This piece is not a regular nature photography picture story as with the other blogs of ours.  This one is on one of the most fascinating places, we have ever been to in our wanderlust adventures.  Travel along with us, as we tell you more about this place.

The History

Lake Toba, a crater lake said to have formed due to the Toba eruption about 67500 to 75500 years ago. Historic in nature, this is a site of the super-volcanic eruption and is generally described as Yellow Stone’s bigger sister. For the one’s interested in numbers this lake is about 100 km’s long, 30km’s wide and 505 mts at its deepest point with surface elevation of 505mt. With these dimensions no wonder Lake Toba comes in not only as the largest lake in Indonesia but also the largest volcanic lake in the world.

Toba lake from our resort

It’s said that the eruption here was the biggest climate changing event the world has ever seen. Just that the climate change was because of an event then, unlike the human led one that we are experiencing now.  According to the “Toba catastrophe theory” to which some anthropologists and archaeologists subscribe, this event had serious global consequences, killing most humans then alive and creating a population bottleneck in Central Eastern Africa & India, affecting the genetic inheritance of all humans today.

Having formed in a volcanic crater, the water in these volcanic lakes are often acidic, saturated with volcanic gases and cloudy with a strong greenish colour. Being a dormant or extinct volcano this particular lake tends to have fresh water, clarity of the which is exceptional due to the lack of inflowing streams and sediments. The clear fresh water make for a pleasing landscape photo.

Reaching Toba is not easy and one has to do multiple modes of transport. The first of them is a flight to Medan from Jakarta, following which a drive of 5 hours in non-existent roads to reach the lakeside town called Parapat.  This place is the jump off point for the ferry to Tomok and the other resorts in Samosir island. The ferry ride from Parapat to Tuktuk and Tamok is picturesque providing one with lots of landscape photo opportunities. The resorts are splattered around in various islands in this lake and the ferry goes around, dropping people off in their respective islands.  After all, we are dealing with a 100kms lake, having islands within it is normal.

Not so normal Tobaites

Large percentage of people who live around Lake Toba are ethnically Bataks. Batak is a collective term used to identify a number of ethnic groups from Toba, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Angkola, and Mandailing found in North Sumatra, Indonesia. The Bataks are settlers who probably evolved from the Austronesian speakers who first reached Sumatra from Taiwan and Philippines through Borneo or Java about 2500 years ago.

The story now gets interesting, the group were ritual cannibals, yes you heard it right. In Marco Polo’s memoirs of his stay on the east coast of Sumatra from April to September of 1292, he mentions an encounter with hill folk whom he refers to as “man-eaters”. He passed on descriptions which were provided to him, in which a condemned man was eaten: “They suffocate him and when he is dead they have him cooked, and gather together all the dead man’s kin, and eat him. and I assure you they do suck the very bones till not a particle of marrow remains in them… and so they eat him up stump and rump.  And when they have thus eaten him they collect his bones and put them in fine chests, carry them away, place them in caverns among the mountains where no beast nor other creature can get at them. And you must know also that if they take prisoner, a man of another country, and he cannot pay a ransom in coin, they kill him and eat him straightway.”

Traditional Batak
Modern day Batak

So far so good, we get to experience a Ocean like Lake and dealing with people who have a history which is gory.  Come along, there is more to Toba than just these two.

Traditional Batak House
Rice barn

Samosir Island

This is a large volcanic island, besides it is the largest island within an island and the fifth largest lake island in the world. Do read the earlier line again, the tongue twister was conscious. This island offers fascinating history and panorama. Samsosir is the centre of Batak culture and the tourists resorts here are concentrated around the small town of Tuktuk.  Tuktuk is an hour ferry ride from Parapat. The island occupies nearly half the lake and is joined to its western shore by an isthmus, at which point is the island’s principal town, Pangururan. In the east, the island rises to 5,350 ft (1,630 m), but the level of the surrounding water is 2,989 ft. The mountain Dolok Pusubukit, on the isthmus joining Samosir to the mainland is believed to have been the home of the first Batak.

There are multiple villages in various islands which provides a peek into Batak history & culture.  We did move around quite a bit not to miss anything from this fascinating place.

Museum huta bolon simanindothat’s quite some name to remember

Huta bolon is a  small Batak village, Huta meaning village. It is a small square surrounded by ramparts on which tall bamboo trees grow. The community of Huta consists of three different groups.  Margas, the group from the founders, Boru, who take their wives from the Margas group and Hulahula the group of the founder’s wife.

There are row of houses situated at the lower side of the square facing the high mountain which is believed to be the residence of the communal God. Ruma bolon the largest house in town is the King’s abode. There is another row on the opposite side called Sapas, or rice barns. All these houses and rice bran’s make for good architecture photography.

Boratan, the pole right at the center of the village is considered to be the slaughter pole which brings us back to the man-eating historical past. The slaughter pole is decorated with various kinds of leaves representing the tree of life (life or death not sure). Near the pole there is a restored house of the Toba Batak king, which now has been turned into a museum, with a row of ancient Batak tombs of the ancient Simanindo Kings with Christian motifs on them. Next to the kings house is a replica of a traditional village where the Bataks perform their traditional dance Monday till Saturday.

“Gondang Siboru”, dance by the women who hope that during the performance, young men will propose to one of them. “Gundang Sidoli” is when the young man approaches the lady of his dreams and as a sign of his love he gives her some money.  Seeing this dance performance, bird watching in us got re-kindled because this is exactly how birds attract the mate, just that in the bird’s world its always the male wooing the female.

The traditional Batak music is Gondang. It’s an all occasion music (happy/sad) and is played using traditional instruments.

Ambarita Village

Stone chair in Ambarita village

The stone chairs is where the village elders held council. It is said the elders of the village invited even the rulers of the neighbouring villages to a conference when an enemy was captured to determine his fate.  The prisoner is held behind the bars under one of the houses as you can see from the brown colour structure to the right. If it was decided that the victim deserved death then he would be taken to the dining table where he is clobbered to death. The structure of dining table exist even now and this place is stone throw’s away from the stone chairs. There is a boulder where the victim is beheaded and chopped. His flesh is cooked with buffalo meat and served to the fellow tribal who complete the meal with a drink of the victim’s blood. On the hill above are the graves of the tribal elders. From the appearance of the monuments and graves, we guessed that the tribal elders had embraced Christianity.

Tomok village

Stone sacrophagus

As a mark of respect when you enter the Sidabutar tomb (Sidabutar is the ancient ruling clan in the Batak village of Tomor), one is provided with a sash to wear (sadly they are to be returned back after the visit). This place has rows of stone sarcophagi. Apparently when the king dies, he was never buried, but had a sacrophagus carved in stone to be placed at the centre of the village. Seven days later his descendants would plant a Hariara tree at his grave site.


Mount Belirang Hot Spring
White residues on the hill

Panguguran, the capital of Samosir is on the west coast and a small bridge connects this island to the mainland. The sulphurous gases and water of this hot-spring has killed the vegetation on the hillside leaving behind a white residue.  While this place does provide good opportunities for landscape photos we were handicapped by not having the right gear for the occasion.

Horasfrom this once in a lifetime experience

Horas is the traditional greeting of the Batak people, and the best-known word in their language. In addition to being a greeting, it can also be used to express ‘good health’ and ‘goodbye’.

If you travelling to SE Asia, Lake Toba is a place to be seriously considered for its fascinating history and the surreal experience of seeing a 100km long Ocean Lake. For the photographers it’s wonderful place to visit for nature photography and for making unique landscape photos. The architecture photography is no less alluring in this place. While we couldn’t do justice to our photography thirst, being there and getting a first-hand knowledge of this historical place had been more than satisfying.