Bledug Kuwu mud volcano
Now here's an obscure sight you won't find in the usual guidebooks at all: a highly active mud volcano in Central Java, Indonesia
, whose bubbly flatulence is definitely a curious sight to behold. And it has dark secrets too, apparently.
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
Mud volcanoes are an odd natural phenomenon, one more often found around the Caspian Sea, especially in Azerbaijan
) but also in other seismically and volcanically active zones elsewhere on Earth (see also Iceland
), and Indonesia
scores top marks on that front all round, of course, so it has a few of these bubbly beasts too.
The much better known mud volcano on Java is the one that led to the disastrous Sidoarjo mudflow
, and it's still not entirely clear whether that is a man-made catastrophe or a natural disaster (or both). The mud volcano at Bledug Kuwu, on the other hand, is most definitely a natural phenomenon – though a very odd one indeed.
There are constant mud eruptions between every ten seconds to every three minutes or so. The big bursting mud bubbles releasing plumes of white steam are a fascinating spectacle to behold. In addition, there are also local myths of some sort attached to the site. I can never remember such esoteric fantasy details well … but I think it may have involved some kind of dragon with supernatural powers.
But the question in our context is: is it a dark site in reality too? Well yes, even if the grimy, dark-brown muddy splattering alone doesn't count (I think it does), there is also a tragic side to the site. At least that's what a YouTube video I discovered recently suggests (find it here
– external link, opens in new window). It shows the rescue of a woman being dragged out from the muddy mess by means of a rope and pole and a with a guy assisting her, also chest-deep in the muck. Once on somewhat safer (though still slushy) turf, she's rolling around in bitter agony, howling and weeping … the video file is called “tragedi” so there must be some sinister background to this scene.
UPDATE: I've just been informed by somebody from the region who contacted me after reading this chapter and who pointed out that it was actually an attempted suicide. The guy intervened and after she was on safe ground again she was eventually talked out of it by the people around. What an exotic way to try and take your own life!!!
Anyway, it certainly makes it quite clear that the mud volcano at Bledug Kuwu isn't just an entertaining bit of geothermal fun, it is actually dangerous to approach too. That also explains why the site is guarded by local guides who instruct visitors about where to tread safely and where NOT to go.
The whole site is about 2,000 feet (600m) in diameter, with one main area of activity roughly in the centre, where the wet mud is spouting from the earth in those big gassy bubbles. You have to keep a good distance from that source (about 20 yards). To the west and east of the main mud pit there are smaller bubbling mud geysers where the ground is also unstable and should not be trodden on. The rest of the area is solid enough underfoot, but visitors should still be careful and follow the instructions of the local guide. In some places you can feel the ground being wobbly, so not yet fully solidified.
The site may come with a certain amount of danger, but it also brings economic benefits for the locals, not only in the form of paying visitors. The mud, or rather the water that comes with it, is used for salt extraction. Allegedly it is very high quality salt, “tasty” salt and so it is sold from the site as a local speciality. I didn't buy any, though, since my salt consumption at home is pretty low and I already have too much of the stuff in my larder. But it would make for a pretty unusual souvenir.
What there is to see: Mud, mud and more mud splattering, ejecting and splashing in a mesmerizing spectacle of (un)earthly powers from the underground. It may not be for everyone but I for one found it absolutely fab to watch.
After we arrived at the site (paying our pittance of an admission fee), a local guide took our little group of three towards a couple of spots from where it is safe to watch the mud bubbles.
The smaller bubbles in the western part of the site are less spectacular, but burst from the ground in a wide range of different locations – at least a dozen or so, in quite unpredictable patterns, interrupted by periods of zero activity.
The real star of the whole show is that big main mud volcano pit where hot bubbles bulge up and break into clouds of steam at regular intervals. At the time of my visit that was very frequent, about every 10-15 seconds and at times there were even double bubbles forming simultaneously. They mostly just bulge up until they reach breaking point, when they form crazy patterns of mud that then splashes back to the ground making the whole mud pit shudder like the blubber of a really fat walrus, while the gas and steam released from the bubbles form brief white plumes that quickly dissipate into the air.
Occasionally the mud ejections take on even messier styles, like ring-like spluttering or even single vertical ejections up to 30 feet (10m) into the air (see the photos).
This degree of unpredictability of the eruptions makes this mud geyser even more addictive to watch. At least that's what I found. My wife and my guide seemed somewhat less fascinated by all this. This suggests that a site like this will not be for everyone. Some may find it too boring to even contemplate making the considerable detour to see this. But if you are like me and easily get fascinated by geothermal phenomena of any sort and enjoy some rather off-the-beaten-track bizarreness, then it should definitely be worth it.
in the Grobogan region of Central Java, Indonesia
, some 15 miles (25 km) east of the provincial capital of Purwodadi, and ca. 60 miles (90 km) from the north-Java coastal city of Semarang, or roughly 45 miles (75 km) north from the cultural hotspot that is Surakarta (aka Solo).
Access and costs: rather remote, so not easy to get to; a minimal admission fee is charged.
given the location so well off the usual tourist track, it can prove tricky to get to this exotic site individually by public transport. When I visited the place it was as part of a longer guided tour of Central Java (see under Indonesia
), so I had a car and driver plus guide to look after the navigating. But even he had trouble finding the site and had to ask for directions several times as we were getting closer. Whether GPS navigation would have helped I cannot say (I never used any in Indonesia, and neither did any of the drivers I had during my three-and-a-half-weeks trip around the country, so I can't even say whether that's an option at all … maybe it's like China
where even GPS tagging in photography is forbidden).
At the site there is a gate, at the northern edge, where you have to pay a minimal admission fee of 2000 IDR (the equivalent of just a few cents); the local guide taking you to the mud viewing spots should be given a small tip in addition.
I cannot say anything about official opening times, but the site is fenced in and gated, so you should go at a likely time for it to be open (i.e. not at lunchtime or on public holidays).
Time required: depends on how mesmerized you get with watching one mud bubble after the other bursting. I spent about half an hour at the site and could have stayed longer (but it was getting late so we had to push on). Others may have had enough after just a few minutes ...
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Indonesia
There's another mud spill less than a mile (1.3 km) to the east and yet another smaller one about a mile to the south, but neither offer the show of those bursting mud bubbles.
Otherwise there isn't anything of great interest to the dark tourist (or indeed any type of tourist) in the vicinity. You may find a natural “Mrapen eternal flame” mentioned on local tourism websites, but that site doesn't seem to be much to shout about. Just a tiny little gas flame beneath some pieces of rock – surrounded by kitschy over-commodification to a sports theme (as torches are sometimes lit here on the occasion of athletic events such as the Pekan Olahraga Nasional).
The nearest other properly dark site covered on this website would be Mt Merapi
some 60 miles (100 km) to the south-west, one of Java's most active volcanoes and well worth the trip. But you'll need private transport to make it there from Bledug Kuwu in any reasonable amount of time.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
nothing much in the immediate vicinity – the nearest mainstream tourism hotspot would be Solo, Yogyakarta and nearby Borobudur and Prambanan – see under Merapi
> non-dark combinations, and in general under Indonesia
- Bledug Kuwu 01 - guard sitting guard
- Bledug Kuwu 02 - making sure nobody steps onto the soft mud
- Bledug Kuwu 03 - bubble
- Bledug Kuwu 04 - rising
- Bledug Kuwu 05 - bursting
- Bledug Kuwu 06 - letting off steam
- Bledug Kuwu 07 - splatter
- Bledug Kuwu 08 - sometimes two bubbles come up
- Bledug Kuwu 09 - double venting
- Bledug Kuwu 10 - and the other one bursts too
- Bledug Kuwu 11 - more mud bubbling in the distance
- Bledug Kuwu 12 - distant bubble bursting
- Bledug Kuwu 13 - salt collecting
- Bledug Kuwu 14 - big splatter
- Bledug Kuwu 15 - mud ejection
- Bledug Kuwu 16 - mud ejection
- Bledug Kuwu 17 - mud ejection high into the air
- Bledug Kuwu 18 - mud ejection falling
- Bledug Kuwu 19 - small-scale commodification
- Bledug Kuwu 20 - figure by the entrance
- Bledug Kuwu 21 - sunset over the mud volcano