Tangkuban Perahu

Marvel at Tangkuban Perahu’s Volcanic Craters

Tangkuban Perahu (spelt Tangkuban Parahu in the local Sundanese dialect) is a dormant volcano 30 km north of the city of Bandung, the provincial capital of West Java, Indonesia. It last erupted in 1959. It is a popular tourist attraction where tourists can hike or ride to the edge of the crater to view the hot water springs and boiling mud up close, and buy eggs cooked on the hot surface. This stratovolcano is on the island of Java and last erupted in 1983. Together with Mount Burangrang and Bukit Tunggul, those are remnants of the ancient Mount Sunda after the plinian eruption caused the Caldera to collapse.

The name translates roughly to “upturning of (a) boat” or “upturned boat” in Sundanese, referring to the local legend of its creation. The story tells of “Dayang Sumbi”, a beauty who lived in West Java. She cast away her son “Sangkuriang” for disobedience, and in her sadness was granted the power of eternal youth by the gods. After many years in exile, Sangkuriang decided to return to his home, long after the two had forgotten and failed to recognize each other. Sangkuriang fell in love with Dayang Sumbi and planned to marry her, only for Dayang Sumbi to recognize his birthmark just as he was about to go hunting. In order to prevent the marriage from taking place, Dayang Sumbi asked Sangkuriang to build a dam on the river Citarum and to build a large boat to cross the river, both before the sunrise. Sangkuriang meditated and summoned mythical ogre-like creatures -buta hejo or green giant(s)- to do his bidding. Dayang Sumbi saw that the tasks were almost completed and called on her workers to spread red silk cloths east of the city, to give the impression of impending sunrise. Sangkuriang was fooled, and upon believing that he had failed, kicked the dam and the unfinished boat, resulting in severe flooding and the creation of Tangkuban Perahu from the hull of the boat.

Geologically, Mt. Tangkuban Perahu has played a significant role in the development of Parahyangan highlands. Eruptions have contributed immensely to the hills north of Bandung through lava flowing into the valleys and hardening into rock, thus forming big cliffs over which waterfalls leap. Likewise, mud flows have formed a semi-circular cone of gentle gradient (what geologists call “a fan”), which is now a mass that blocked the valley of the ancient Citarum River near present day in Padalarang (some 18 km west of Bandung), this caused a lake to form covering the whole Bandung plain.

Tangkuban Perahu is a volcano with three craters into which areas tourists can walk through. These three craters are: Kawah Ratu (“Queen Crater”), Kawah Domas (“Domas Crater”), and Kawah Upas (“Upas Crater”). Tourists can go down into the Domas Crater where many hot geysers in which they can boil eggs exist. Though the mountain appears peaceful, mild eruptions occurred in 1969, when Kawah Ratu spewed ash and barrages 500 m high. As recently as September 1992 it was closed to the public for a few days because unusually high seismic activity leads volcanologist to fear a new eruption. On the mountain’s northern flank is an area called Death Valley, so named for its frequent accumulation of poisonous gases. On a reasonably clear day, from Kawah Ratu, the main crater, we can see not only the mountain range to the east, with Mt. Bukittunggul as its highest peak (2,209 m), but also two other in a northeasterly direction. The lower and nearer one is Mt. Tampomas (1,684 m) just north of Sumedang some 40 km away. To the right and about 90 km away is Mt. Ciremai close to Cirebon on the north coast. At 3,078 m, Mt. Ciremai is West Java’s tallest mountain. At the foot of Mt. Tangkuban Perahu we see the Ciater tea plantation covering the rolling hills. Farther to the left are the northern coastal plains of Java, and on an extremely clear day we may even be able to see the Java Sea beyond.

Kawah Ratu, which means “Queen’s Crater”, is today just a big gray hole, which sometimes has a pool of water at its center. Poisonous gases sometimes accumulate in Kawah Ratu, thus making it somewhat of a risk to descend to the crater floor. Beyond the saddled shaped depression on the far side of Kawah Ratu is the still active Kawah Upas, the oldest crater on the mountain. On the very far western cliff we see a spot where all vegetation has been destroyed by constantly rising sulfurous vapors. On the crater walls, note the various layers of material consisting of rock, sand, and pebbles. Overtime, new craters have formed again and again in a rather consistent shift from west to east. The most well known crater is the Domas crater, but also there are other smaller ones in jungle on the mountain’s northeastern flank.