High up in the mountains of central Papua at an altitude of 1,600 meters above sea level, hemmed in by steep green mountain walls, lies the stunningly beautiful Baliem valley, home of the Dani tribe.
Baliem valley is 72 km. long, and 15 km to 31 km wide in places. It is cut by the Baliem river, which has its source in the northern Trikora mountain, cascading into the Grand Valley, to meander down and further rushing south dropping 1,500 meters to become a large muddy river that slowly empties into the Arafura Sea.
The first outsider to discover the valley was American Richard Archbold, who, on 23 June 1938 from his seaplane, suddenly sighted this awesome valley dotted with neat terraced green fields of sweet potatoes, set among craggy mountain peaks. This is Indonesia’s own Shangri-La.
Only recently emerged from the Stone Age, the Dani are known as the “gentle warriors”. With their simple tools of stone and bone, they nonetheless, managed to sculpt green fields that hug the hills, where they grow root crops, and raise pigs. They have also built outposts and lookout towers to defend their valley from hostile tribes.
Because of the fertile soil and their agricultural skills, the Dani together with the sub-tribes of the Yali and the Lani, are, therefore, the most populous in Papua, living scattered in small communities near their gardens among the steep mountain slopes. Today, they also cultivate bananas, taro and yams, ginger, tobacco and cucumbers.
The men’s and women’s huts (locally called the honai) have thick thatched roofs, which keep the huts cool during the day and warm during the cold nights.
By trekking, you can witness traditional ceremonies, traditional markets and the way of life of the Dani. There are a very limited number of restaurants inside the Baliem Valley. Your tour guide can bargain with the Dani people to provide you with simple meals. It’s strongly advised that visitors bring their own meals and snacks during trekking through and around Baliem Valley. Meals and snacks can be bought at grocery stores in Wamena.
In this lush Baliem valley is a vast open ground where the Baliem Festival is held each year. More than a thousand people flock to see the mock war held by the Dani and the surrounding tribes.
The captivating Baliem Festival is held on August around 10 – 17 August every year. At the Festival, traditional dances, pig races, staged tribal wars and races are held. Today, the Baliem Festival is one of the main reasons tourists visit Papua. It’s a magical fiesta, say most who have experienced it.
Foreigners must obtain a travel permit, known as Surat Keterangan Jalan to get access into the interior of Papua. You can obtain the Surat Keterangan Jalan at major police stations, such as at Jayapura, Merauka, Timika, Biak, Nabire, Monokwari and other major cities.
The permit will depend on your request, lasting from 1 week to 1 month or longer. Prepare copies of your passport, recent photograph and list of places you wish to visit. It is easy to obtain the Surat Keterangan Jalan, because the officers are friendly and helpful.