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Lake Maninjau, Indonesia

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A desire to take the road less traveled takes many West Sumatra tourists to Lake Maninjau. The 22-mile route from Bukittinggi-the nearest town-is a single lane containing 44 hairpin curves. In fact, the road is called Kelok 44 for that very reason, and the majority of the curves are on the descent into the caldera itself. The lake's name means 'overlook' in the local language, and looking down at the lake from the steep road is a real treat. One section of the road goes through a forest with a large number of monkeys that approach the vehicles to beg for food.

Located in the Highlands, Lake Maninjau formed in the caldera of a volcano that exploded about 50,000 years ago. At 1,500 feet above sea level, the air around Lake Maninjau is cool and refreshing, a considerable change from the humid lowlands not far away. Here visitors find a picturesque lake set beneath steep caldera walls and small villages and farms busy at work when they aren't entertaining visitors.

Lake Maninjau is unusual as it is the only lake in West Sumatra with a natural outlet to the west coast and the ocean. The Antokan River flows into the lake on the east side and out on the west. A dam was built across the outlet in 1983 to produce hydroelectric power, but other than this modern structure, life continues much as it has for hundreds of years. Swampy areas on the shore are divided into rice paddies with flat lands consisting of fruit and vegetable plots and the homes of fishermen. A paved road encircles the entire lake, and many small coffee shops and cafes provide refreshment to locals and visitors alike. A fishing pier is located in the village near where the Kelok 44 ends at the lakeshore road, but big game fish aren't the real draw. Most commercial fishing in the lake consists of palai rinua-a small fish-and pensi, a type of mussel. Much of the fishing is in the form of aquaculture; farmed fish make up the larger catch for both local use and commercial trade.

The scenery from Lake Maninjau is epic. Steep caldera walls covered in green forests fall to meet the waters along much of the western shoreline. The nearly 25,000-acre lake is exceptionally clear in most areas. And although sometimes windy, the weather is usually pleasant. Sunrise and sunset are great for photographs, and renting a motorbike to circle the lake is a great way to see all the sites. A number of small guest houses and hotels provide lodging, including some on rafts over the water. Many are reasonable in price but often lack the hygienic standards most western visitors are accustomed to. Those wishing for better accommodations would be advised to book their stay through a knowledgeable travel agent.

Most of the local people are of Minangkabau ethnicity. The two largest villages are Bayur and Maninjau. The lower slopes of the caldera produce tree fruits such as water apples, cempedak, jack fruit and golden berries, while spice bushes provide coffee, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Trees for timber are also raised. The fish farming involves about 600 families, and areas near the fish pens tend to be polluted. Swimming is best enjoyed away from the villages and houses where the water is cleaner. Boats can be hired to take visitors across the lake, and canoes are commonly rented at the guest lodgings. Some areas exist that are open to hiking, but the West Sumatra government has not provided any real tourist guides to the area. A lovely waterfall near the mosque north of Maninjau can be visited, but long socks are advised as leaches are prolific in the undergrowth.

Locally, tourists can find traditional handicrafts made by the Minang for sale, including slippers, bags and a variety of items made with 'songket'-a hand-woven cloth containing gold and silver threads. Anything found here is unlikely to be duplicated elsewhere and makes a fine souvenir/art piece to take home. One popular activity is paragliding from the rim of the caldera nearby. Arrangements can be made in Bukittinggi. Bicycling around the lake usually takes more than a day, and the road is somewhat rough in spots. A few areas near the dam have been roped off for shore fishing on the west side of the lake, and several islands also provide for shore fishing. One must hitch a ride with a local fisherman to reach them.

The closest real city with tourism attractions is Padang, about 100 miles and an optimistic three-hour trip by car. Buses do travel to Lake Maninjau and leave Bukittinggi about every two hours. Bukittinggi is a cultural center of the Minangkabau people and holds several locations of interest such as the old Dutch Fort de Kock, a small museum, and the geological formation of Slanok Canyon. Traditional singing and dancing are performed at the Cultural Center every night.

The old trading port City of Padang offers a wide variety of activities suited to visitors. Islands off the coast are ideal for snorkeling. Surfing tours take surfers to some of the most famous surfing beaches in Indonesia. The beautiful white sand beaches are great for sunbathing and swimming. A large Chinese population has created a number of Chinese Buddhist temples and pagodas, with the Dutch Old Town containing interesting architecture dating back to colonial rule. A major airport serves Padang and is the best way to reach the interior Highlands of West Sumatra. Most visitors take a few days to enjoy Padang, then plan day trips or longer excursions into the Highlands to visit places like Bukittinggi and Lake Maninjau. In stark comparison to the busy city of Padang, here it is quiet, cool and serene. Make sure you don't miss seeing Lake Maninjau on your trip to West Sumatra.

*Statistics are listed for informational purposes only. Although these same statistics are published on several websites, no official source for them was found.


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