A full 100 kilometers in length and 30 kilometers in width, Lake Toba, the world's largest volcanic lake, is the cornerstone of North Sumatran tourism.
After driving 176 kilometers to the south from Medan City, the first place we will visit in Lake Toba is the Huta Bolon Museum. Founded in 1969 in the village of Simanindo on the island of Samosir, which sits in the middle of the expansive lake, the Huta Bolon Museum is the ideal springboard for getting to know a little about the local Batak culture. This open-air museum is divided into two areas. The outer area contains the graves of the areas various kings, as well as a traditional house filled with a collection of Batak heritage artifacts. The inner area contains a traditional village surrounded by fortifications and bamboo fencing, which has only one gate in and out. The houses in this village are hundreds of years old and in the centre lies a large courtyard, which is often used for traditional celebrations.
Next up is the Sigale-gale Puppet Performance. Ropendi Sidabutar, a pangurdot (puppet master) from the Sigale-gale Sadar Group, believes that Sigale-gale was first performed around 350 years ago. As the story goes, a court nobleman named Raja Rahat lost a son in battle. To help him cope with his grief, traditional elders created a wooden Sigale-gale puppet as an incarnation of the deceased son. Over time, the status of Sigale-gale grew in local culture and the puppets were given the role of adopted children in families without any sons. The puppets’ main duty is to pray for the spirits of departed parents, as Bataks believe that the spirits of people who die without leaving any sons will not find peace in the eternal world. Sigale-gale performances can still be enjoyed in the village of Tomok on Samosir.
The best time to visit Lake Toba is during the Lake Toba Festival. It is one of North Sumatra’s biggest tourism events, celebrating the conservation of environment, its community, traditional cultures, sports, and, above all, reminding people of how Lake Toba was once the source of pride for North Sumatra, indeed even the whole of Indonesia.