Jeevitha Brama Kumar reminisces about the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park leg of her journey across Java, Indonesia.
It was meant to be an impromptu road trip across the island of Java all the way to Bali for a fortnight. We barely made any preparations – all that was confirmed was our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Yogyakarta. A sketchy itinerary was drafted a few weeks prior and most of the places of interest were mapped out in order to fit into a seven-day schedule around Central and East Java.
The drive to Mount Bromo, which began in Jogja, took 10 hours as traffic over the week of Christmas and New Year began aggregating onto the narrow and meandering road. Our first stop was Malang, a bustling town which was once the capital of Singhasari before being subjugated by the Dutch, and also the gateway to Mount Bromo.
Once in Malang, we only had a few hours of shut-eye before beginning our journey to Mount Bromo. We found a hostel for IDR400,000 per night at the 11th hour and a tour operator that will take us to Bromo as well as Ijen, famous for the blue flame.
At the stroke of midnight, we were awakened by blaring phone alarms and within minutes we were all geared for our adventure. Our guides greeted us at the hostel and attended to our luggage before setting off towards Cemoro Lawang, a hamlet 2,217m above sea level north-east of Mount Bromo. The cold, crisp air wound alongside our vehicle as we spiraled upwards into the darkness of the night towards the mountain village. We couldn’t see much of the horizon through the dense fog but the quaint family-run chalets perched along the edge of the mountain provided some warmth and rest before the much-awaited sunrise. The weather was easily below 15°C but we were kept warm by the jackets, mittens and caps included in the tour.
It was already 4am. One of the ways of accessing Mount Bromo is via an organised jeep tour from Cemoro Lawang, the only transport allowed at the point. The other alternative is by walking, which takes an hour. At 4.15am we were in a predicament as we had underestimated the number of visitors at Bromo; there was a 1km jeep trail queue before us due to the peak season. To catch the sunrise over Mount Bromo, everyone made their way on foot to Mount Penanjakan viewpoint where we sat patiently in the cold. To our disappointment, the thick fog that blanketed the surroundings never lifted. All was not lost as we got a peek of Mount Bromo in the plain known as the Sea of Sand.
On a good day, the Mount Penanjakan viewpoint will reveal Mount Bromo, Mount Batok and the great Mount Semeru all in one frame. Standing at 2,329m above sea level, Mount Bromo has a rather distinct crater shape as it appears to have been blown off and its crater is almost always belching white sulfurous smoke. It forms part of the massif with Semeru being its highest peak, as well as earning its reputation as one of the most active volcanoes. Mount Batok, often mistaken for Mount Bromo, is enveloped by greenery and sits adjacent to its famous counterpart.
From Penanjakan, the jeep then descended into the Sea of Sand, a plain made up of gravel stones, sand and dust, which also goes by the name ‘The Whispering Sand’ for the sound produced when the wind blows.
The Savannah, a stone’s throw away from Mount Bromo’s crater, appears to be the stuff of dreams, a lush oasis amidst a grey plain where greenery flourishes. The hot, molten lava that once spilled from its crater created a fertile state where plants and animals coexist on an active volcano; a paradoxical symbiosis that has allowed life to thrive in the most hostile environment.
On the sand plain, the Pura Luhur Poten made from the natural black stones of the volcano sits adjacent to Mount Bromo like a gatekeeper. On the annual Yadnya Kasada ceremony of the Hindu Tenggerese people in Probolinggo, devotees climb to the edge of the crater and throw offerings into the crater.
By 9am, the crowd was growing denser as the human trail towards the Bromo crater can be seen from a distance. The two most popular ways to get right up to the crater is by renting a horse for IDR10,000 or hiking up the well laid out trail. The horse guides are pretty easy to spot at the foothill of Mount Bromo, however the horses can only go up to a certain point, after which tourists will have to climb up a steep staircase of around 240 steps to reach the crater.
Bromo is named after Lord Brahma, the Hindu creator god, hence it no surprise that we stumbled on an aptly placed altar of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha at the rim of the volcano. At the centre of the crater comes the piece de resistance: thick white sulfurous smoke fuming from the earth’s core and dissipating into the gloomy skies above. Bromo last erupted in 2016, spewing ashes into the air with intermittent eruptions in the past decade.
The 45-minute hike was relatively easy but that is not to say it won’t leave you heaving and panting. On our way up and down, we had to maneuver horse and human traffic along a trail of mud and rocks. At the end of our adventure, we headed back to our jeep, setting off towards Cemoro Lawang for lunch before our next destination.
As we laid our heads to rest in the galloping jeep, the awe-inspiring scene of the Tengger massif began to ebb away like a dream. In a way, it is a stark reminder of the raw beauty that inhabits our Earth and though Bromo’s historical significance may pale in comparison other volcanoes in this region, it is nevertheless a humbling experience to stand before a mountain that has as much influence on the cultural beliefs of the Tenggerese people as any other religion. It is because of their beliefs that the beauty and value of these natural heritage are preserved and cherished across time.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Surabaya from Kuala Lumpur. airasia.com
About Jeevitha Brama Kumar
A doctor by profession, I have been trotting the world on a shoestring for almost a decade with the aim of exploring and understanding cross-cultural differences. Travel is perhaps among the best education I have received and my travels have shaped me into the person that I am today.