Sunday, May 27, 2012

Two Gems of Kerinci Valley...

Yesterday I was invited by some friends to visit one of Kerinci Valley's many natural treasures, Danau Gunung Tujuh (Seven Mountain's Lake), the highest lake in all of Southeast Asia.  The lake sits in the caldera of an extinct volcano, and is a great day trip from Sungai Penuh.  Since I haven't been posting much lately, I figured I'd share a little bit about this trip and another day trip I took about a month ago to Danau Kaca, the Glass Lake.  Though most people have never heard of either of these places, they can be a fun and relatively easy part of a trip to Kerinci Valley.  

Danau Gunung Tujuh, Seven Mountains Lake

We started out in the morning around 7:30 from Sungai Penuh on our bikes.  We stopped for a quick breakfast at a friend's place in Semerup, a few kilometers north of Sungai Penuh.  Then we headed up towards the northernmost corner of Kerinci district, through the sprawling tea plantation at Kayu Aro.  It around an hour to get there.  You can park at the ranger post (theoretically this is where you buy a ticket to enter the park as well, but it is pretty much always unmanned) or right next door at the home of the village head of Pesisir Bukit.  Then head into the park though the gateway.  You'll pass through about a half a kilometer of illegal cultivation (which I've discussed in previous posts) and past another part marker.  From here according to the sign it's 5 kilometers to the lake; according to my GPS it's just under 4 kilometers, but that's flat trail distance.  I didn't think to count paces either.  If you're not familiar with the area it's probably a good idea to take a local guide since with all the illegal cultivation the trailhead isn't really clear.

 Once you enter the undisturbed forest the trail goes up at a pretty good angle until you get to the peak of Gunung Tujuh.  I would call this section of the trail moderately strenuously, but if you are reasonably fit you won't have any problems.  Once you get to the top you have to descend again to the lake, and this section of the trail is the steepest and most challenging.  If you take your time and are careful you won't have any problem though.  Overall the hike is quite nice, and given the altitude it's pretty cool.  If you are in a hurry you can probably do it in an hour or less (one way); at a leisurely pace it's more like two hours.  It's better to start out early because it tends to rain in the afternoon, and you're much more likely to slip when the trail is wet, especially when descending.  

This photo was taken by my friend Barlian
from the NGO GenesisMukomuko.
By the time you get to the lake you'll probably want to take a break and enjoy the scenery, as it really is breathtaking.  The lake is 4 kilometers long by 3 kilometers wide and probably covers around 10 square kilometers total.  You can swim, but because of the elevation the water is fairly cold.  Some residents of the villages at the foot of the mountain keep dugout canoes at the lake for fishing, so if you've made arrangements you can cross the lake (about 1 hour) to Pesisir Putih where you might be able to find the rafflesia, the world's largest flower.  The rafflesia only blooms for a few days before decaying away.  It gives off an odor similar to rotting meat to attract flies and other insects for pollination.  There are several species of rafflesia found in various places across Indonesia and Malaysia.  If you have a chance to see one you should definitely take it; the flower looks like something from outer space.  You can also take the trail around the lake, which takes 2-3 hours.

While we were there we encountered a group of locals that had been employed by the department of public works to clear garbage around the lake.  Among them was one of my friends that worked in the park, so we chatted for a bit, swapped stories, and ate lunch.  After about two hours we headed back out of the crater and then down the slopes of the mountain.  On the way out we encountered a film crew from the US television show "Finding Bigfoot", who were there to film a show about the Orang Pendek, an as yet unconfirmed primate species that may or may not live around the lake.  I chatted with the show's host, who was really surprised that I'd never heard of the program, and the expedition leader, Adam Davies, who has led several previous expeditions to the area in search of the elusive creature.  He was interested in my fieldwork and asked me to contact him about a possible interview for the show, so we'll see how that goes.  After coffee at another friend's place the gang and I headed back for Sungai Penuh.  

Danau Kaca, the Glass Lake

Another very worthy destination in the Kerinci Valley is Danau Kaca, which lies at the other end of the valley near the village of Lempur.  This is another place you can easily visit in a day, but there's also an area for camping if you'd like to spend more time.  You start the hike at a neglected monument which marks the end of the road "maintained" by the district government.  Here you enter the forest along the footpath which eventually leads to Sungai Ipuh in Mukomuko district, 40 kilometers away.  This part of the trail has been widened and used by off-road vehicles, so it's pretty easy to hike.  The old trail to the lake branches off from the Sungai Ipuh trail a couple of kilometers in, but it's well marked.  A newer, shorter trail that's been blazed by local nature lovers cuts 30 minutes to an hour off the trip, but this trail is not marked as well and if you don't know it it's hard to find.  Along both trails you have to cross a stream, so be ready for that.

Depending on the trail you take, it's about 2-3 hours to the lake, but for the most part it's relatively flat and relaxing.  Though small, the minerals suspended in the lake give it a beautiful blue hue (if you've ever been swimming in a quarry hole, it's like that).  You can swim in the lake, which is probably about 7 meters at its deepest.  

In addition to these two spots there are a number of other places which make Kerinci a great place to visit.  Unfortunately, although the local government proclaims tourism to be a target industry for development, there is little in the way of marketing or information.  I recently had a discussion with one of the higher-ups at the regional tourist bureau (a government body) and suggested that they at least provide a map of the area to visitors.  Currently Kerinci doesn't see a lot of tourists, but in my mind that's because no one really knows about the area, and since it's so far out of the way of established tourist routes its potential is relatively underdeveloped.  Most visitors come to climb Gunung Kerinci, the highest active volcano in Indonesia, but other than that there seems to be little awareness about other places like Danau Gunung Tujuh, Danau Kaca, and the Kayu Aro tea plantation.  If the local government could get its act together and market the place as a 4-day to one-week destination there would probably be more people through.

More Information on "Danau Kaco"....

My friend David, who is one of the foremost scholars in the world on Kerinci area, dropped me a line to remind me that he wrote a tourism guide for the Kerinci Valley a few years ago.  The book, which is really outstanding, tells about the culture and history of the area and has comprehensive descriptions of 25 tourist sites in the area.  The following information is verbatim from the guide and describes in greater detail Danau Kaco.

Located near the village of Lempur, Lake Kaco (Danau Kaco) is an absolute gem of a lake. Fed in part by several underwater springs, this very small lake has eerie, crystal blue water, making it unique among the lakes of Kerinci. Unfortunately, however, Lake Kaco's distinctive crystalline qualities also almost lead to its demise.

Local legend tells of a village "king," Raja Gagak, who had a beautiful daughter named Puti Sulluh Makan. Raja Gagak amassed a large number of jewels from various suitors, who gave the precious stones as a token of their desire to marry his daughter. Unable to resolve the problem that he had promised Put's hand to more than one suitor, while having actually impregnated her himself through an incestuous relations, Raja Gagak fled the village with his daughter and all of the jewels. Before killing his daughter out of shame, Raja Gagak supposedly buried the jewels in Lake Kaco, thus giving the lake its beautiful blue color.

Spurred on by this story, the lake's unique blue water, and the desire for quick wealth, a group of 15 villagers tried to drain the lake in the late 1990s in hopes of discovering the supposed jewels. The group spent 10 days widening and deepening the channel flowing out of the lake with hoes, all the way to where the stream empties into the Manjuto River. The sudden and unexplainable death of one member of the group, however, persuaded the remaining members that their efforts were not endorsed by ancestral spirits--but only after the surface of the lake had dropped by about a meter. 

The trip to Lake Kaco takes four hours from the village of Lempur, with most of the trip being inside a surprisingly flat portion of the national park. The first forty-five minutes of this trip, which takes you almost to the outer edge of Lempur's agricultural fields, can be bypassed by taking an ojek to the irrigation canal (irrigasi). From the irrigation canal, continue up the main road for 15 minutes until you come to a large cement statue marking the earthen embankments of the Fort of Depati Parbo (Benteng Depati Parbo). This fort, which sits alongside a major pre-colonial transporation route between southern Kerinci and the west coast of Sumatra, was built as a bulwark against the Dutch invaders and saw action in 1901 when local villagers used its embankments to ward off advancing troops. The defenders were led in their struggle by Depati Parbo of Lolo (the fort's namesake), who is reputed to have had supernatural abilities that made him invulnerable to Dutch bullets (see also "Mt. Kunyit" entry).

After visiting the fort, you can also pay a brief visit to Seluang Bersisik Emas Waterfall (Air Terjun Seluang Bersisik Emas) which is located less than a five minute walk away. To get to the waterfall, follow the main road which ends at a small river which you will have to cross to continue on the path on the other side.  Contrary to the sounds of water coming from the right-hand side of the road, the waterfall is actually located on the left side. Continue on the main road until you hear sounds from the waterfall coming from the left (less than five minutes from the river crossing). There is no established trail to the waterfall, but a location from where the waterfall can be seen is close to the road and easy to reach.

Lake Kaco is an additional three-hour hike on a forest trail from the Fort of Depati Parbo and Seluang Bersisik Emas Waterfall-the combination of which would make for a full day hike from Lempur. A guide is absolutely necessary for the trip to Lake Kaco due to a large number of forking paths.


  1. This area of Indonesia looks absolutely majestic. There almost doesn't seem to be any human impact on the area what so ever. This makes me a bit curious about the tourism interest. In your blog you mentioned seven mountains, are the other six mountains old volcanoes housing lakes as well. And the glass lake appears to be very blue, isn't that suggestive of a type of rock or mineral under the water. I want to say I've seen something like that before in South America. I also understand you said the hike to be relaxing most of the time but, according to the topographic map your using that doesn't seem to be the case.

  2. Since Seven Mountains Lake is the highest lake in the world, is there any species of aquatic creatures that are unique to that area? Because of the high elevation are the oxygen levels lower? It looks like a lovely place to visit.
    The Glass Lake is especially beautiful. Do they know what kind of minerals gave it that blue hue? Is it a certain type of mineral or is it a combination of them? Also in both lakes is the water safe to drink there?

    1. Hi. The lake isn't the highest in the world. It's the highest in Southeast Asia. But that is an excellent question about the creatures. I do not know the answer, but I would say that there is a very good chance there would be some sort of endemic species there.

      As for the color of glass lake, I don't know. The water in Gunung Tujuh lake could be boiled to drink, but I wouldn't drink the water from Danau Kaca.