It was so beautiful, I couldn’t breathe. And I mean it literally.
Our vehicle breezed through the forested slope of the crater rim, and I was reminded of how beautiful things are earned. I remember how I reached the last crater lake I set foot on: hours of trek, tens of scratches all over my limbs, a little bit of blood, and a million swearwords thrown into the air. But this is not like the last time. The road was paved, the ride short, and I comfortably seated like a boss. Not that I’m complaining.
Still, beauty is better appreciated when you move mountains to witness it. A trophy looks shinier when you make it past hurdles before hitting the finish line. We reached the entrance to the site in a matter of minutes. This is it, easy. No climbing, no sweat, no human suffering. (Human suffering talaga?!!?) There won’t be any hurdle this time, I thought.
Just when I was just about to strut my way to the shore, I found the hurdles in the form of a nasty stench. Yes, the stench. It had been a long time since I had come face to face with a volcano, and I had forgotten their repugnant reek that reminded me of
a friend a thousand rotten eggs. The tour organizers distributed facial masks, and I was first to grab one as I climbed down the stairs leading to the crater lake.
One of the two craters of Mt. Patuha, Kawah Putih is situated just 50 kilometers south of Bandung, near a little town called Ciwidey. Its name literally means White Crater, a salute to the color of its lake, which curiously radiates a turquoise hue. From afar, it appears like a giant puddle of milk — thanks to its turbidity — which makes a visit to the site quite a surreal experience.
“The lake is said to have been first documented in 1837 by Dr Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, a German botanist,” Indonesia’s official tourism site narrates. “At the time, there were various local stories about the history of the area. Birds were said to avoid flying near the region and some were even found dead after flying above the lake…. These stories prompted Dr Junghuhn to investigate, and so discovered Kawah Putih. He concluded that the birds flying over the Crater Lake died due to its high concentration of sulfur.”
Sulfur. That suffocating thing that makes every stay at Kawah Putih short-lived. It was early morning and there were dozens of tourists flocking at various vantage points by the lakeshore, but almost all of them had a mask on. The stench was powerful, but we seemed to not mind. The site was just too irresistible, we had to capture every angle of it. Selfie here, group pic there. Hey look, that looks like a good viewpoint! The closer to the water, the better.
The wide, barren area by the shore is where most tourists stay. It has plenty of space for excited souls to move around in, but a paved walkway leads to a less crowded nook. I followed the path and found myself having a closer look at a small sandbar that emerges from the steam that rises from the milky surface. A few snaps and I headed back to where the rest of the gang was.
Other than sightseeing, there’s not much to do at Kawah Putih. You can’t fish, you can’t swim, and you can’t even dip a toe in it. But its visual allure is enough for me, to be honest. They say that during the Dutch era, a sulfur power plant — Zwavel Ontginning Kawah Putih — was built at the site. It no longer stands, but remnants of it existence are still visible.
In many ways, Kawah Putih is like your typical ex-lover. It’s remote but still accessible if you choose to make an effort. It is such a joy to look at, but you just can’t stay with him any longer. It looks dormant — and it is — but you just can’t be too sure. He still has that almost irresistible appeal, but you can’t dive in lest you be burnt again. If you taste its water, it probably is extra bitter. And of course, there’s just some air around him that stinks.
But hey, it’s pretty. Still darn sexy. And many times, it still leaves you breathless.
Kawah Putih, Ciwidey, West Java
Entrance Fee: IDR 30,000 (USD2) for foreigners, IDR 15,000 for locals
Where to stay. Patuha Resort Kawah Putih offers spacious cabin-type rooms just a couple of kilometers from the White Crater.
How to get there: By public transport, from Leuwi Panjang Bus Terminal, take the Ciwidey bus (IDR 6000) and then an angkot (minibus) to the entrance to Kawah Putih (IDR 7500). You may also choose to just rent a motorbike (IDR 50,000 per day).