Sex Mountain in Indonesia attracts thousands of Muslim pilgrims, who believe having sex out of wedlock at this holy site will bring them wealth and good fortune. Dateline follows them as they take part in this unusual ritual.
Married men, cheating housewives, government officials and prostitutes revelling in a mass ritual of adultery and sex. This is what happens on Gunung Kemukus in Indonesia, otherwise known as Sex Mountain.
“I come here to seek good fortune,” regular visitor Mardiyah told me as I follow her journey on tonight’s Dateline at 9.30pm on SBS ONE.
She is one of thousands of pilgrims who journey to a mysterious hilltop in Java to perform this ancient ritual. Most of those who take part in the ritual consider themselves devout Muslims.
There are several versions of the mythic tale that date back to the 16th century. Legend has it a young Indonesian Prince Pangeran Samodro had an affair with his stepmother.
They ran away and hid on Gunung Kemukus. One day, while mid-coitus, they were caught, killed and buried atop the mountain. It's now an Islamic shrine where this sex ritual takes place.
The story goes: pilgrims must copulate on the mountain every 35 days for seven consecutive times and blessings and wealth should come their way.
But for the magic to work and the money to flow, it’s believed their sex partner for the ritual should not be their spouse.
I meet Gepeng, who like many others has travelled hundreds of kilometres from across the archipelago to get to sex mountain.
“You go there to look for a different partner, not the one you have at home. Historically that's how it works," he said.
Another man travelling with him explained: “I don’t tell my wife. There’s no way my wife will find out.”
Pilgrims first pray and make offerings at the grave. They then must wash themselves at sacred springs nearby and once that's been completed, they have sex.
This ritual isn't seen anywhere else in Indonesia or the rest of the Muslim world. It’s a very Javanese blend of religious ideals with Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist influences.
Professor Keontjoro Soeparno, a social psychologist from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, has been studying the ritual for more than 30 years.
“It’s a strange thing. A paradox: there’s a mosque, shrine - but outside – there’s a place for having illicit sex,” he said. "The fact is - it's hypocritical."
It's impossible to ignore that the ritual is riddled with contradictions. Islam views adultery as a sin, so the 'out of wedlock' sex clearly goes against the mainstream law of the religion.
Karaoke bars and ‘sex shacks’ line the hillside. Some are privately owned, others built and funded by the local government. But they’re loathe to publicly admit there is any sex going on at Gunung Kemukus.
"Pilgrims should come here with pure hearts and clean bodies,” a gatekeeper employed to look after the mountain shrine said.
"We’ve never said the sex is a condition of the pilgrimage. It’s what they want to do."
The territory has become prime real estate for commercial sex workers. Professor Keontjoro estimates about half of the women who show up now are prostitutes.
“The government facilitated the rise of prostitution. The Islamic religion forbids all this, but the government would rather not know about that. Because they’re more interested in profit – they leave their religion behind," he said.
Some say if you pay for sex the ritual doesn't work. The reality is the local government makes a sizeable profit from sex mountain. They charge the stalls to set up shop and the pilgrims pay a toll to enter the site.
With up to 8,000 pilgrims arriving on the busiest nights and an entry fee of around 5000 rupiah, or 50 cents, a time, it's big business in Indonesia.
So it’s not surprising officials and religious leaders turn a blind eye.
The question remains though – how do we know this ancient tradition actually works. Does sex with a stranger really boost your bank account?
Mardiyah genuinely believes it does, attributing sex mountain and its spiritual powers to her recent success.
“Praise be to God, after coming here, even though I have a few debts, my business is making a bit of a profit. Even though it’s small, I still give thanks that I’ve received blessings from here,” she said to me.
I don’t know how willing I am to believe in the legacy of Prince Samodro and his stepmother lover, but I can understand the attachment to the myth.