Morning has broken, and I felt like I was standing on top of the world, looking down on a view unlike any other I've ever seen anywhere else. It's beautiful beyond description, however in the name of sharing I will try. Broken down into its basic components, what's in front of me is a cluster of mountains. The conical-shaped Mt. Semeru stood sentry at the background. At 3,676 m, it's the highest peak on Java Island and is still very active. The smoke it produces every day could be poisonous and it has been known to kill unprepared hikers (prepared hikers should know to approach the peak only at certain time of day before the smoke starts puffing). In the foreground there's the wrinkly, conical-shaped, dark-green Mt. Batok (inactive) and on the left-hand side is the active crater of Mt. Bromo (latest eruption was in 2011, with ash plume traveling as far as the next island, Bali).
Surrounding this cluster of mountains is a sea of sand. In fact, Mt. Bromo is located inside a huge ancient caldera called the Tengger Caldera, which is easiest to depict as a bowl with a 10km diameter containing a flat plain of sand and out of this sea of sand emerged a few child mounts.
The Tengger Caldera with Mt. Semeru, Bromo, and Batok
This short description in no way does justice to the view, which has to be seen to be appreciated. But I'm ahead of myself. Although this view is indeed the main purpose of visiting this place, you are probably wondering where on earth this place I'm talking about is. Please read on to find out.
Getting There and Around
Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
is located in the province of East Java in Indonesia. The main city in East Java is Surabaya, which is also the second biggest city in Indonesia after the capital city, Jakarta. So if you're not a local, your first destination would be Surabaya, which has an international airport as well as multiple train stations and bus stations.
To reach this National Park from Surabaya, there are three routes, the most popular one via a town called Probolinggo (about 3-4 hours drive from Surabaya). The last village in this route is called Cemoro Lawang, which is located right at the lip of the "bowl" of Tengger Caldera with Mt. Bromo and Mt. Batok right in front of it.
The second route is via a town called Pasuruan. The third and least used route is via the town of Malang. It's least used for a good reason, as you have to cross the Sea of Sand from its most western point all the way to Bromo area, therefore requiring a 4WD car traversing a next-to-non-existent dirt road or a very strong will to walk a good part of a day on the sand plain with no shade whatsoever.
Crossing the Sea of Sand on foot
Once you're in the area, the most popular way of getting around for tourists is by booking a Bromo sunrise tour. It will take you to Pananjakan, a viewing deck from which you can take in the view I described in the beginning of this article, and then after that to Mt. Bromo itself.
Mount Bromo's crater, with could be reached via its 250-step stairs
However if you would like to get around without the tour, it's quite possible too. If you have your own 4WD vehicle, you could drive; otherwise you could hire an ojek (a motorcycle taxi which can take one passenger) or even walk. For vehicles, there is a road going from Cemoro Lawang village down into the caldera. In the caldera itself there're no real roads, just some dirt/ sand tracks to Mt. Bromo and Pananjakan, passable by 4WD cars or motorcycles (except in foul weather). The track will pass by Mt. Bromo on your left before going up the bowl of the caldera again to the high point of Pananjakan. This road up is sealed, but winding and steep, so extra driving skills and carefulness would be highly appreciated.
If you wish to walk from Cemoro Lawang to Pananjakan, you don't have to go down the caldera first; instead, there is a path that cut through the forest straight to Pananjakan. Walking from Cemoro Lawang to Mt. Bromo will be quite obvious, just go down to the caldera and as soon as you're on the sand plain, your target will be visible; so head straight for it, there's no need to follow the "road".
Where to Stay
The nicest hotel in the area to-date must be Java Banana
. It's located on the road from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang. Its upsides are that it's new and it's posh (in a mountain-resort appropriate way). The downsides are that it's expensive and it's not that close to the caldera, meaning you can't have the famous view right outside your window, and you have to wake up even earlier to get to Pananjakan.
The nearest hotels from Mt. Bromo are in Cemoro Lawang village and there are 3 hotels that boast direct view to Mt. Bromo: Cemara Indah
, Bromo Permai
, and Lava View. But when I say a hotel, please don't imagine a multi-storey building with a grand entrance and hallways. Instead, they're mostly a scatter of rooms behind a restaurant. Rooms are relatively expensive (compared to similar standard elsewhere in the area), as you pay for the privilege of staying as close as possible to Mt. Bromo. However, there are still variations depending on quality of room (standard vs deluxe), time of the year (high vs low season), and the view out the window. For around 60AUD you could probably get a deluxe room during low season but only a standard room during high season.
View from Cemara Indah Hotel
If you're averse to paying a big sum just to lay down for a few hours at night, not to worry. There are a lot of budget accommodations in other villages near Cemoro Lawang which will only set you back 10AUD or thereabout per night. Some are just extra rooms in a local resident's house. Others are basic hotels with nothing much more than beds, blankets (very important as it gets cold at night in the mountain), and bathrooms (not necessarily with hot water).
Long, long ago in the 13th-15th century, the Hindu kingdom Majapahit
reigned in Indonesia with its capital city in East Java. With this background in mind, it's understandable that many of the name of the mountains in the area have Hindu mythology as their origins. The name Bromo, for example, derived from Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the creator, who is one of the Hindu Trinity of gods (the other two being Vishnu, the preserver; and Siva, the destroyer).
Mount Semeru, also called Mahameru, which literally means the Great Meru, has a name that derived from a mythical sacred mountain where gods live (a Hindu-version of Mt. Olympus if you like). According to this myth, Mount Semeru was moved by the gods from India to Java to serve as the nail that kept Java Island from shaking and tumbling.
Mount Batok's name has a more humble origin. Batok literally means coconut shell in Javanese language. In local folklore, it is said that once upon a time, a giant named Bima (the second brother in the five Pandawa brothers of the Hindu epic Mahabharata) wanted to marry Princess Rara Anteng, the daughter of the King of Majapahit. However he was turned down after failing some impossible tasks set by this lady. In rage, he kicked a coconut shell and upturned it, and that's how Mount Batok was formed.
The name of the caldera, Tengger, is also related to Princess Rara Anteng. She eventually married a bloke named Joko Seger and as Majapahit has weakened due to Islamic forces, they moved to this remote location and created a Hindu kingdom called Teng-ger by combining parts of their last names. Up until today, many of the local people (called the Tenggerese people) are still faithful followers of the Hindu religion, although the majority of Indonesian people have converted to Moslem with the weakening and demise of the Hindu kingdoms and the spreading of the Moslem religion that followed.
All very interesting if you're into etymology, but otherwise a bit old and musty, you might think. For a more current culture-related information, you might be interested to know that there is a Hindu temple named Pura Agung Poten near the foot of Mt. Bromo, literally in the middle of nowhere. It is only open on certain days of the year, mostly for Hindu ceremonies but also to cater for tourists during holiday seasons.
Pura Agung Poten
On certain days, the believers will also throw offerings into the crater of Mt. Bromo, usually in the form of land produce, in the hope that the gods will avert disasters and help them with their farming activities. The biggest annual offering ceremony here is called Upacara Kasada and was said to be started by the royal family of Rara Anteng and Joko Seger themselves after an eruption of Mt. Bromo. If you'd like to witness this offering ceremony, a local tour agency should be able to find out for you when the next one is scheduled.