February 7, 2023
JAKARTA – The Bali provincial administration has planned to limit tourist access to mountains, saying that tourism activities have harmed their sacredness.
Governor Wayan Koster announced on Jan. 30 that the administration would issue a regulation to bring back the sacredness of all mountains across the island. He emphasized that the regulation was badly needed as tourism activities on the summits were out of control.
“People should no longer freely enter the area, [or] make tourism destinations on the top. Moreover, many people ride their motorbikes onto the summits. I think it is too much,” Wayan Koster stated in the meeting with Bali lawmaker (DPRD Bali) on spatial planning of the predominantly Hindu island.
Koster said that the plan to limit tourist access to the mountain peaks has also been made considering the Hindu religious leaders’ recommendations.
“Highest religious leaders have gathered and decided that mountains should be kept sacred, and they have recommended [the ban]. Therefore, I should accommodate it,” he said.
Balinese Hindus strongly believe that mountains are sacred areas and any negative activity could harm their sacredness. Local villagers hold a special ritual every time any negative incident occurrs, believing it would be able to cleanse the bad spirit.
In 2022, Canadian actor Jeffrey Craigen danced naked at the top of Mount Batur, in Bangli, in the center of the island. On social media, Craigen posted a video of himself doing a ceremonial dance of New Zealand’s Maori culture, while nude on top of Mount Batur.
His act has triggered anger from the local villagers, and has forced them to hold a special Balinese Hindu ritual. Craigen was deported after the incident and blacklisted from entering Indonesia.
In 2021, a viral three-minute video showed a Russian couple having sex on the top of Mount Batur. It triggered similar response and action from the locals although the incident apparently happened one year before it went viral.
Kostes also mentioned several incidents involving accidents that claimed lives.
In November 2022, a 51-year-old United States citizen Kevin Henderson died on Mount Agung in Karangasem, Bali, after falling on a climb to celebrate his birthday. In May 2022, another American Robert S Evans died after falling down the slope of Mount Batur in Bangli during a group hike.
“There are many accidents. I think it is a warning. In Mount Batur, accidents have happened many times. Maybe [tourism activities] there are too much, uncontrolled. Maybe someone climbed the mountain in a bad spirit, so it made the area dirty, and caused a disaster. Once it’s happened and claims lives, the customary village should hold rituals.
“How much is the profit so we should sacrifice the sacred area?” Koster said
Koster said that Balinese ancestors went to the mountain peaks only for holding rituals, doing meditation and building a temple in the area. “Our ancestors, religious leaders, meditated on the summit and were inspired to build Bali. So, the mountain should be kept sacred. We have been degrading it,” he added.
Koster said that the details of the limitation for tourist access to the mountains would be discussed in the near future. “We are considering whether we need to make bylaws, or if it is enough with governor decree,” he said.
“Mountains are our strength. Activities in the mountains should be controlled, especially for rituals and other activities related to disaster management,” Koster said.
I Gede Edi Arnawa Wirajaya, a Mount Batur guide, has questioned the Bali administration’s plan. The 21-year-old man is among more than 400 local villagers that make a living from tourists climbing the mountain.
“I really hope the governor could reconsider the plan, as many of us around Mount Batur live from tourist management. We could lose our jobs if the government bans tourists from climbing the mountain,” Gede said.
Gede has been working as a Batur guide for three years. “I have learned how to be a tour guide since I was at school, as many of my family also work as tour guides. This is our livelihood,” he said. (dre)