Geopark Batu Runciang Sawahlunto, Beyond Mines and Misty Peaks

The long ride from Padang had tired me, but as our vehicle crested the hill into Sawahlunto, I felt my energy renew at the first glimpse of jagged cliffs in the distance. While this small town was renowned for its mines, I had come seeking signs of older magic in the land.


It was Batu Runciang that really captured my attention in Sawahlunto. 

As I gazed upon its towering sandstone cliffs, weathered over eons into bizarre shapes and silhouettes, I was instantly reminded of the ancient troll statues said to guard Durin's Way in the mines of Moria. 

Moria (or Khazad-dûm) is a vast ancient subterranean, mining dwarf kingdom located under the Misty Mountains in J.R.R Tolkien's Middle Earth. One of the most famous parts of these mines was Durin's Way, which was the main road leading from the East Gate entrance toward the great halls at the city's heart.

It looks like a dwarf holding a bouquet of flowers, doesn't it?

Looking at the sheer scale of those rocks at Batu Runciang, I was impressed. Their sharp, jagged silhouettes—some towering as enormous outcrops—appear frozen in time, as if hulking stone giants captured in their last moments. *Hence the name*

One forms a colossal god-like figure overlooking the valley, making me wonder if this was once the lair of a Balrog 🪨☠️

Smaller rock formations clustered together reminded me of the carvings of dwarven statues outside an immense underground complex described in Tolkien's works.

Much like the famed sculptures were carved to stand guard over the bustling dwarf kingdom below the Misty Mountains, the brooding stone giants of Batu Runciang appear to oversee the historic mining township of Sawahlunto stretched out below them. For it was here in centuries past that colonial mining operations first unearthed the riches lying dormant within the earth, extracting vast reserves of black coal that would fuel progress around the region. 

Overlooking the mountain from the height of Batu Runciang

A historical map of the once-thriving coal mining industry in Sawahlunto

Just as the dwarven delvers of Khazad-dum were drawn to excavate wealth from their subterrane, so too were the Dutch colonizers in Sawahlunto lured by prospects of prosperity under these towering outcrops and crags. The coal was first discovered by Dutch Engineer Willem Hendrik de Greve in 1868. Since then, infrastructure development went hand in hand with the exploitation of coal for mining purposes.

The mine workers come from various regions in Indonesia, such as Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Bali, Nusa Tenggara, and Maluku. There were also people of Tionghoa descent among the workers.

Coal mining significantly transformed the rural landscape of Sawahlunto into an industrial site. It also formed the small town into a multicultural space where people from different religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds coexisted.

After Indonesia gained independence, this mine was managed by various state-owned enterprises (BUMN), such as the Direktorat Pertambangan (1945-1961), PN Tambang Batubara Ombilin (1961-1968), PN Tambang Batubara (1968-1984), Perum Tambang Batubara (1984-1990), and PT Tambang Batubara Bukit Asam (1990-present).

Archived photos at Museum SItus Lubang Tambang Mbak Soero, depicting mining workers stood on railway that distributed coals from Sawahlunto to Emmahaven Harbor (Teluk Bayur)

The Ombilin Sawahlunto Coal Mine in Sawahlunto is one of Indonesia's cultural heritage sites recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2019. Even now as coal remains part of the regency's industrial past, the weathered sentinels stand as a silent tribute to the heritage hewn from the land they have watched over for all time.

Batu Runciang is surely a place where fantasy and geology meet. Its spellcasting landscapes will stir the imagination of any Tolkien fan like myself, venturing to its misty domain in West Sumatra 🗻🏔️✨


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