Indonesia’s biggest lake
Lake Toba, it takes four hours to travel 185 kilometers distance from Medan to Parapat – a venture which is, however, amply compensated by many alternating and interesting sight. The road cuts through paddies, plantations, and open fields, passing numerous villages before the landscape changes and become more virgin as it begins its climb into highlands. The final reward of the rather long journey is the sight of Toba, Indonesia’s biggest lake, glistening under the sun far down below the road.
The Batak people refer to Toba as Tapian Nauli, which literally means “the beautiful lake”. Lake Toba is located at an elevation of 906 meters above sea level, which makes it one of the highest major lakes in the world.
There is no doubt that the popularity of Lake Toba is worldwide, proven in the United States precisely in New York City (NYC) there is a restaurant that uses the name of Lake Toba as the restaurant brand.
The Lake Toba Festival
Each year around the months March-April, the Lake Toba Festival or “Jamu” Laut is held. The three-day event is meant as an expression of thanksgiving by the local people for the divine blessing received in the past year. Traditional local races, swimming, and other water sports contests form an important part of the agenda. In addition, however, there are also music, song, dance and other performance that take place during the day and night, representing the traditions of the various Batak ethnic sub-groups that inhabit the Lake Toba region.
Its surface covers an area of roughly 1,700 square kilometers, and its greatest depth is 450 meters. According to geologists, Lake Toba is actually a water-filled-caldera – a basin created by the collapse, during a cataclysmic eruption, of a volcano that existed on that a spot in prehistoric times. The island of Samosir in the middle of the lake is what is left of volcano’s peak.
Samosir may be regarded as the center of the Batak heartland. Here, some of the oldest remains of the ancestral culture of the Batak people preserved, and the heritage of Batak lore is kept alive.
Tuk-tuk is a little cape on Samosir Island, located about halfway between Ambarita and Tomok. The lakeside setting is alluring. Camping facilities, as well as low-cost lodgings and restaurants, are available to visitors. About five kilometers away from Tuk-tuk is Ambarita, in the former domain of the ancient Sialllagan Kingdom. In front of the old chieftain’s house, built in original Toba Batak design, are some stone chairs and table where the ruler and his advisers held counsel. Nine kilometers to the southeast of Ambarita is Tomok, where the stone tomb of King Sidabutar is found. The massive tomb is adorned at the top with a statue of Aning Malela, who according to tradition was probably the ruler’s unfaithful fiancee.
A few old traditional Batak houses stand in a clearing not far removed from the graveyard. Their present occupants are descendants of King Sidabutar, who look after the heirlooms left by the rules, among which are some spears and machetes, some porcelain dishes and several other items.
More old relics can be seen at Simanindo, a village near the northwestern end of the island. There is also the Alam Hutabolon Museum, occupying an area of about one hectare, surrounded by a 2,5-meter high wall of earth.
In the old days, this was the residence of King Sidauruk of the Simanindo kingdom. His old royal quarters still stand, flanked by four other old buildings. In front of the main building are three more traditional houses, called “Sopo Batak”. Traditional Tor-tor, Sigale-gale, Tunggal, and Habonaran dances are on occasion performed in the yard.
Sigale-gale is wooden puppets or effigies of human beings which were accorded supernatural powers. Strings are attached to the arms, hands, and eyes so that during the Tor-tor dance they can be made to move to the rhythm of the music by a puppeteer sitting cross-legged behind the effigy.
A short distance from Simanindo is Tao Island, at the northwestern end of Samosir. Cottages and a restaurant are available. Access is usually by Solu Bolon, the larger type of boat which often takes passengers for excursions on the lake.
There are also small fishing boats called “Solu persada-sada”, which can take just one passenger. When not taking passengers, locals go out fishing in the lake, using either nets or spears. Other interesting villages to visit are Pangururan, on Samosir’s western shore, and Bakara, where successive kings of the Sisingamangaraja dynasty had their seat of power. There is a hot water spring between Pangururan and Palipi, another village in the area.