Kelimutu, Flores, Indonesia: Where the water changes its clothes


Kelimutu splendourIt had been raining all week. The sky was completely blanketed in grey. But we took a chance and decided to visit the crater. I and my wife, Lobo, had only this chance to see the coloured lakes of Kelimutu in the island of Flores in Indonesia.

As we climbed, the mist got denser. We could barely see what lay ahead. Two French tourists were coming down. They saw nothing and complained in utter frustration. The local Lio tribe believe that visitors hoping to get a clear sky when visiting Kelimutu should bring small gifts for Konde Ratu, the guardian spirit. We realized in horror that we had little to offer.

But as soon as we crossed the park entrance, the sky began to clear up. Konde Ratu had accepted the entrance fee as our gift. Bit by bit, as we climbed higher, we could see more around us. Soon the first rays of sunlight hit our faces. We screamed in delight, “Yes, Mr. Sun! You can do it.” We ran to the lakes; two kids chasing the last remaining packet of candy in the world.

Mr. Sun kept trying his best to sweep out the mess in the sky and when we arrived at the first lake, there was just a candyfloss sized cloud reluctantly climbing out of the crater. From the viewing point, guarded by an annoying red railing, we saw the swimming pool sized turquoise lake. It was a little unimpressive for its reputation, but we were exhilarated more at the fortunate turn of events. Restless, we bumped into every inch of the railing to catch a view from all angles, like two urchins trying to get rid of the ice slipped through our clothes.

Tucked just above one corner of the first lake, was the second, another turquoise water body. Scraggy and lifeless rocky walls in red enclosed the lakes. We rushed to the highest point from where all the three lakes would be visible, afraid that the sun would set soon. The third lake was a bowl of Coca Cola. The sun glared from behind its walls making it difficult to keep looking at it for long. It was alive. It held the position of power in this rotating arrangement among the three, determined by the movement of the sky around the sun.

The Lio call this lake Tiwu Ata Mbupu. The first lake from the park entrance is called Tiwu Ata Polo. The third lake is called Tiwu Nua Muri Koohi Fah. Scientists simply call them by the acronyms TAM, TAP and TiN.

The Lio believe that the spirits of people who die at an old age go to reside at TAM, of those who die young go to TiN, and of those who had been evil are condemned to TAP. Konde Ratu assigns the lakes to each spirit. TAP didn’t seem to be a worse place than TAM or TiN except for that ugly red railing around it.

The colours of the lakes had been different a few years back. The turquoise lakes had then been red and green. As their water levels change because of rainfall, evaporation and seepage, different salts from the rocks dissolve in varying concentrations, thus giving the lakes a change of coating every few years. The Lio believe that the lakes change colour with the changing moods of the resident ancestral spirits.

Suddenly, we realized that we were the only ones at Kelimutu. We shut our mouth, having congratulated ourselves enough for our prescient planning. The silence of the place, alive and encroaching, enveloped us. We listened to this mysteriously interrupted silence. We heard the soft roar of an army of approaching wind. Muffled explosions were happening inside the lakes from time to time. Perhaps something went inside the turquoise lake? Ripples, here and there; something came up? As shelters for spirits, the lakes are extremely crowded spaces and these upwellings are testimonial to the constant jostling that happened inside. Giant shadows moved back and forth and the lakes underneath gained new shapes with them. They were changing colours with the fading light.

Behind the walls of the lakes, someone was pulling over a massive blanket of white clouds. Soon, we were sitting on a rock island jutting out from an endless sea of clouds. A pall of mist began touching our faces like a blind old lady. We felt each needle point of moisture twinkling in the sunlight. A rainbow appeared from nowhere and as if it was already not enough, halos appeared over our soft shadows. We were tempted to say “I love you” to each other. But words were superfluous in this timeless expanse, watched over by the ancestors.

About the Author: Shivaji Das comes from the north-eastern province of Assam in India, presently working as a management consultant in Singapore. Shivaji’s writings have been published in various magazines such as Time, Venture Mag, Hack Writers. He is the author of Journeys with the Caterpillar: Travelling through the Mystical Islands of Flores and Sumba, Indonesia.

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