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Dieng Plateau

A hike across Java's remote and atmospheric Dieng Plateau

There must be days when the sun shines and skies are blue. (we’ve seen the photos in the tourist brochures), but it’s somehow hard to imagine Java’s remote Dieng Plateau without its characteristic swirling mists, dark pine forests and brooding, terrace-covered hills. The lush valleys, cascading rice terraces and villages clinging Provence-style to rugged hillsides would certainly look spectacular whatever skies the Plateau’s ancient gods see fit to cloak the landscape in but cloud-shrouded hilltops and minarets and pines emerging from the mist are what create the atmosphere and certainly give rise to the commonly used epithet ‘mysterious’.

Indonesia, Mountain village
Mountain village

Dieng apparently means ‘abode of the gods’ and Java’s most ancient temples are to be found scattered across the 2,000-metre plateau showing it to have been inhabited from an early age. The dark, volcanic stone towers, dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and the old Hindu deities, interspersed with bubbling waters and sulphur clouds from volcanic, crater lakes add another layer to the atmosphere and as you’d expect from a remote area with a millennium and a half of occupation, strange myths and legends abound.

Indonesia. 7th or 8th-century temple
7th or 8th-century temple

Despite each of the Plateau’s villages coming with a classic, minaret-topped mosque, inhabitants’ belief systems can include intricate fusions with early Hindu and even animist elements. A major highlight for ethnologists or anthropologists are the famous dreadlock-sporting, gimbal children who can still to this day be encountered in plateau villages. (The legend is convoluted so we won’t go into it but you can check an account at this link if you wish to know more.)

With cool temperatures, high rainfall and fertile volcanic soils it’s easy to see why this, until recently, rather inaccessible region has been occupied for so long and valleys are heavily cultivated and hillsides covered in myriad tumbling terraces, Despite being only a few degrees off the equator this is a temperate area though with winter temperatures descending into single figures so common crops would be potatoes or strawberries rather than mangos and pineapples.

Indonesia, sorting spuds in a caldera - as you do...
Dieng, sorting spuds in caldera – as you do…

It’s probable that a periodic increase in volcanic activity with corresponding noxious fumes forced the early occupants to relocate which is why later 9th- and 10th-century sites are to be found in lower altitudes around what is today Yogyakarta. Dieng then – judged too inaccessible and unhealthy for any Dutch-period hill-stations or plantations – slipped into the remote obscurity in which it has remained until recent times. A newly built road from the town of Wonosobo now allows access for domestic day-trippers and the trickle of overseas visitors to discover the cool climate and unique landscapes.

Indonesia. In the caldera, Dieng
In the caldera, Dieng

Aside from some rather intrusive and gratuitous selfie spots around the steaming crater lakes tourist infrastructure is still very limited and with accommodation options being basic homestays only we’ll overnight in Wonosobo Town, (in a 100-year-old hotel no less so some Dutch visitors must have made it up this way), and after a scenic drive onto the Plateau, spend the morning exploring the area. The well-preserved but rather manicured temple sites and steaming sulphur lakes are the most popular stops but of far more interest in our opinion are the delightful and unusual landscapes and very cute, traditional hillside villages so our programme will consist simply of – in addition to the already spectacular drive and viewpoints – a gentle hike through the farms and villages. We’re sure to meet a few locals on the way, discover some of the daily life and of course, take a break in a village tea shop.

Indonesia, Dieng Plateau
Dieng Plateau landscape

Still working on the web page but our first Java trip is slated for 20th October 2019 so, anyone tempted, please contact us for details.