Lake Toba in North Sumatra is set to host international race Toba Cross Run 2017, on Oct. 28. (JG Photo/Nadia Bintoro)

The Legends of Lake Toba Become a Literary Sensation

BY :NADIA BINTORO

JANUARY 12, 2015

What happens if you follow the wave and ended up in the breathtaking mountainous landscape of North Sumatra?

Many people come to North Sumatra for leisure. Most end up in the hectic capital of Medan. Visitors are heading out to enjoy the serene beauty of Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world. 

I, on the other hand, came with a slightly different mission. Following my obsession with “Supernova” — an Indonesian series of novels that shocked the literary world with its bold discourse on God and spirituality combined with pure science — I embarked on a tiring six-hour journey to the village of Sianjur Mula Mula; the birthplace of Gelombang, or The Wave, the main character of the most recent “Supernova” installment.

The “Supernova” series is no secret to avid readers of Indonesian literature. The first book “Ksatria, Putri dan Bintang Jatuh” (The Knight, the Princess and the Shooting Star), shocked the Indonesian literary scene which was then being inundated with cheesy romance and sensual chick lit. This first book boldly used complicated theories of quantum physics to explain life experiences, such as love and extramarital affairs. 

The series, which is planned to span six novels, emphasizes the idea of interconnectedness of all beings in the world. 

In the following books, a series of main characters are introduced. The series’s main characters are known by code names, which also become the title of each installment, including Akar (The Root), Petir (The Storm) and Partikel (The Particle). It was the fifth and most recent release Gelombang that brought me to this village in the middle of nowhere.

It is said in the book, Gelombang who goes day-to-day by his name Alfa Sagala, is a Batak man hailing from the old village of Sianjur Mula Mula at the very tip of the world. 

Embodying the characteristics of the Batak tribe, Alfa is a hardworking, intelligent and handsome man, who made his way to success as a Wall Street broker in New York. 

His success nevertheless is incomplete as he struggles with his inner demons and a series of supernatural dreams, which stop him from sleeping at night as the mystical creatures from his birthplace call on his inner self to fulfill his duty from a past life. 

It’s not a strange choice that Sianjur Mula Mula has been chosen as the setting for this mystical story. The place is indeed filled with mystical charm and power. Located at the feet of Pusuk Buhit — the hills on the side of the Bukit Barisan Mountains —the village is believed to be the of origin of all Batak people in the world.

As I landed in Medan, the journey has not even started yet. I have to embark on a long drive to Lake Toba and take a ferry to Samosir Island in the middle of the lake. On a normal day, the land travel can be done within four hours, but during busy times, it can last as long as six, which makes it a gruesome trip on its own. Travel services were readily available to drive me to Parapat, from where I took the local ferry to Tuk Tuk — the epicenter of tourist activity at Lake Toba.

Fine accommodations and villas line up along the shore in Tuk Tuk. I stayed in Tabo Cottage with its Batak Villa offering an authentic stay in a traditional antique Batak house amidst the lush greeneries. 

The cottage is located on the tranquil Toba shore overlooking the picturesque mountains. It’s tempting to just spend my whole holiday lazing on the hammock, savoring all this serene beauty and relax. But I’ve come with a mission. I need to see the home of Alfa Sagala.

From Tuk Tuk, Sianjur Mula Mula is a two-hour drive by motorcycle, which can be rented in many places. 

With a full spirit, I blazed through the chilly wind to reach Sianjur Mula Mula. The island is located 1,000 meters above sea level and Samosir has a cooler climate than Sumatra mainland. But the freezing ride was worth the effort, as I immersed myself in life on the picturesque island as I rode along. 

I traveled along the shore, passing several authentic Batak villages that remain untouched by the outside world. On my right, the view of lake opens up and the northern part of the caldera is both mesmerizing and calming. 

The road isn’t a smooth one. Potholes are scattered all over and winding turns demand an attentive mind to navigate. 

As I drove along, I savored scene that is so distinct to the Sumatran landscape. Lush rice fields passed next to green meadows and in some parts, intricate graveyards taking the shape of a sopo, or traditional Batak house, decorate the villages with their distinct curving roofs. This is indeed the beauty of Indonesia that can only be enjoyed on a road trip. 

Originally animist like the rest of Indonesia, Batak tribes place much importance on honoring their ancestors with great effort given to creating these luxurious graveyards for deceased family members.

Two hours later, the view started to change. Dense housing turned into hilly mountains. Soon, the road was wedged between tall lush valleys, rising above the roads like a surreal gate opening to the land unknown. Soon after, we reached Sianjur Mula Mula.

The village is quiet. The lonely road splits this tiny village. Local children greeted me as soon as I stop. They asked “What is your boru?” referring to a family name, which Batak people use to identify themselves. I told them that I’m not Batak but they still welcomed me with smiles. They took me on a tour around the village, and soon we reached the renowned Aek Sipitu Dai.

Aek Sipitu Dai translates to seven-flavored water. It’s a spring that branches into seven streams, each believed to have a distinct taste and healing powers to cure diseases. The spring is located downhill bordering the mountain range rising above the lush rice fields. 

There are different sections for men and women with people from around North Sumatra coming to bathe in the holy water. 

Legend has it that this is in this place where the offspring of the original Batak king met their soulmates, which gave birth to the Batak tribes of today.

Sianjur Mula Mula itself plays an important role in Batak culture. It is in this village the original Batak tribe is said to have first descended from heaven to earth. It is the origin of life in this world. 

Visiting Sianjur Mula Mula is regarded as coming home for Batak people. With its tranquil atmosphere and scenic landscape, I found it easy to consider this place home as well.

As the sun slowly set, I returned to Tuk Tuk. But I’m glad I finally saw the home of The Wave. It all flows from here. The home of the Batak people

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