Tombs and Megaliths: Samosir, North Sumatra

The main road in Samosir presents the traveler with two options. To the southeast lies the village of Tomok, while in the opposite direction are Ambarita and Simanindo. From both headings one can turn inland and climb to the highlands via trails less-traveled and be richly rewarded with spectacular views of the lake below.

Either direction is good for traveling. The lakeside road has high-roofed traditional wooden houses to both sides. These are working homes, not built for tourism, and many support lines of drying laundry and drying racks covered with lake-farmed fish.

All around a trekker are banana palm trees, bursts of multihued blossoms, and domesticated animals.

Tomok, these days little more than a one-road hamlet, is the main commercial center on the island’s east coast. It was also once the home to the Siallagan kingdom and is the final resting place of King Sidabutar, one of the last Batak animist kings.

The king’s tomb can be found 100 meters up a stone staircase to the west of the main road. Watched over by a circle of waist-high stone human figures, the tomb has the king’s likeness carved into it.

There are two other human figures accompanying the king, his bodyguard and a woman who legend says the king fruitlessly loved for many years.

Near the tomb, the old royal house still stands along with four other old traditional houses. The inhabitants of the house claim to be direct descendants of the king and guardians of the royal court and are not shy about asking for donations.

Ambarita, five kilometers to the northwest of Tuk Tuk, is a fine village to wander around. There are a few schools here full of waving children and a small morning market run by betel-nut-stained old women clad in traditional head dressings.

There is a collection of 300-year-old stone megalithic chairs and a chopping block in the east side of the village. Village leaders of the time sat in the chairs to try alleged wrongdoers. The stain-free chopping block is said to have been used as the base for beheadings.

The group of megaliths in the courtyard beyond the stone chairs and chopping block is where the convicted were trussed, carved, and rubbed with a punishing mixture of chili and garlic.

In this courtyard there also stands a row of old peaked houses. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to have lived just meters away from where the condemned were tortured.

An enticing harbor

From Ambarita, the paved road continues northwest, matching the twisting coastal contours of Samosir. Continue along this road for another four to five kilometers before stopping at the intersection that marks the tiny harbor of Simanindo.

Public minibuses ply the route between Tomok and Simanindo so it is always easy to catch a ride once the walking becomes tiring.
The traffic is sparse and the distances short so such traveling is not quite the white-knuckled adventure it often turns out to be in other sections of Indonesia

In Simanindo, walk from the intersection toward the lake. Immediately to the right are two rows of very well-preserved traditional houses facing each other across a dirt courtyard. At the far side of the courtyard stands the six-meter-tall tomb of King Sidauruk and his queen.

Stairs lead to its top, providing a panoramic view overlooking the harbor and the traditional houses. Back on the ground, a look beneath the houses is likely to reveal families of pigs and numerous scratching fowl.

A dozen steps further down the road, towards the harbor, sits a thriving traditional market offering Batak weavings, rows of cheap sunglasses, plastic kitchenware, wooden carvings, and bristly-haired slabs of forest boar.

For those who have been on the road too long there is a three-chaired outdoor barber shop.

After catching a returning ferry from Simanindo, a late lunch back in Tuk Tuk is the perfect way to cap off a lengthy morning’s-worth of exploration.

Check out Tabo Cottages’ vegetarian restaurant on Tuk Tuk’s far southeastern coast for world-class guacamole, cold beer, and tranquil views of rocky shores and distant floating fish farms.

Poppy’s Fish Farm on the peninsula’s northern tip owns perhaps the best view of any of Tuk Tuk’s restaurants and serves delightfully cooling curries along with fish from its own pond.

The service on Tuk Tuk is suitably paced to afford even the most tightly-wound soul the time required to loosen up.

This is the experience of Toba, with its expansive views, value-priced quality fare, and relaxed atmosphere that most come for.

However, one must be careful not to ignore the rest of Samosir and to remember that this non-island island possesses its own hidden worlds and cultures far removed and dramatically different than that found in the rest of Indonesia.

Andrew Greene