Indonesians always find new ideas for celebrating the Aug. 17 Independence Day. While the most common celebration is a simple raising of the national flag, it has become a tradition for people to do it in extreme places, such as the top of a mountain.
In a vast archipelago that stretches 5,245 kilometers along the equator, Indonesian thrill-seekers who want to raise the flag on high are spoilt with options with 500 mountains, of which 127 are active volcanoes and 22 are showing increased signs of activity.
Miena Muzdalifah, a mountain climber from Bandung, West Java, had her first high-altitude flag-raising moment in 2018 on Mount Hawu, a limestone mountain in Padalarang, west of Bandung. It was part of a simultaneous flag-hoisting ceremony in four compass directions that surround Bandung that her group, the Bandung Mountain Climbers Community, held last year.
“There was a special sense of pride to be able to raise the red-and-white (flag) at a high altitude. We had to undergo a certain process to read the limestone cliff’s summit,” Miena said.
“It was a great feeling and it boosted my sense of nationalism and patriotism,” she added.
The high enthusiasm to celebrate Independence Day by climbing a mountain, especially the most popular ones and those located in national parks, has resulted in such an excess of climbers that park managements have to impose quotas. The limit fills up so quickly that climbers have to book online far ahead of their trip.
Mount Rinjani in Lombok Island, a 3,726-meter-high active volcano and the second-highest mountain in Indonesia, imposed a quota of 500 climbers per day. The restriction took effect after all four trails on the mountain were reopened for climbers on June 14. They had been closed following the 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck the island on July 2018.
Sudiyono, head of Mount Rinjani National Park, said the mountain is also popular with foreign hikers, who have made up 80 percent of its climbers since the reopening.
Last year, rescuers had to evacuate 1,226 climbers, including 696 foreigners, who were stranded in various spots on the mountain, including its iconic crater lake, Segara Anak, due to landslides triggered by the powerful quake.
“It was always very crowded with climbers celebrating independence each year. After the earthquake, we have been improving our climbing procedures. We want to maintain manageable numbers for safety and for conservation purposes,” Sudiyono said.
Rahman Mukhlis, secretary-general of the Indonesia Mountain Guide Association, has had the chance to celebrate Independence Day on two of Indonesia’s seven highest summits, Mount Rinjani and Mount Latimojong, a 3,478-meter-high non-volcanic mountain in South Sulawesi.
“When we climb mountains, we get to know more about our country. We gain a better understanding of our socio-cultural environment by interacting with the locals and seeing first-hand our country’s beautiful nature. We see a different view of the country from above,” Rahman said.
Dody Permana, a long-time mountain climber, had his Independence Day moment years ago on Java’s highest mountain, Mount Semeru, which sits 3,676 meters above sea level in East Java province and is one of Indonesia’s seven highest summits.
Mount Semeru used to host thousands of climbers for Independence Day celebrations. But since May, the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park has imposed a quota of 600 climbers per day after months of closure following intense rainfall at the height of the rainy season in January.
“The Independence Day holiday is always a good opportunity to climb together with a group of friends. It felt heroic when we had a flag-raising ceremony in an unusual place, such as the top of a mountain,” Dody said.
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