“Please, just five more minutes…” I begged silently.

But time was not on our side – we are pressed for it just like during any other typical media familiarisation trips that I participated in the past. “Chop chop…onto the bus. We need to get going for our lunch now,” said my guide, Pak Herman, a humorous, kind-hearted man with strong sense of punctuality.

We were in front of Sipiso-piso waterfall, supposedly the highest waterfall in Indonesia and probably one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen. It’s fascinating how this simple case of natural physics could make you lost in the moment; like how this curtain of water in front of me flows sleekly from an opening on the rock face down to the bottom, crashing and roaring 120 metres below the platform I was standing. Despite the violent sound it makes, I found peace in it. Honestly, I think I could spend hours sitting there doing nothing but looking at the majestic waterfall.

We continued our journey for lunch as suggested by Pak Herman at the nearby Taman Simalem Resort, which is a beautiful mountain retreat sitting in the clouds with unobstructed views of Lake Toba. This is the kind of place you’ll go for a quiet hideout, amidst organic farms, fruit orchards, tea and coffee plantations. I can imagine having brunches with a novel in my hand here…or I wonder, will this place be inspiring enough for artists to craft their next masterpiece? The serenity of the place had won me too, but before I could delve deeper into my thoughts, it was time for us to move yet again.

Our next destination was the Samosir Island, a large volcanic island in Lake Toba touted to be as big as Singapore, formed after the eruption of a volcano 75,000 years ago. To reach there, we boarded a boat and cruised along the calm waters of Lake Toba for 45 minutes with the majestically jagged mountains in the background before arriving at Tomok Jetty. There are plenty of tourist attractions on the island including souvenir stalls, Batak Museum and tombs of previous Batak Kings, each comes with fascinating tales on its own.

But the highlight of this island would probably be the Sigale-gale ritual, involving a wooden puppet in Batak traditional clothing, dancing on an ornate wooden platform while being controlled from behind like a marionette. Like many other age-old rituals, there are many versions on how Sigale-gale came about but the most popular belief is that the puppet was a representation of a son of local king, who died young in a war. Saddened by his death, the king ordered a life-sized puppet and named it Sigale-gale, which sounded similar to his son’s name, Manggale. During the ritual, local people believe the spirit of the dead child would possess the puppet and dance, adding mystical feel to the entire experience.

A couple of Batak women before the Sigale-gale ritual.

That night, I retreated to one of the top-ranked lakefront resorts in town – the Inna Parapat Hotel – which boasts spectacular view of Lake Toba to wake up to. Now Pak Herman, please don’t wake me from my dreams too soon, please!

Don’t miss these places too when you visit Medan!
Maimun Palace

If you’re like us who start the journey to Samosir Island from Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra, Indonesia, be sure to spare a couple of days to visit worthy attractions along the way including the historic Maimun Palace, which is a symbol of a Malay King sovereignty in Medan, or more specifically the Sultanate of Deli. Built between 1887 and 1891, the palace’s impressive architecture combines a myriad of local and foreign influences such as Indian (Moghul), Spanish and Italian; a refreshing take from the stereotypical design using European marble tiles, big arches and hand-painted ceiling decorations. The main building features the Balairong Seri (The Great Hall), where travellers can find the Sultan’s throne, then dress up in traditional king or queen attire and have their pictures taken by the palace’s designated photographer. The actual sultan, Aria Mahmud Lamanjiji – who was only eight years old when he was installed as the 14th Sultan of Deli in 2005 – doesn’t live at the palace anymore; he is currently in Sulawesi with his mother, and his role today is purely ceremonial.

Vihara Gunung Timur (Gunung Timur Temple)

Vihara Gunung Timur

Built in 1962, this Chinese Taoist temple is the largest of its kind in the city of Medan. It has 80 statues of deities altogether, and has been the main temple in Medan for years. The worshippers also believe that its strategic location facing the River Babura brings good luck to both temple and its visitors.

Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni
Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni

Characterised by a pagoda in the middle of this Indo-Mogul styled house of worship, travellers could mistook this a Hindu temple. Upon closer inspection, travellers will instead notice the common features of a Catholic church such as crucifixes and passages from the Bible adorning its grey and white walls. This church is dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Good Health’, or Mother Mary who devotees believed to have shown herself in Velankanni, a small town in Tamil Nadu, India, in 17th century, hence inspiring the church’s unique design.

Lumbini Natural Park

Lumbini Natural Park

Located high at the foot of Gunung Sibayak sits a magnificent and ornate Buddhist pagoda dubbed as the tallest one in the whole of Indonesia. The look and feel is inspired by the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, while the gold colour imitates the pagodas in Thailand. Naturally, the site is considered as one of the holiest places in Indonesia for Buddhists, thus visitors need to dress modestly as a sign of respect when visiting the place.

Berastagi Fruit Market

Located approximately 35 kilometres away from Sipiso-piso waterfall, Berastagi is a picturesque town in the Karo highlands 1,300 metres above sea level. The average annual temperature of the area is 18°C, making it ideal destination to escape from the suffocating heat. The town was initially developed around 1920 as a Dutch hill base, but today, little traces of this colonial history can be found, except for the fruit market, which was the centre of agricultural trade during the Dutch era. The land around this area has always been fertile due to its close proximity to two active volcanoes: Mount Sinabung and Mount Sibayak. Common crops that can be found here include passion fruit, oranges, avocados and cabbages – some of them are exported to neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Singapore. The market opens everyday from early morning till late evening, and do keep in mind that you need to bargain for the best prices here.

***

The journey to Samosir Island took an eight-hour bus ride from Medan before reaching Parapat town, where visitors board the boat that leaves every hour for the island from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. There’s no denying that the trip was long, but the winding drive up into the hills through farmlands and colourful vegetation truly is a sight for sore eyes. After such a long ride, I now learned that the most beautiful treasure troves in the world are often the hardest to reach. It is a trip such as this that opens one’s eyes and make travellers realise that the beauty of travel does not lie on the destination alone, but the hidden gems you encounter along the way.

But having said that, there is now a quicker alternative to reach Lake Toba as AirAsia and Malindo Air just announced their new route to Lake Toba! You can now skip the eight-hour bus ride and book book a flight to Silangit Airport from Kuala Lumpur, and then get a taxi to Parapat once you arrived. The Parapat town is 76 kilometres away from the airport.

Gaya Travel Magazine would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to The Embassy of Republic of Indonesia (KL Office) and Ministry of Tourism Indonesia for their kind invitation and for making our journey smooth sailing.

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