When visiting Mount Bromo, do yourself a favour and get off the beaten track. Usually tourists spend less than a day here, which is hardly enough time to truly appreciate the spectacular caldera and its many features...
I wake up to the sound of shocking banging on my door. No, it isn't some strange Indonesian hospitality but, in fact, my wake-up call. I'm told that it's the only effective way to wake guests up at 3am. Well, not so effective for some people, myself included. And the guesthouse operator has figured this out too, so half an hour later the loud banging resumes and is accompanied by screaming as well.
At 4am, I crawl zombie-like into a jeep with five other half-awake travellers and we zoom over a hill from Cemoro Lawang and into the Bromo-Tengger Semeru National Park to ascend Mount Penanjakkan 2 and head towards Viewpoint 2. Despite the winding road, which can make a person seriously dizzy, the drive itself is well worth the nausea. All those Mount Bromo volcano photos you see online or at travel blogs? They were probably snapped here if you come at the right time of the year.
Right time of the year
The best time of the year to visit the Bromo-Tengger Semeru National Park is during the dry season, which lasts between April and November. During this time, you'll be all right with a warm long-sleeved shirt under a hooded rainproof windbreaker.
From December to March, you'll need to pile on the layers because the weather gets very cold this high up in East Java, Indonesia and the monsoon winds can be very unforgiving.
A guide in Cemoro Lawang tells me that the rainy season in the park is slightly more dangerous. This is because when the cold rain falls on the hot magma in the park's active volcanoes, it aggravates the earth, releasing steam and other chemicals into the air. More importantly, this aggravation often causes rumbles in the volcanoes itself. In fact, Mount Semeru volcano has its warning flags up now.
On a bright clear day, you can see Mount Semeru, the highest peak in Java from Viewpoint 2. Every regular tour of this park begins with watching the sun rise at this very spot and proceeds to a quick drive over the Sea of Sand and to the foot of Mount Bromo, but the real treasures of the park lie beyond the usual itinerary and they're worth seeking out.
Legend of Bromo
Mount Bromo, at 2,392m, is hands down the most famous volcano in the park for many reasons. For one, it is the most accessible. Every tour drops you off here because it is nearest to the Cemoro Lawang entrance. Bromo is also a much easier climb compared to Mount Semeru - it only takes 20 minutes of brisk walking to reach the top, or 45 minutes if you prefer a leisurely stroll.
Tourists can also "scale" the volcano on horseback, a widely available option at the drop-off area. Whichever way you choose to ascend Bromo, the vistas all the way up are spectacular so be sure to stop and enjoy them.
There is also a dramatic story associated with Mount Bromo. Legend has it that in the 15th century, during the Majapahit Empire, a beautiful princess named Roro Anteng and her husband Joko Seger settled upon the land and called it Tengger, which is a combination of their names.
Although the land prospered the couple didn't bear any children. In sorrow, they scaled the volcano and prayed to the gods to grant them children. The gods agreed but with the condition that they would sacrifice their last child to the volcano.
In time the couple had 24 children but when the 25th child, Kesuma, was born his mother refused to sacrifice him to the volcano. The gods got angry and threatened the land with fiery destruction until Kesuma sacrificed himself to the volcano. Then a voice commanded the Tenggerese to conduct a ceremony to appease the volcano yearly. And to this day, the Yadnya Kasada ceremony is performed annually on the 14th of Kasada (the 12th month of the Tenggerese calendar) for the god Hyang Widi Wasa.
At the edge of the Bromo volcano crater, you'll find many local Tenggerese selling bunches of flowers, mostly lavender, that you can sacrifice to the volcano by tossing them into the crater. While here, you'll see a constant emission of volcanic smoke from Bromo that's thick with sulphur, so a scarf will come in handy. You'll also need to shower thoroughly after your visit.
The real adventure begins...
Soaring 2,440m next to Bromo is Mount Batok, an inactive volcano with a capped top. Few travellers make it up this mountain, but if you do you'll be rewarded with a magnificent view. From this elevation, you can see most of the northern caldera and part of the Sea of Sand's massive expanse of volcanic ash. When the wind blows, the curtain of mist lifts to reveal the range of mountains that creates the geologically spectacular landscape of the park. From this peak, you'll also see a side of Bromo that few have laid eyes on but all have admired greatly.
While climbing Mount Batok isn't difficult, it may be a little tricky. The soft volcanic ash ground crumbles beneath each step and may take a little getting used to at first. There is plenty of strong vegetation, however, to help you through. The trail to the peak is well marked but the start of the trail is somewhat concealed because it's located behind the Hindu Temple (Pura). Look for the trail that leads downwards and the big boulder at the start of the trail.
Another not-to-be-missed feature of the national park is the savannah. Located one or two hours' walk from the Cemoro Lawang entrance, depending on how often you stop to admire the view, you should pack a light picnic at the local grocery store to enjoy before embarking on your trip. Then, set out for the park from the Cemoro Lawang entrance and turn left, keeping the wall of the caldera on your left at all times.
Your adventure begins with an amazing walk across the massive Sea of Sand and along the way, you'll find spectacular rock formations created by past volcanic eruptions, lava and brimstone.
There is often a curtain of mist right before you reach it, which adds to the magical experience, for if you walk through the mist, you will be transported to a whole new realm that begins with clumps of long grass and opens up into an expanse of hardy shrubs with tiny flowers. The ground here is so fragile it feels like walking on seashells. It's easy to lose track of time while exploring the weird and wonderful terrain, and before you know it the evening would be upon you.
Night falls quickly in the park, so it's best not to linger too late. To head back from the savannah, re-trace your steps but keep the wall of the caldera on your right. If the mist starts to roll in, walk closer to the caldera.
Once there, you won't believe the odd tour agent in the nearby town of Probolinggo who tells you that half a day is all you need at the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. There are so many awesome sights here to explore and discover... only if you're curious enough to go in search of it.
To ensure you make the most of trip to the Bromo Tengger-Semeru National Park, be sure to pack a waterproof windbreaker, a pair of good walking shoes, sunscreen and ample moisturiser.
The weather here is cold all year round. If you don't want to bring your thick jackets, you can rent them at Cemoro Lawang. You'll also find plenty of people peddling locally made gloves, scarves and hats here, which make for reasonable souvenirs for people back home. Remember to drive a hard bargain though!
To reach the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, fly into Surabaya in East Java, Indonesia and travel by car or bus to the town of Probolinggo. From here you can enter the park via Cemoro Lawang.
AirAsia flies direct to Surabaya from: Johor and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Jakarta, Indonesia, so book your flight now at www.airasia.com