Mount Merapi is an active stratovolcano located 28km north of Yogyakarta in Java. It is the most active volcano in Indonesia and has erupted regularly since 1548. Smoke can be seen emerging from the mountaintop at least 300 days a year, and several eruptions have caused hundreds of fatalities. In light of the hazards that Merapi poses to populated areas, it has been designated as the most violent of all volcanoes in Indonesia.
On 25 October 2010, tens of thousands of people living within a 10km zone around Mount Merapi were told to evacuate. Officials said about 500 volcanic earthquakes had been recorded on the mountain over the weekend of 23-24 October, and that the magma had risen to about 1km below the surface due to the seismic activity. By this time 153 people had been reported to have been killed. Later the eruptive activities again increased and by 18 November, the death toll had increased to 275. Throughout November, the death toll had continued to rise after a number of victims as far away as the town of Magelang were found to have succumbed to severe burns. In addition, more bodies were found on the volcano’s slopes upon closer inspection. By 3 December, the death toll had risen to 353.
When I visited the nearby museum that remembers the 2010 Eruptions, I saw that it has some information on the local beliefs that people of Yogyakarta have regarding Mount Merapi. It is believed that when the gods had just created the Earth, Java was unbalanced because of the placement of Mount Jamurdipo on the west end of the island. In order to assure balance, the gods ordered the mountain to be moved to the centre of Java, and it was renamed Mount Merapi (this means “Mountain of Fire”). As well as that, in order to keep the volcano quiet and to appease the spirits of the mountain, the Javanese people regularly bring offerings on the anniversary of the sultan of Yogyakarta’s coronation, and pay homage to the Merapi. Volcanoes seem very sacred all over the world, but nowhere more so than in Indonesia.
Although volcanoes in Indonesia like Bromo, Kelimutu, Rinjani, and Agung are always on the itinerary of backpackers when they visit the country, I never seem to hear of anyone that particularly wants to climb Merapi. That said, it is certainly possibly to do so, although I heard it is a tougher climb than most of the other popular volcanoes in Indonesia. I didn’t try it, but even looking at this behemoth from afar, I stood in awe and respect of the sheer ferocity of Mount Merapi, while at the same time remembering the hundreds that have perished in the very spot in which I was standing.