Words & Images By: Nadge Ariffin
Among the numerous attractions of Bengkulu Province in western Sumatra, Indonesia, the Seven Colours Princess Wells is certainly one of the most iconic. Indeed as a collection of multiple sized natural springs, ponds or little lakes, each in a different colour, it is unique even in the whole of Sumatra island.
The Seven Colours Princess Wells’ location is nestled in the interior hills of Desa Rimbo Pengadang village, Air Dingin locality, at the border between two regencies of Kabupaten Rejang Lebong and Kabupaten Lebong. The place is about 30km from the nearest town, Curup, the regency district capital of Kabupaten Rejang Lebong, or about 100km from Fatmawati Airport, the main airport in Bengkulu Province at the provincial capital Kota Bengkulu. Long-distance buses from Bengkulu city terminal and then local ‘angkutan desa’ vans are available. It is best to go in with a local guide, which can be arranged through a travel agent or if you don’t have one, just ask around at the village.
To get to the wells from the village, be prepared for a good hike through the wooded hills passing by villagers’ houses – some still traditional on stilts – with farmers working on their plantations and fresh streams along the way. The ‘wells’ are actually a group of hot mineral springs and ponds covering about 45 hectares. Of the seven coloured wells, three are small but identifiable as yellow, brown and black. Another four are larger and these are the blue, red, grey and white coloured ponds.
Be careful, since they are wellsprings of volcanic-related formation, the waters range from lightly tepid to extremely scalding hot. You don’t even want to dip a foot in, let alone bathe in the innocent-looking but deadly hot waters. In fact, my guide went well-prepared and used the boiling hot water to make us instant Indomie noodles!
Imagine just you and nature in the steamy tropical but cool hills, with cloudy vapours and gurgling pools of liquids rising from deep within the earth; and best of all each pool is of a different colour! It’s surreal and even mystical. You simply don’t find this combination anywhere else in the world. As I understand it, the individual mix of trace minerals or natural chemicals at different temperatures in each hot spring are what cause the varying colours of the ponds.
If you enter the area from where I did, you’d first see the blue pond, which is about 9 to 11 meters in diameter. This is a bluish tinged wellspring, and in itself is already amazing. Scattered around this blue pond you find the three smaller hot wells, coloured black, brown and yellow. I was beginning to think that I’m on another planet, maybe Vulcan.
To see the other and bigger ponds, follow the stream from the blue pond for about 100-plus meters and you arrive at the red pond. It’s bigger than the blue one and has even more white vapours rising. I half expect to see a being with pointed ears around…
But there’s more. Getting to the next pond is a mini adventure in itself. From the red pond, you have to traverse a somewhat treacherous sloped track that can be slippery when wet for a few hundred meters more. You will be rewarded with a view of the grey pond, which is of small-medium size compared to the earlier ones, about 4 or 5 meters wide.
Finally a little way off is the ultimate and grand white pond, rather like a white mini-lake. This one is at least 50 or 60 meters across or even longer, and even has cracked earth around it. That’s it, I felt like I had gone through a hidden jungle space warp somewhere along the way and was now standing on an alien planet of weird-coloured ponds and steam everywhere. Only the non-human beings that were ‘supposed’ to be there were missing. Hmmm, the locals actually say the beings are there, but you don’t see them. My hair stood on end!
In fact, legend has it that the place’s name Telaga Puteri indeed comes from a mystical being associated with the area; a princess of which the area is part of her realm or playground. In the local Bengkulu Malay language or dialect, puteri means princess.
It is said that it is taboo to mention the name of the princess while standing there. If she is disturbed, a mighty geyser might actually shoot up at the white pond. Well, if you want to see the geyser, then mention her name at your own risk; when the scalding geyser water hits and disintegrates you there and then, don’t say you haven’t been warned!