Fri, 22 Dec 2000

Magnificent Bromo needs respect -- and protect

By Simon Marcus Gower

BROMO, East Java (JP): A little after 3 a.m. is not ordinarily a time that one would choose to take a walk, but then there is nothing ordinary about a trip to Mount Bromo. Having entered the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park via the remote villages of Sukapura and Ngadisari, a hot cup of tea is a welcome boost to brace oneself against the predawn cold of this, as yet, dark and chilly land.

Local people are quick to offer gloves, scarves and hats to combat the cold. Also, offers of jeep and horse rides to Bromo will be received, as this national park and its people have become well acquainted with the wants and needs of touring visitors. Passing by all these offers, the walk to Bromo begins with a short climb and then a long descent into an empty valley, and immediately the difficult, almost farcical, walk ahead becomes apparent.

With little or no moonlight to help, the road ahead and the entire landscape is nothing but a pitch-black emptiness. Even with the benefit of small flashlights, only a limited idea of where you are and where you are going can be gained. Each day dozens of people make this walk, and to effectively to find one's way in the darkness being a near-blind follower is the only option.

The walk from Lawang to Bromo is only around three kilometers, but thanks to the darkness and the difficult terrain it could easily be 10 times that distance. All that one can do is stumble along feeling for each footstep, as the surface is covered with crevices and rocky unevenness that can easily cause a fall. But this walk is the cause of much laughter and hilarity, as you depend on one another and cannot help but laugh at your temporary feeble state.

Though it is impossible to know it in the inky blackness, you are, in fact, crossing the vast and desolate Sea of Sand that lies at the foot of Bromo. To add to the difficulty of crossing this empty lifeless expanse, halfway across trotting horses and their handlers emerge from the darkness and are offered as transportation to those who have grown weary of toddling like a small child across this inhospitable land.

For those that continue to walk, the half-light that begins to emerge as a new day slowly pushes away the darkness brings some relief. Eerily the mysterious and strangely magnificent outline of Bromo's crater mountain begins to come into focus. In the half-light it is just a huge hulk of foreboding blackness, but as the daylight begins to gather the colors of the mountain begin to emerge, too. Yellows, greens, grays, browns, reds and even shimmering silvers and golds may be seen, and the brutal looking ruts that run from top to bottom of the mountain take attention, breath and words away.


The climb up the mountain begins over massive boulder-like escarpments of jagged rock. As height is gained one may begin to look back upon the distance already covered. What may be seen is the empty desert-like Sea of Sand. A line of walkers may also be seen and busy jeeps may be seen bouncing across the vacuous landscape carrying people toward the mountain. It all has the appearance of some pilgrimage trail with devotees heading to pay homage at a holy site.

To complete the climb to the crater's edge a flight of concrete stairs has to be ascended. With over 200 steps to be taken, some call this the "Stairway to Heaven". But there seems some irony in this title, for having climbed these brutal and ugly steps what awaits is a thin crater's edge beyond which lies the deep, smoldering and aggressive looking crater that looks rather more like an image from hell than heaven.

Regardless, as the sun finally rises and shines upon the crater's edge and across the primordial and almost unearthly landscape of this national park, the wonder of it all cannot escape you. Young and old alike climb to the crater's edge to experience sunrise at Bromo, but sadly not all respect what they are seeing and experiencing.

The local people here are known as the Tenggerese and through a variety of historical twists and turns they are of the Hindu faith. A substantial part of their religious belief lies within the rugged landscape of these volcanic mountains. They believe that the mountains are home to their Hindu gods and accordingly they afford great honor and respect for this strange, yet stunning landscape. A temple has been built at the foot of the mountains and devotional ceremonies are held to appease the gods.

Sadly though, too many visitors to Bromo do not uphold similar respect. The majority of the crowds that gather on the crater's edge to witness the event of the sunrise it seems do not do so for any spiritual or soulful uplifting. It appears many are there merely for "been there, done that" reasons. The spectacular stillness and quiet of this vast landscape has only a limited effect on these visitors as they chatter and even shout at each other. A few carry radio-cassette players and pollute the stillness with noise.

Others, however, pollute in a far more damaging and lasting way. With the early morning walk and climb leaving most people tired, thirsty and hungry, drinks and snacks are carried and consumed, but all of it contained in plastic, paper, aluminum and metal foil wrappers, bags and cans. A lack of respect for the environment means that, in an almost contemptuous manner, much of this packaging is simply tossed either into the crater or down the mountainside.

This littering means that a confetti of rubbish may be seen around the so-called "Stairway to Heaven". Though this littering may easily be lost in the immense expanse of this national park, it really should not be allowed to go unchecked and abated. Perhaps garbage cans could be strategically placed and visitors reminded to use them on the tickets that they must purchase to enter the park. The Tenggerese people would surely approve of such measures as encouraging respect for the home of their gods.

Also all tourists, whether international or domestic, should approve of measures to maintain and safeguard the quite astonishing environment of Bromo. This site is not only a national park; it is an internationally renowned geographical wonder consistently featured in geographical magazines, television films and videos. This is why it receives so many international visitors. It is a shame that firsthand experience of this world wonder should be accompanied by some feelings of regret that full respect and due care and attention is not always being paid.

Some may consider the lack of respect as the reason for the recent rumblings and eruptions at the site, showing the anger of the gods at human mistreatment of their abode.