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The journey to Lake Toba from Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, is quite long and arduous — three to four hours should be allowed — but as one approaches the lake’s shores, one is simultaneously filled with a sense of relief and exciting anticipation about what is about to be revealed.
Taking the more scenic route past the hillside resort of Brastagi along the way is advisable, as this represents a far more attractive route than the trans-Sumatra road which, though interesting in its own way, is mostly a straight road with a constant traffic of heavy trucks. The scenic Brastagi route takes the traveler through hills and villages that exemplify this Batak region.
The sense of relief is genuine as winding and undulating roads bring the traveler closer and closer to the lake. On this particular journey, the weather from Brastagi onwards had been cloudy and rather rainy but approaching the lake, the weather seemed to clear almost miraculously.
Then, quite suddenly, the lake came into view and the anticipation was not met by disappointment.
With sweeping vistas across the lake to Samosir Island and rolling down to the lake’s waters shimmering in the late afternoon sun, Lake Toba presented itself in stunning glory.
Lake Toba is the largest inland body of water in Southeast Asia, but Samosir Island sits in its middle. Remarkably too, this island is of a similar size to Singapore but has nothing like the millions that occupy that Southeast Asian island-state.
Cotton-wool tufts of clouds gently and silently swept their way across the other side of the lake, crowning the tops of lush green hills, and the road continued on through scenery that seemed more like a lake in Scotland than here in Southeast Asia. Steep hills sloped down to the lake, dotted here and there with occasional evergreen trees.
The massive scale of Lake Toba was revealed by the mere fact that we had reached it, but had to drive on another 30 minutes or so to reach the ferry point in the town of Parapat.
On arriving there, two ferries were in port waiting to carry passengers across to Samosir Island, and Parapat revealed the pace of life to be expected here. The ferrymen leisurely waited for their customers and once in a while, one of them strolled up with a small photograph album to offer a “cheap, but nice and clean” hotel on the other side on the island.
A polite “no thank you” was met consistently with “OK, sir”, which suggested that travelers to this part of Indonesia are not hassled. At the same time, it was apparent that travelers are familiar to these parts, as the ferrymen were able to offer passable impressions of Australian and London accents.
With the ferry less than half full — including motorbikes strapped precariously to railings — it set off for the island that seemed to sit forebodingly in this huge lake. The ferry jugs along through calm but deep waters — the lake is said to be as deep as 500 meters in parts. There is not much traffic on the lake to disturb the calm either. Small fishing boats with outboard motors busy themselves along the way and an occasional speed-boat or jet-ski may be spotted, but the waters are mostly clear and clean.
As the ferry approaches Samosir Island the shear, green, wall-like hills lie ahead, and one begins to think that the island is perhaps not a very hospitable place.
But then we near the peninsula of Tuk Tuk and a different, more welcoming, aspect to the island shows itself.
This part of the island is dotted with resorts that offer a complete “home away from home” service that typically allows the traveler to stay in cottage or villa-type accommodations. It is this area too that is the most populated part of the island.
The island itself is mostly uninhabited and so remains an area of natural beauty that is an excellent spot for those who like to go hiking. Hiking treks can be taken across the island, but care should be taken with these. Although the island is only some 20 kilometers wide and 40 kilometers long, any cross-island treks stretch much longer than this, as they include inevitable climbs through the highlands of the island.
Samosir is a restful island, and it may be enough for the traveler just to rest and relax near a resort. The clean lake water allows for very relaxing and enjoyable swimming conditions. To swim gently, looking up at the surrounding lush green hills often topped by mountain mists, is to really enjoy the natural beauty of this part of the world.
There has been concern and even criticism that the island is becoming overdeveloped and so is gradually losing its character. There are the inevitable signs of tourism here, as the resorts on the island are prone to pander to touristy traits such as bars and loud music, but these are relatively isolated.
In other parts too, one is reminded of Kuta, Bali, as touristy shops and services are on offer, but these are mostly harmless and generally fun.
For example, motorbikes and bicycles can be rented at reasonable fees and there are shops that offer the various handicrafts of the region. But these merely seem to be a way for the local people to support themselves.
Strong and primitive wood carvings are on sale, often featuring heavy features and bold coloring, typically black and red. Batik shawls and dresses are also quite common, and again they feature bold colors and designs.
For those who like to combine a little shopping with their travel, small and inexpensive shops are available on the island and bargaining is not an unpleasant experience — the shop owners, who are very laid-back, seem to possess a lot of good humor.
Indeed, the overall experience is laid back and relaxing. The surroundings are calm and calming, and the people here are sufficiently tourism savvy — but not overbearing and annoying in their approaches to visitors.
For some time out from the hustle and bustle of city life, Lake Toba and Samosir Island can be highly recommended as a natural, beautiful, majestic and magnificent getaway within Indonesia.
Lake Toba is relatively remote and this is, effectively, one of its main attractions. * Bus services to Lake Toba are available from Medan in North Sumatra and Bukittinggi in West Sumatra, but both routes constitute long rides: from Medan a minimum of four hours and Bukittinggi about 16 hours. * For greater comfort and a more direct route, hiring a rental car (with driver) from Medan is the best option.
Traveling around the Toba area and around Samosir Island is, unsurprisingly, mostly waterborne. * Small boats may be hired for more personal use, but the ferry services to and around the island are regular, centered at the mainland town of Parapat. * A car ferry also operates from Parapat to the island, but roadways for traveling by car are limited on the island. * Motorcycles and bicycles would be more appropriate and are easily hired locally.
* Hotels, losmen (local inns/bed-and-breakfasts) and home stays are concentrated in the mainland town of Parapat and the Tuk Tuk Peninsula on the island. * Larger and higher standard hotels are in Parapat and afford great lake views and even private beaches to the lake. * On the island, accommodation is generally cheap but adequate. Extra may be charged for hot water, and air-conditioning is not really necessary as the temperature at the lake is comfortable and even quite cool at night.
By: Simon Marcus Gower
Sumber : Planet Mole
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