Taking A Closer Look at The Real Face of Mount Merapi

Kaliadem is the right place where we can look at the beauty of Mount Merapi and also the trace of the 2006's horrible eruption.

Updated on 1 September 2018

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People said that the best time to enjoy the beauty of Mount Merapi is in the morning, before the fog comes down and hide this mountain from our view. It's 7 am and we were already on our way to go to Kaliadem, a chilly and cold area on the Mount Merapi slope, 25 km north of Yogyakarta. We chose the alternative road through Maguwo because this route has more beautiful rice field view than the Kaliurang street. We were just couples of kilometers away from the city and we already saw the beautiful rice field view that looks like Mooi Indie paintings. The fresh weather got into the car through the open windows and we could breath the smell of the paddy straws, just like the smell of grass right after showered by rain.

It was still morning when YogYES got into Kaliadem. Some of the villagers started to get ready to go looking for grass to feed their livestock. Mount Merapi looks so strong and gallant even though we could see a tiny layer of fog around the mountain. He is standing still on his throne, 2980 meters above the sea level, looks shining because of the morning sunrise. There was a thin smoke comes out from the top of the mountaing, made Mount Merapi looks more beautiful. Ladies and Gentlemen, we proudly present Mount Merapi, one of the most active volcanos in Indonesia!

Strong Power

Some of the scientists said that it was probably the Mount Merapi eruption that made the Ancient Mataram Kingdom moved into East Java on the 10th century. When it erupted, hot clouds of 800-1000 degrees Centigrade would slide down at speeds up to 70 km / hr. In 1930, the hot clouds from Mount Merapi's eruption destroyed forests, 13 villages, and 1400 people in an instant.

The last eruption was in 2006 when millions cubic of volcanic materials spilled out to Gendol River and Krasak River. Few of them flowed in Kaliadem and the leaving trace of them still can be seen until now. Kaliadem was a pine forest, but now it is full of sands, rocks, and other volcanic materials. There's a building that used to be a food stall on the east side of Kaliadem, but it is half building buried by volcanic materials now. On the west side, there's a protection bunker that is ironically covered by 3 meters thick volcanic materials. The 2006 eruption also killed 2 people who were trying to hide in the protection bunker. It needed weeks for the materials to get cold so that people can come to Kaliadem again.

But like the other natural powers, the Mount Merapi eruption also has positive sides. The volcanic dusts created a fertile land and field around the mountain. Million cubic of sands created jobs for sand miners from surrounding villages. Now after 4 years, Kaliadem starts being green and cold again. The pine trees start to grow and Kaliadem back to be a place where people can look at the beauty of Mount Merapi and also be witnesses of the both sides of a natural power.

Mbah Maridjan, The Gatekeeper of Mount Merapi

After visiting Kaliadem, YogYES stopped by at Mbah (wise old man or grandfather) Maridjan's house at the south of Kaliadem. Mbah Maridjan is a royal servant, born at 1927, and was given an order by the King of Yogyakarta Palace to be the Mount Merapi's gatekeeper, continuing his father job.

As a gatekeeper, he has to "take care" the mountain. Every year he has to lead the ritual of Labuhan Merapi, a ritual when hundreds of people climb up to the near of the Mount Merapi's peak and then pray to the God to protect them. This ritual is held every Rajab month in the Javanese calendar.

Before the 2006 eruption, Mbah Maridjan is very popular among the Indonesian people, especially who live in Yogyakarta. In the beginning May, Mount Merapi starts to spill the lava and the scientist estimated that it's going to explode soon. The people live around Mount Merapi were started to be evacuated, but Mbah Maridjan refused to leave. He said that he was ordered by the Yogyakarta King to take care of Mount Merapi so he did not want to leave because he had to do his job. Couple days after that, Mbah Maridjan climbed up the Mount Merapi and prayed to God to protect all the people surrounding. Believe it or not, Mount Merapi started to calm down and 11.000 people were allowed to go back to their house. In that time, the Indonesian President, SBY, also came to take a look at the Mount Merapi situation.

Mount Merapi erupted a month later and spilled millions cubic of volcano materials to Gendol River, Krasak River, and Kaliadem, and "only" 2 people were killed when they are trying to hide inside of the protection bunker. Since that time, Mbah Maridjan becomes very popular in Indonesia. Many people consider him as a supernatural man and came to him to ask for a blessing.

But far from people opinion, Mbah Maridjan is a friendly, humble and religious person. When we got into his house, he was having guests but he told us to come in and joined them. We had conversation and some jokes in Javanese language while enjoying the food and drink.

One of the guests asked him to bless his business but Mbah Maridjan refused and said, "as far as I know, only God who can give blessing. None other can, including me."

We kept talking about anything, including Mount Merapi. Mbah Maridjan said that every time Mount Merapi gives a sign of going to erupt, he would be the one who's being busy. Hundreds of people would come to his house, day and night, and he would not be able to get some rest. All of that guests would ask the same question, when would the Mount Merapi erupt and Mbah Maridjan would give the same answer, "don't ask me, ask God the Almighty."

As a royal servant, he received Rp. 5.800/month from the palace. He can only buy 1 kg of rice with that money, but Mbah Maridjan (and also thousands of other royal servants) never complain about their life. Just like Mbah Maridjan always said to his guests: do not live excessively, do not look up but look down.

Dhuhr time came as the Azan heard from the nearest mosque. As Mbah Maridjan asked permission to go pray to the mosque, we asked permission to go back home.

So, that's Yogyakarta, friend. It is not as simple as what we see on TV. Kaliadem, Mount Merapi, and Mbah Maridjan are the symbol of friendship between local people with the mother nature and also the loyalties of Yogyakarta people to the Javanese tradition without leaving their believe and religion.