Sun, 13 Aug 2000

Mount Bromo offers glorious sunrises, magnificent terrain

By Grace Segran

BROMO, East Java (JP): Mount Bromo National Park in East Java has been described as "a vivid holographic portrayal of science- fiction landscapes straight out of a Bradbury or Asimov story". It consists of beautiful highlands, but it also boasts of desert tourism. During the night and early morning, the temperature often drops to close to freezing point.

Three mountains in its center are still active: Semeru (the highest mountain of Java at 3,676 meters high), Bromo (2,383 meters) and Tengger (2,770 meters).

We recently visited Mount Bromo. Mount Bromo is a crater within a crater. It is one of four mountains that have emerged within the caldera of the Tengger volcano.

We had reservations at Bromo Tosari. There are two major ways of getting to Mt. Bromo. Initially we took the Probolinggo route. However, when we got to the Ngadasari checkpoint, our Kijang van was deemed unsuitable by the guard to continue the last couple of kilometers into Tosari. We had to backtrack and approach Tosari via Pasaruan, taking another four hours.

At 3:30 a.m., our phone rang. There was no one on the other end of the line; it was the wake-up call to adventure. After a nice warm shower, we put on sweaters that we normally use for European winters, and good walking shoes.

Our guide, Pak Imam, met us in the lobby. He checked out clothing to ensure that we were warm enough for the brisk mountain air. He himself was dressed in white overalls, and reminded us very much of an astronaut about to go to the moon. We jumped into a private jeep and sped to Pernanjakan (The Promontory) for what is considered to be the best place to watch the sunrise.

The journey took about 45 minutes. On the way, we saw pockets of Tenggerese, with huge baskets of freshly harvested vegetables on their backs. They walked briskly, silently in single file on the side of the road in pitch darkness.

Soon the Bromo and Semeru peaks came into view. Clouds hugged a portion of the mountains but the peaks stood out regally above them. Against the light of the full moon, the view was stunning and postcard-like.

The jeep drew to a stop and we weaved our way in the dark through dozens of other vehicles. I suddenly realized that there were going to be quite a few other "pilgrims" on this early morning outing.

The walk up to the promontory was steep. At the top, there were well-lit stalls selling hot beverages and cup noodles for the cold and hungry. There were also shops that sold souvenirs such as ikat, postcards and paintings. Here was where you could rent jackets for approximately Rp 10,000 a piece if you couldn't take the cold any longer. A flight of steps led to the viewing point.

The view from the promontory was breathtaking. Above the thick layer of clouds below us we could see the reddish skyline. We were afraid that the sunrise would not be as glorious as we'd wanted it to be because of the clouds. But we were not disappointed. The sun rose majestically above the clouds. It was blood red and it inched its way out of the horizon, blinding us. After huddling together in the cold for half an hour or more to wait for this gratifying moment, everyone clapped when the sun appeared.

After we had ensured that the sun had safely risen that day, we made out way back to the jeep. We stopped along the way to warm our hands over a fire. Some stopped to return the jackets that they had rented. From the promontory, we made our way to the Bromo crater.

After about 30 minutes, there was before us the huge brown expanse of volcanic ash and stones which was the Sand Sea. It looked like a scene out of Indiana Jones as jeeps sped along in both directions on the dirt track. Friends had told me about the sea of sand but this was not like anything I had imagined.

The Sand Sea has a diameter of 11 km. The Bromo and Batok mountains rise out of this desolate landscape. Dramatic walls -- steep and craggy -- rise up to between 200 meters and 600 meters marking the rim of the large caldera.

As we approached Mt. Bromo, our nostrils were hit by the odor of rotten eggs; sulfur fumes from the steaming craters permeated the air. The jeep stopped a short distance from the foot of Mt. Bromo near the temple where Tengger priests offer sacrifices each year to Joko Seger, the spirit of Bromo.

In days of old, humans were thrown into the gaping abyss of Mount Bromo as a sacrifice to appease the god and to appeal for fertility in the land. Today they practice a modification of this ancient ceremony and offer live poultry, money and flower petals instead. Each year, thousands of devotees ascend the mountain at midnight under a full moon, chanting mantras, to offer their gifts to the ancestral spirits.

We made our ascent on pony, winding our way over cinders and ash. A steep concrete stairway, of about 273 (depends on who is counting!) steps at the foot of Mt. Bromo brought us to the lip of the smoldering crater.

Atop Mt. Bromo we were rewarded with a magnificent view of the Sand Sea and Mt. Semeru to the south. The lunar-like landscape of Mt. Batok to the left has symmetrical furrows resembling a gigantic orange squeezer.

We descended the mountain after we had our fill of the mystic beauty of the terrain, and rode silently back to civilization. Telling ourselves that we should soon return to celebrate the sunrise and explore the enchanting terrain.