a place I would love to visit. I’m traveling to Asia in september, so I might put this location on my bucketlist. Your pictures are wonderful by the way. Nice touch to the reading.

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    • Hi JC. Visiting Bali in September should be great as it’s past peak season but it’s still in dry season, which is the best time of the year to visit the beaches. Thank you and have a great journey to Asia!

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  13. So jealous right now!! Want to go to Bali so bad – hopefully next year! Thank you for the inspiration! xoxo Tomkat
    For more Travel Inspiration visit us on tomkatontheroad.wordpress.com

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    • Hi Tom & Kat. If you want to experience Bali at its best, try to avoid going in peak season. Hope that helps, thank you for reading, and good luck with your trip!

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  14. Perfect place to enjoy nature, delicious food and of course, Balinese interior design always overwhelming! Thank you for lovely tour, Bama 🙂

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    • Ahh, I really want to go back to this place to rejuvenate my lungs which are now more used to inhaling Jakarta’s polluted air. Thank you for reading, Indah! 🙂

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  15. Such wonderful pictures! This post made me feel like I was actually in Bali myself, and I’ve always wanted to go 🙂 P.S. Our blogs have similar names : )

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    • Thank you, Natasha. We’ve been listening to too much bad news from around the world up to a point that many of us forget that this world is actually filled with wonders and kindness. Hopefully that trip to Bali will come true sooner than later! 🙂

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  16. Wow this post is brilliant! I am so jealous that you have visited! It is by far, the number one place on my list to visit!!! Can I ask if you have any tips or advice on how to book to visit this place and get a good deal? I’d be so grateful, thankyou 🙂

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