North Tapanuli: Sumatra's Hidden GemArchipelago Diaries
Amid the stunning sceneries of North Sumatra, one area remains relatively hidden in the green and lush landscape of the region. There’s more than Lake Toba, if you ask the proud locals. Why not discover North Tapanuli?
Among the seven regencies that surround the popular tourist destination Lake Toba is North Tapanuli, located on the ridges of Barisan Mountains and inhabited mostly by the clans of Batak Toba. Earlier this year, as host of the Lake Toba Festival, North Tapanuli welcomed throngs of tourists. Today, it continues to attract curious visitors wanting to explore the beauty of its nature and the warmth of its people.
With direct flights to Silangit Airport from Jakarta, Medan and Batam, getting to North Tapanuli is ever more convenient these days. The drive to Muara, the district that directly borders Lake Toba, usually takes 20 minutes—although given the beautiful view of the green hills along the way, as well a glimpse of the Sibandang Island—travelers may opt to make frequent stops. (Note: Sibandang Island is also known as the second largest island in Lake Toba after Samosir and a major producer of mangoes).
Anyway, it’s in Muara where travellers can find plenty of accommodation options, although those heading to Lake Toba may also opt to stop by in Parapat, where they then then hop on a ferry to get to Samosir Island.
A much recommended first destination for tourists in North Tapanuli is Hutaginjang, which in Bataknese means highland or high village. Located merely 11 kilometres from the airport and with a stunning view of Lake Toba, Hutaginjang is a favourite location for gliding sports. From here too, one can get a good glimpse of major tourist attractions in the area, such as Tugu Aritonang (Aritonang Monument) and Salib Kasih (Cross of Love), one of the most sought-after spiritual tourist destinations for Christians in Indonesia.
With its fervently Christian population, Salib Kasih is a source of local pride for the people of North Tapanuli. The location of the cross itself marked the very spot where German Lutheran missionary Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen first prayed when he arrived there in 1862. Nommensen is widely known for his role in introducing Christianity to the Bataknese and translating the Bible into the Batak language.
Getting to the cross requires a bit of hiking a pine forest, starting in Siatas Barita. On the way, several shelters have been built where the weary can take a rest, enjoy the fresh mountain air or chat with the friendly locals. Placards with biblical verses are placed throughout the path. Once you get to the top, the view is absolutely breathtaking: the regional capital of Tarutung and its housing settlements, the overlay of pines and rice paddies.
Services at Salib Kasih are held regularly by different Church denominations. Keep in mind this area is usually extremely packed during Easter and Christmas.
After visiting Salib Kasih, stop by the natural soda hot springs in Parbubu Village, where locals believe that a dip in the hot water has the power to heal skin diseases and rid the body of any pain. The best time to visit the hot springs would be in the morning.
A similar attraction can be found around six kilometres from Tarutung: the Sipoholon Hot Springs. Set against the backdrop of lush mountains, these hot springs make a highly popular destination.
What’s amazing about North Tapanuli is the fact that the area somehow manages to retain its tranquility, despite all the incoming visitors and the booming tourism industry. Fresh, cool air and a relaxed attitude of the locals are a given, natural beauty all around—all the more reason one should pay a visit to North Tapanuli.