(Extract from an article by Rachel Greaves)
At 3014 metres high, Gunung (Mt) Agung is Bali’s tallest and holiest mountain, its resplendent summit dominating much of the island. It is not surprising, therefore, that it is the dwelling place of the gods, with Pura Besakih the island’s largest and most important Hindu temple located on its slopes. The Balinese treat this volcano with the greatest respect and even sleep with their heads facing in its direction. In every temple a shrine is dedicated to its spirit, offerings and cremation mounds are formed in its shape, and water from its sacred springs is the holiest and most sought after for temple rites. The volcano dominates the spiritual and physical life of the island, and the Balinese Hindu people spend a great part of each day pacifying, worshipping and entertaining the Gods who live there.
In March 1963, after lying dormant for 120 years, Gunung Agung erupted catastrophically and with such violence that the top 100 metres was blown apart. The earth rumbled and shook and putrid black smoke shot into the air, accompanied by deafening explosions and blinding white flashes. Huge boulders were catapulted out of the centre, described by an eyewitness as being like ping-pong balls suspended on jets of water, while a strange pink froth clung to the rim of the crater. Over 1,600 people were killed in the eruption and a further 500 died in the aftermath. The total population of the eastern side of the island was threatened by toxic gases, molten lava and colossal rocks, which swept down the mountainside. 100,000 people were left homeless and most lost their livelihoods as entire villages were engulfed and destroyed as they blazed out of control. For a whole week, the mountain continued to spew boiling ash and hot volcanic mud, which poured over the land and into the sea. A black cloud and a gritty granular fog covered most of Bali and East Java, while torrential and merciless acid rain compounded the damage, killing all vegetation where it fell. Roads became impassable, communities were cut off for weeks, and massive areas of arable land and crops were ruined, causing food shortages that lasted for months afterwards.
For more than forty years now, this sleeping monster has been at peace, presenting a challenging and fulfilling experience for mountain lovers and trekkers.