MOUNT BROMO – A surreal other-worldly landscape of volcanoes, mythology and a sea of sand #2

Mount Bromo and other volcanoes nearby with Mt Semeru in the background
You may well have already seen images of Mount Bromo and its four neighboring volcanoes without even realizing it.

These mighty smoldering peaks belching clouds of smoke through the swirling mists of sunrise are the subject of thousands of photographs, brochures, articles and book covers.

But no iconic photographic or words can substitute for seeing and experiencing the real thing … close-up.

Mt Bromo is not the largest, but it is the most famous and most accessible of the volcanoes located in an extraordinary geographic feature known as the Tengger Masiff within the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.

It’s truly a place like nowhere else on earth!

Bromo, neighboring Mt Batok, the Sand Sea and the Hindu Temple complex at its edge - look closely to see the track to the Bromo crater

Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians and international visitors make pilgrimages to view the sunrise over Mt Bromo each year. They have made it another of Java’s most visited attractions.

Mount Bromo, rises to a peak some 2,400m (7,870ft) above sea level from a 10km wide caldera of fine volcanic ash sand known as the Lautan Pasir (Sand Sea).

In the distance, puffing clouds of smoke from mini-eruptions about every 20 minutes is Mount Semeru with its Mahameru volcano. Semeru is Java’s highest mountain at an imposing 3,676m (12,060ft).

Around Bromo is a cluster of other volcanoes issuing their own sulphurous smoke – Mount Batok (2,470 m), Mount Kursi (2,581 m), Mount Watangan (2,661 m), and Mount Widodaren (2,650 m).

The surreal, unique pulsing beauty of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park ranks it as another of Indonesia’s great natural wonders.

The video below by Milosh Kitchovitch captures the essence, the beauty and a sense of the grandeur and potential power of Bromo and its circle of volcanic friends. No narration – the images say it all. The video is part an “AMAZING PLACES ON OUR PLANET” series created by Milosh.

Bromo is of spiritual importance for the Tengger communities of East Java

It’s no wonder Bromo has assumed religious significance and cultural symbolism for many Javanese people, especially the ethnic Tenggerese people of the immediate region.

The park takes its name from the Tengger Hindu Kingdom successor to the Majahapit Kingdom in East Java in the 15th century.

Today descendants from that era form a small but distinctive Javanese sub-group living in some 30 traditional mountain villages around Bromo. They have their own Javanese dialect, writing system, and traditional costumes and customs.

The name Bromo derives from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creation God. We learn more stories of the mythology surrounding the volcanoes during our visit.

We stay the night close to Bromo ready for early morning action

Lava View Lodge – accommodation at Bromo
The Lava View Café – convenient and good food
Jiwi Jawa Resort at Mt Bromo

The Java Banana Cafe is part of the Jiwi Jawa Resort  – a section of multi-level accommodation at the rear. 

Tonight, we stay at the Lava View Lodge Bungalows or the Jiwa Jawa Resort,  depending on availabilities.

The Lava View is near the edge of the caldera with views across the Lautan Pasir (Sea of Sand) plain to Mt Bromo and Mt Semen beyond.

The location, so near the magnificent mountains, compensates for the relatively basic quality of the accommodation. Five-star it is not, but it is clean and comfortable. WIFI is available only in the reception area. The food at the Lodge Cafe is fine, the views are magnificent, and the drinks are cold

The Jiwa Jawa resort is about 3km distant in a park-like setting, also with views. It also offers a higher standard. The Java Banana Cafe is part of the Jiwi Jawa complex and offers an excellent menu of Western and Indonesia dishes.

There is live music in the Lodge restaurant-bar most nights but this evening we need to remember to rest to be ready for a VERY EARLY start tomorrow to see the famous Bromo sunrise

And then, in the early light of day, climb a special stairway to peer into the bowels of Mt Bromo from its rim.

Up before the birds for an excursion like no other – it's unforgettable!

Line up of parked Tour Jeeps at Mt Bromo

Jeeps, jeeps and more jeeps form convoys to provide the transport to the sunrise viewpoints and the base of the volcano climb at Mt Bromo.

We rise in the chill of the pre-dawn to join a convoy of jeeps driving to a sunrise viewing point on Mount Pananjakan. The 4WDs start queueing at the departure area from as early as 3am. 

It’s less than 10 km, but it’s slow going because it’s still dark and there are crowds (even on a Tuesday when our tour schedule usually has us here). Including a short walk up from the jeep parking area, we probably will need 45 minutes to an hour.

We need to be at the viewing point between 4.30 to 5am to secure a good spot. This means we need to be assembled and ready to go from the lodge before 4am!
And YES, it will be cold – VERY chilly!

But don’t be alarmed, we will have warm jackets, gloves, a scarf and a beanie for you. Even so, you should be wearing other appropriate clothing . More about that below.

The dawn will break and the sun rise from about 5.20 through to 6am. There will be mist and possibly some clouds and fog. Fingers crossed for a clear day with clouds and any fog dispersing as the sun climbs higher.

Viewing the sunrise at Bromo to the sound of clicking cameras has become a celebrated ritual.

On a clear morning the light, the colors and the shadows are vividly spectacular as the early morning sun steadily embraces the mountains and swirling mists, .

It’s said that a picture can tell a thousand words – if so then this image of a Bromo sunrise could be said to be very eloquent

A crowd well worth following – the Bromo experience is too good to miss

Some visitors feel uneasy about following the tourist herd and only reluctantly allow themselves to be persuaded to join the early drive or trek through the darkness.

Bur invariably they come away singing praises and thankful they decided to see such memorable moments.

Here’s a typical comment:

“I’d heard mixed reviews about Mount Bromo … Some people had dubbed the volcano super touristy and thus effectively ruined, while others had said it was stunning … It made sense to listen to the second camp and pay it a visit anyways. And I’m so glad I did. The sunset and sunrise I spent on and around Mount Bromo was one of the highlights of my whole eight months in Southeast Asia.”

By the way, if you need a coffee, tea, an instant noodle soup or a snack to warm and invigorate you while you wait for dawn to break then don’t worry – enterprising Indonesian vendors have set up their stalls at the viewing point and will have you covered!

A trek of about a kilometer and then 250 stairs to the crater rim – slow and steady and absolutely worth effort

And now for the crowning moment as we ascend to Bromo's crater rim

Once the sun is up, the pictures taken and the crowds are dispersing, we head down and across the Sand Sea to a drop point near Mount Bromo. From here we climb to Bromo’s crater rim for what will be another unforgettable experience.

We trek up the lower slopes for about 45 minutes (about 1 km) and then climb a stone stairway of about 250 steps.

There are horses and motorbike taxis to traverse the section to the foot of the stairway, but we recommend against them if you are sufficiently mobile.

Neither the trek nor the stairway is unduly steep, and the climb is not difficult for anyone in half-way decent physical shape. Remember we are not in a hurry and we take it easy.

You will hear the roar, smell the sulphur and see the awesome force lurking inside the earth

Then we are hearing and staring up-close at a truly powerful force of nature

We will be hearing the booming sounds of the volcano as we climb, and as we reach the rim and smell the sulphur fumes, we hear the full-throated roar of this intimidating force of nature.

Literally sounds coming from inside the earth – some say like a huge jet engine at full throttle!

And we may even feel the earth tremble a little.

A concrete wall extends for about 75 metres along the rim as security against falls. A narrow path extends further. With steep drops off to both sides, including into the crater. Going beyond the wall is NOT recommended.

You can preview what you will see from the crater rim by CLICKING HERE to see a satellite view from Google maps. Unfortunately it doesn’t come with the sounds or smells.

(Once you have opened the satellite image enlarge it and zoom in on the mid-north (top) of the rim. You should be able to make out the staircase leading approximately 100m down towards the Sand Sea.)

If you scroll further following the walking track in a northerly direction, captions will pop-up showing the location of a two-wheel parking area and a jeep parking and drop point area, together with a Hindu Temple. More about the temple in a moment.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors every year means lots of jeeps to cross the Sea Sand and provide transport to viewing areas

So, Mt Bromo obviously is active – does it erupt? Is it dangerous?

Bromo is indeed active and there are eruptions from time to time (most recently in 2004, 2010, 2011 and 2015 and small eruptions in February-March 2019).

In total Bromo has reportedly erupted 55 times since 1804. But it is considered generally safe and friendly.

The Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Disaster Hazard Mitigation closely monitors activity and at any hint of another eruption establishes exclusion zones – and once that happens then we will be outta there!

The scenic views from the summit are stunning as you look out over a grey and green other-worldly landscape to the mountains near and beyond. It routinely evokes this kind of comment –

“[The view] from the crater was nothing short of magical. I remember proclaiming to my travel buddy as we watched the sun start to set while hearing the boom and echo of the volcano, that Mount Bromo had skyrocketed to one of my top 10 travel moments.”

Pura Lhur Poten temple at base of Mt Bromo - Pic Tourde Java.com
Offerings to Ganesha Hindu shrine on the Mt Bromo crater rim

So, about that Hindu Temple near the Sand Sea parking area …

The local Hindu Tenggerese people, scattered in mountain villages across the region, have revered Mount Bromo for hundreds of years.

The Pura Luhur Poten temple near the drop point at the base of the climb to the crater is of great importance to them.

They make pilgrimages to the Bromo summit to pray during the Yadnya Kasada festival and to toss offerings of fruit, rice, vegetables, flowers and livestock into volcano’s growling black crater.

Some villagers climb down the steep sides inside the top of the crater with handnets and risk their lives by trying to catch the offerings thrown from above. They believe what they catch before it falls into the steaming heart of the volcano is a blessing from God.

(Vendors stationed near the staircase to the rim will offer to sell us posies of flowers to toss into the crater as our offering.)

A crowed crater rim for Yadnya Kasada – Pics Paul Williams BBC
A chicken is offered - hopeful catchers wait with their nets

The origin of the ritual lies in a legend from around the 15th century when a princess named Roro Anteng founded the  Tengger Kingdom with her husband, Joko Seger. The couple were childless and sought the assistance of the mountain gods.

As related by Fierdha Chumaira, over the years they were granted 24 children but on condition that the 25th child, named Kesuma, be given into the volcano as a sacrificial gift.

The family fled and hid their last child somewhere away from Bromo. But, according to the legend, the angry Gods reached out their fiery hand and snatched tiny Kusuma away.

Through their tears the devastated parents and 24 siblings heard Kusuma’s voice from inside the crater saying he was happy to sacrifice himself for the sake of on-going prosperity and good fortune for the family and the people of the kingdom.

He asked simply that his brothers and sisters care for and love each other and bring him offerings once a year.

The Tenggerese tribes living in the mountains believe that Tengger is derived from the couple’s names: Anteng + Seger = Tengger.

What if the early jeep excursion to view the sunrise is too much for me?

Not a problem – the good news is that you too can enjoy a quite magnificent sunrise viewing from a vantage point just behind the Lava View Lodge.

 It is not quite the adventure of the viewing from Mount Pananjakan, but it can still be inspiring.

However, you should try to join the rest of the tour group for the climb to the crater. Unless you have asthma or some other debilitating respiratory condition, this is an experience too special to miss.

Important housekeeping notes for the sunrise excursion

  • Wear warm clothing – it is COLD at Bromo altitude in the early morning with temperatures falling to as low as 5 degrees Celsius. We will be providing guests with a parka-style jacket,  gloves, a beanie hat, and a scarf. You should wear long pants, warm socks, and a layer or two beneath the jacket. As the sun comes up it can quickly warm up so we will give you a carry bag to stow your excess items if it gets hot.
  • Bring your small travel day-pack and include in it a torch (it’s still dark when we are dropped off to walk the short distance to the mountain viewing area), sunglasses (very handy protection against any wind-blown sand during the climb up Mt Bromo after the sunrise), a bottle of water, lip balm or moisturizer, and a surgical face mask (depending on the breezes and the level of volcanic activity you may appreciate protection from the sulphur fumes). You can perhaps also use the pack to carry some of the clothing you shed after the sun and the temperatures rise.
  • Ensure you have appropriate footwear for walking over sections of fine sand and climbing stone stairs to the crater. Sneakers (sports shoes) will be adequate iof you don’t have trekking shoes or boots.
  • Remember to bring your camera (and perhaps a tripod for some of those sunrise shots). If you want to get into the picture, then you also will need your selfie stick. Climbing and viewing Mt Bromo is absolutely a special experience to remember and you will want to have a record for yourself and to share with family and friends back home.
  • We will return to the hotel for breakfast after the crater climb (and perhaps a look around the Sand Sea). After breakfast we will check out and depart for Malang, our next destination.You will receive timely briefings on schcdules.

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Douglas Cole

Doug is a former journalist and broadcaster who lived and travelled in Indonesia and Southeast Asia from 2002 to 2018. He returned to Indonesia in mid-2022 after being stranded in Australia by COVID border closures. He is completing a book under the working title ‘INDONESIA – Safely, Easily, and in Comfort.’

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