Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Magelang
Few people actually get to watch a live volcano erupt, which, from a safe distance away, is an amazing experience.
At Ketep Pass — a relatively new resort located in Ketep, Sawangan, here, some 35 kilometers south of the regental capital, Magelang — this exciting spectacle can be experienced from some 1,200 meters above sea level. Lava is clearly visible as it is emitted from the peak of the neighboring 2,911-meter Mount Merapi, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. At night, the descending lava is a dramatic display of natural fireworks, which can be witnessed with the naked eye.
Separated only by a valley, Mount Merapi seems but a stone’s throw away from Ketep to the north. Even without a telescope, visitors can observe the peak of Mount Merapi clearly in daylight hours from Ketep. Such is the proximity that the thunderous sound of the volcano expelling lava can also be heard sometimes in Ketep.
Yet, visitors need not worry as, even in a major eruption, the valley would prevent the lava from reaching the site. “Besides, experience also shows that the lava has never traveled toward the north: It has always moved either southward or westward,” Ketep Pass manager M. Hariadi told The Jakarta Post recently.
Viewing Mount Merapi from a distance is not the only attraction that Ketep offers tourists. Officially opened by then president Megawati Soekarnoputri on Oct. 17, 2002, Ketep was designed as a volcano-based tourist destination. As such, the resort also has other attractions. Among these are a volcano center, volcano theater and the Pelataran Panca Arga (Panca Arga plain).
From the parking lot in, the venue is an attractive one. Stepping onto an open field, visitors can enjoy the magnificence and beauty of both the slopes and the peak of Mount Merapi. If they wish to use a telescope, they can rent one from local children at Rp 1,000, with no time limit.
Tourists hoping to enjoy this particular attraction, however, are at the mercy of the weather. If they are lucky, no clouds will obscure the volcano. If not, they must wait for the clouds to clear.
“Merapi is quite unpredictable in the sense that sometimes it can be seen very clearly while at other times clouds cover it all day long. It seems that it decides for itself whether to show or hide itself from visitors,” said a villager selling grilled baby corn at Ketep.
While waiting for the clouds to clear, however, tourists may visit the volcano center, which is built right next to the parking area. Entry tickets are Rp 3,500. Here tourists can find out about volcanoes in general and Mount Merapi in particular, including how they were formed over thousands of years through natural processes.
Information is available in the form of pictures, diagrams, a computerized database, multimedia presentations, photos, and three-dimensional models, including a miniature of Mount Merapi.
A diorama of what is called the Puncak Garuda (Garuda Peak) — the highest part of which is Mount Merapi — is also attached to one of the walls of the center for tourists to take a picture, using it as the backdrop. This will create the impression that you are being photographed on the peak of the volcano.
From the volcano center, tourists may continue to the Puncak Panca Arga, which literally means the peak of five volcanoes. It was named so because, from this site, tourists can see the peaks of Java’s five highest volcanoes.
They are: Mount Merapi (2,911 meters) on the Central Java-Yogyakarta border, Mount Merbabu (3,142), Kabupaten Magelang (Central Java), Mount Sindoro (3,135), Temanggung (Central Java), Mount Sumbing (3,321), also in Temanggung, and Mount Slamet (3,428), Banyumas, Central Java.
There are, of course, other, smaller mountains or mountain ranges to see from there. They include Mount Telomoyo, Mount Andong, the Dieng Plateau and the Menoreh mountain range.
An observation telescope is also installed there for visitors to take a closer look, both at the peak of Mount Merapi and other objects around it. Tokens to operate the telescope are sold for Rp 2,500 apiece for three minutes’ viewing.
The central part of the Pelataran also functions as a helipad. “This is one of the ideal places from which to take good pictures, with this beautiful scenery in the background,” Sarwidi, a lecturer at Yogyakarta-based Indonesian Islamic University (UII) and a regular visitor to the resort, told the Post.
Also worth a visit in Ketep is the volcano theater, a mini-theater that is located right next to the Pelataran Panca Arga. Officially opened in 2003, it offers a 20-minute movie that explains much about Mount Merapi, including its deadly hot clouds, known locally as wedhus gembel, which have claimed many lives during major eruptions.
Ketep is accessible from Magelang, Surakarta, or even Yogyakarta by public or private transportation. All means of transportation can directly reach Ketep. No walking is necessary. Tourists can also combine visits to Prambanan temple, Yogyakarta Palace, Borobudur temple, and Ketep Pass, as they are relatively close to each other. Ketep is about only 30 kilometers to 35 km away from Prambanan, Yogyakarta and Borobudur.