Lawu Mountain climbing trail, a mysterious
path straddling two provinces

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Candi Kethek
Candi Kethek, a Majapahit Kingdom heritage said to be the pyramid at the highest altitude in Indonesia. (Source: Freddy Wally)

Lawu, IO – Mount Lawu is an inactive stratovolcano with a height of 3,265 meters. It straddles two provinces: Central Java and East Java. Infamous as a mystical site for ages, Lawu partially earned its reputation because it is located deep in a forested mountain …and because it contains numerous well-preserved ancient sites, dating from the Majapahit Kingdom era. 

Only some of Mount Lawu’s myriad paths are open to the public, for safety reasons. Among these are the Cemoro Sewu, Cemoro Kandang, Candi Cetho (“Cetho Temple”), and Singolangu routes. The Candi Cetho route in Gumeng Village, Regency of Karanganyar, Central Java, is a favorite one, as it opens to a lovely, solemn panorama that makes its extra length worthwhile. 

Late in March, I had the opportunity to join a Mount Lawu climb, organized by open trip provider Egadventure, or Ayokga Trip (@ayokga_trip). The founder, Gatot Teguh “Ega” Permadi, is a fully-licensed member of the Indonesian Mountain Guide Association (Asosiasi Pemandu Gunung Indonesia – “APGI”). 

Read: Cheerful & creepy scenes around Camp Papandayan

“I organize and guide trips for anyone – whether newbies who never ever set foot on a mountain before, or veterans who think of mountains like their own backyard. As a member of APGI, I emphasize safety and comfort in all of my climbs. All my climbers must bring proper equipment, and they must prepare themselves physically before coming up here. We also make sure that people keep things clean. They must prepare bags to keep their waste in, so that we can properly dispose of it when we get back down,” Ega said. 

The Temple Route 

The Candi Cetho route is interesting, because it contains bonuses for climbers, including local history lessons at the Base Camp. That’s only natural, as the Temple is a heritage site of the Majapahit Kingdom. This favorite destination in the Solo region was ordered cleared by King Brawijaya V in year 1397 of the Saka calendar, or 1475 CE, as a special site for holding ruwatan, or the ceremonial banishment of evil, along with rituals to exorcise misfortune. If you have spare time before embarking on your climb, try to browse around the Temple complex. You will be asked to wear a black-and-white piece of cloth around your middle, over your clothes, before you enter. 

Not far from Candi Cetho and the Base Camp gate is Candi Kethek, the site of a 15th-century megalithic pyramid. It is a set of four andesite terrace steps facing west, which at a glance looks similar to the Mayan pyramidal temples found in Guatemala. It is called Candi Kethek or the “Monkey Temple” because the place was located in a place with many monkeys. It is located at an altitude of 1,486 m above sea level, making it the highest pyramid-type ancient edifice located in Indonesia, followed by the one located in nearby Mount Padang in West Java (885 m asl).