Mount Agung: Beauty and the Beast

Over the past week or so, you cannot have missed news reports focusing on the current eruption of Mount Agung in Bali. It is potentially going to be the largest eruption of this volcano for over 50 years. Understandably, the locals have been moved away and geologists are studying the mountain with fascination, all with the same burning question – when will Agung blow? Yet Mount Agung has not always been such a dangerous beast…

Mount Agung at sunrise

On one of my first trips to Bali (2013, I think), Mount Agung was one of the highlights. I did not climb it, but I could see it in the distance. In fact, at over 3,000m tall, you can see it from all corners of the island (even from eastern Java on a clear day). With tropical foliage and a traditional Balinese sunset, you could say that Agung is remarkably beautiful. Yet as a simple backpacker taking in the sights, I did not stop to think about the dangers that Agung posed.

Agung in more peaceful times

The last major eruption of Mount Agung was in 1964, which killed 2000 local people. Pura Besakih temple, located on the slopes of this gigantic mountain, was spared by a matter of yards; while everything around it perished in lava and smoke, the holy Hindi temple remained intact, an incident Balinese people say was looked over by the Gods. My visits to Agung (and the “holy” Besakih temple, known for its vicious touts) were thankfully undertaken in more peaceful times, and you cannot help but marvel at the sheer size and structure of this mountain, despite the fact that it is often shrouded in mysterious cloud.

Tourists have been warned to stay away from the beastly Agung, as he blows her top for the first time in half a century. Most locals have also been relocated outside of the ‘exclusion zone’ – although if these locals will ever have a home to go back to after the eruption, only time will tell. In future, I hope backpackers will arrive in Bali like I did a few years back and be able to safely admire the beauty of Mount Agung, yet all the while respect that this is still an active volcano (of which Indonesian has many!).

Cover photo courtesy of Al Jazeera.

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