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Travelers wanting to experience the wild rainforests of Bali's central highlands will make the trek to Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan. The two crater lakes are located within the caldera of extinct Bedugul volcano. They were a single lake until 1800; a landslide separated the lake into two lakes, and a narrow land bridge of less than a mile width divides them. Located at altitudes of nearly 4000 feet, this is the heart of Bali's farming area, with coffee plantations, vegetable fields and traditional rice paddies covering the nearby slopes. Lake Tamblingan is important in the religious life of the local villagers who earn their livelihoods by fishing, farming and ferrying tourists and the devout by dugout canoe to the 31 temples located near the lake.
Very little is found about these two important lakes in most tourist literature. Tourism is just gaining a foothold in this very traditional area, with most visitors going to better-known Lake Bratan a few miles to the east. Sharing space within the same volcanic caldera, Lake Bratan's famous water temple is part of the same ancient system of irrigation that provides water to all of the area's terraced farms and thirsty coffee plantations. Because much of the area is protected land within the 4356-acre Batukaru Nature Reserve, the two lakes are becoming increasingly popular with eco-tourists, bird watchers, mountain trekkers and adventure seekers.
Lake Buyan, locally known as Danau Buyan, covers over 900 acres and reaches depths of 285 feet. At an elevation of 3984 feet, Lake Buyan is actually 10 feet lower than neighboring Lake Tamblingan. Faulty translations often suggest that Lake Buyan is the smallest of Bali's five highland lakes. It is actually second-largest, next to Lake Bratan. Neighboring Danau Tamblingan is actually the smallest, stretching across about 470 acres, and is a little deeper at 295 feet. Lake Buyan is usually seen first by visitors coming from Lake Bratan or from the little City of Ubud near the south coast. The main road, which runs from Ubud past Lake Bratan, skirts the north shore of the lake along most of its length. Although there is no motorized boating on either lake, row boat rentals are available and some visitors bring a kayak for exploring the lake. Although fishing is permitted, there is no information as to what fish the lake holds. Local fishermen are often seen on the lake paddling their traditional perahu.
The entire length of the main road between Lake Bratan and the northeastern end of Lake Buyan is crowded with homes, small shops and services. Once past the major developed area, all homes and private properties are located on the opposite side of the road from the lake, leaving a buffer zone between the lake and the highway. A number of small pull-off areas along the highway give plenty of access to photographers and those seeking to drink in the view across the lake. Once past Lake Buyan, the road turns northwest and eventually ends at Lovina on the Bali Sea, an hour away. Reaching Lake Tamblingan requires taking small local roads from the turn-off to reach the little village of Tamblingan on the southwestern end of the lake. Near Tamblingan, a water temple important to the irrigation system stands at the edge of the water.
The water temples are an integral part of the area's all-important irrigation system. The water flows through the temples where it is diverted to irrigate the terraced fields of area farmers. Ceremonies and blessing rituals are regularly performed to assure the continuation of the regular water supply. Recently, rising water from Lake Tamblingan has flooded the village and surrounding farms, forcing the people to move to higher ground. Studies are underway to identify the cause of the increase in water and look for a solution. There is concern that increased development on the surrounding mountain slopes has allowed more water to drain into the lake. Because the 'Subak' system of farming is so ancient, dating to 678 A.D, the entire area falls under a UNESCO World Heritage cultural listing. Demands are increasing on the Indonesian government to prevent further development which removes traditional fields from the landscape.
Trekking is one of the more popular activities in the area. One of the most common hikes is to the top of Asah Gobleg, a hill overlooking the lakes. The view is spectacular. The more adventure-oriented traveler may choose to arrive with an organized trekking group to climb much more difficult Mount Batukaru. Employing local guides, these treks allow visitors to enjoy the flora and fauna of the rainforest and jungle on the steep mountainsides. Many temples exist in the area to which locals make regular pilgrimages. It is always advised to use local guidance to avoid offending local customs and religious observances. One of the easiest treks is to the Munduk Waterfall, only a mile from the Munduk Market. Munduk is the center of the elite and comparatively wealthy plantation system in the area. Here visitors can enjoy small shops selling local handicrafts, specialty foods and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Near Munduk, two or three high-end 'camps' are located. Much like the safari camps of Africa, the guest accommodations of some are individual tents on platforms with en-suite bath, catered meals and spa services. A number of homestays, guest cottages and small hotels dot the highway running alongside Lake Buyan. The protected forests nearby have several designated areas for camping. Nearly all of the guest accommodations can arrange tour guides and offer advice for seeing the nearby sights. There is much to see and do in the area, so it is probably best not to attempt to visit the twin lakes and Lake Bratan on a single day. The lakes are often shrouded in fog in the mornings, and the night air is often quite cold. Not all guest accommodations have central heating, so it is advised that one bring an extra blanket.
The nearest modern hotels are located near Lake Bratan, but visitors will find other accommodations along the road between the lakes and Ubud. Ubud is a 'must-see'. Monkey Forest Road is the best location for seeing the many free-ranging monkeys that venture onto the streets most days. The nearby Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary protects these long-tailed macaques. The main road out of Ubud is a sea of local vendors selling anything one can imagine, often with some persistence. Small hotels and restaurants are numerous, as are art galleries. Ubud is a good starting point for a trip to Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan. Many guides in the area can provide their services and offer specialized tours.
Cool and refreshing, the mountain areas of central Bali are a very different experience than visiting the coastal resorts. Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan must be seen to enjoy their scenic views and the vibrant local culture of the area. So, pack the hiking boots and head for Bali.
*Statistics for these lakes come from unofficial sources; no official surveys could be located. Therefore, consider the statistics estimates. Figures are for Lake Tamblingan only.
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