Bali’s best-known Bali Aga village (pop. 600) nestles under a precipitous crater wall on the eastern shore of Lake Batur. You can walk to Trunyan from Buahan or travel by boat across the lake from Toya Bungkah, taking a motorized boat or canoe from Kedisan. Boats seating seven people leave when full from Kedisan’s pier and cost Rp5100 per person; charter boats cost Rp36,000-43,000 for a maximum of seven people.

The Bali Aga are the island’s oldest inhabitants, aboriginals who lived here long before the Majapahit invasion in the 14th century. The first direct evidence of Indic influence on Bali dates from an early copper plate, inscribed A.D. 882-914, referring to the founding of a temple to Batara Da Tonta in Trunyan. His title, Batara, indicates that the Bali Aga’s most important ancestor figure was incorporated into the Hindu religion.

Legend has it the village was established on the spot where an ancient taru menyan tree stood-thus the town’s name. It is said that in ancient times the lake goddess Dewi Danu was lured down from heaven by the lovely scent of this tree. The taru menyan is the lair of underworld spirits distracted only by corpses, which may explain the people’s practice of neither burying nor cremating the dead.

Today Trunyan is a real tourist trap, and you may not get to experience much more than villagers clamoring for money. Still, the setting is spectacular-green mountain backdrop and deep blue lake, mist-shrouded Gunung Batur rising up dramatically on the other side. A path from Trunyan zigzags up the inside face of the crater wall on the southeast slope of Gunung Abang.

Culturally and ethnically outside the mainstream, Trunyan provides evidence of how Bali’s earliest people lived. The inbred inhabitants are mostly fishermen, their harsh expressions mirroring a harsh life. Women wearing warm red kain pound padi in giant stone mortars. Although they plant cabbage, onions, and corn in plots near the lakeshore, the Bali Aga have no rice fields. Since ancient times they’ve relied on begging to supplement their meager diet. Much of the village-houses, walls, alleyways-has been cut crudely out of volcanic rock. Without trees and gardens, their homes present a bleak impression, unlike any other village on Bali. Modern Indonesia is now making heavy inroads, with the construction of new brick, concrete, and zinc-roofed buildings. Except for a massive 1,100-year-old milkwood tree in the center of the village, there’s little sense any longer of Trunyan being an old village. The few traditional architectural oddities include special boys’ and girls’ clubhouses (bale truna and bale daha), a pavilion where married women meet (bale loh), and a great wooden ferris wheel put in motion during ceremonial occasions. The giant contraption is revolved by foot power. Trunyan’s bale agung, where married men sit in council, is one of the largest traditional buildings on Bali.

In contrast to the Bali Aga village of Tengenan with its numerous craftspeople, old interesting buildings, and streets where you are free to stroll and look, visitors to Trunyan are not made to feel welcome. Except for the temple, which seems to take up half the village, you don’t really see the ancient ways of the Bali Aga, and there are a lot of hustlers around. A guide will attach himself to you and expect a fee of at least Rp5000. Most visitors just get out of the boat, pay Rp5000 for stepping ashore, go up to a temple (also Rp5000) which Westerners are not allowed to enter, then march right back down to the boat again for a trip to the cemetery (another Rp5000) in Kuburan which is around a rocky point a little north of Trunyan and only accessible by boat.