Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reaching Sumatra’s Mountain Paradise

Somewhere ahead, still out of view, is the summit of Sumatra’s third highest mountain.

My first view of Dempo had come two days earlier, from the more benign environment of the ripening rice fields on the edge of Pagaralam. Rising 3,173 meters above the fringe of the forest, it was a tantalizing prospect.

But before tackling the summit, I wanted to explore the region that surrounded the peak — the Pasemah Highlands, a beautiful but rarely visited corner of South Sumatra.

Seven hours west of the provincial capital, Palembang, the highlands are surrounded by the southern Bukit Barisan mountain range, far from tourist trails and beaten tracks.

Pagaralam, the only town in the area, lies some 600 meters above sea level and features tea gardens and strawberry farms. If this was in Java, it would be swarming with tourists every weekend. But I had it almost to myself.

Highland clans in the 19th century were known to be hostile to outsiders. But things have changed; the people in Tanjung Aru village on the outskirts of Pagaralam are friendly and helpful to strangers.

Carved megaliths — basalt chiseled into the shapes of men, elephants, bulls and tigers — dot the rice fields all over these South Sumatran uplands.

Full article by Tim Hannigan with Images
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