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MOUNT BROMO - Another World

The classic picture gracing many publications about Indonesia – Mt Bromo in the left foreground and the mighty Mt Semeru belching smoke as a backdrop

A surreal other landscape of volcanoes, mythology and a sea of sand

Exploring Indonesia

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You probably have already seen images of Mount Bromo and its four neighboring volcanoes without even realizing it.

Located in an extraordinary geographic feature known as the Tengger Masiff, 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 in 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, making 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 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 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 from his “AMAZING PLACES ON OUR PLANET” series provides a preview and, perhaps, an appreciation of the grandeur of this place (see more videos from Milosh at www.youtube.com/user/milosh9k/).

A special place 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.

The area 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.

Lava View Lodge – accommodation at Bromo
The Lava View Café – convenient and good food

Our tour group stays a night at the Lava View Lodge Bungalows near the edge of the caldera with views across the Sea of Sand plain to Mt Bromo and its closer smouldering neighbors.

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, the drinks are cold and there is live music in the Lodge restaurant/bar most nights.

But best not to stay too late. Our aim is to see the famous Bromo sunrise … and as we retire for the night, we murmur a little prayer for clear weather!

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

We rise in the chill of the pre-dawn to join a convoy of jeeps driving to a sunrise viewing point on Mount Pananjakan

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).

We need to be at the viewing point before 5am to secure a good spot, meaning we need to be assembled and ready to go from the lodge by around 4am!

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

When the weather is fine the light, the colors and the shadows, as the early morning sun embraces the mountains and swirling mists, are vividly spectacular.

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 – it’s 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.”

If you need a coffee, tea or an instant noodle soup to warm you while you wait for dawn to break then don’t worry – enterprising Indonesian vendors will be 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

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.

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

Staring close-up at a true and 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 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.  

It’s a great aerial view but unfortunately 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 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). 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

The legend behind the temple at the base of the staircase

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 yearly 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 smoky, growling black crater.

Some villagers with handnets climb down the steep sides inside the top of the crater and risk their lives by trying to catch the offerings thrown from above – they believe what they catch before it falls into the streaming 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 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 sobs 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 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 altitude in the early morning with temperatures falling to as low as 5 degrees Celsius. Ideally wear a parka jacket, long pants, warm socks, gloves, a beanie hat and, if possible, a scarf. If you don’t have this clothing, then inquire about renting a jacket (about AUD$3) and buying warm gloves and beanies from local vendors (each about AUD$2.50).
  • 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 (along with your scarf, 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 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.
  • 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 at home.

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More useful and interesting information

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park is just one of the remarkable places worth visiting in Java. Our commitment is to choose destinations and arrange packages to suit discerning travelers. For descriptions and images of more places and experiences included in our Real North Sumatra and Java tour programs click the links below.

More to explore on the island of Java

Prized for its mild highland climate, leafy, historic Malang is consistently said to be Java’s most relaxed and charming city. It is famed already for it’s colonial buildings and broad avenues but it is now becoming widely noted for serendipitous surprises …

To the Indonesian people Surabaya is Kota Palahwan – ‘The City of Heroes’ – for the sacrifices of its citizens and their inspirational role in the national struggle for independence. Their stand put Indonesia in the vanguard of a decolonisation movement that changed the face of Asia …

Yogyakarta exudes energy from a rich tradition of more than 1300 years of culture, history, empires, dynasties, conflicts, rebellions and spectacular achievements.Many consider it the intellectual, artistic and cultural capital of Indonesia …

Borobudur is more than just the world’s biggest Buddhist temple – it’s a special, iconic place with a fascinating story and an aura to match. It is Indonesia’s most visited attraction and after you have been there you will understand why …

Until little more than 100 years ago influential Surabaya ranked as the largest and richest city in the Dutch East Indies. But it was also known for its grubby streets, poor facilities, traffic jams, corruption and more … until the transformation began! Now it’s a new-look place to visit …

In our age of budget airlines and constant hurry few visitors know of Indonesia’s superbly scenic train journeys. We experience two of them – the Argo Wilis from Bandung to Yogyakarta and the Sancaka Pagi  from Yogyakarta to Mojokerto …

Bandung is sometimes called the “Paris of Java” or the “City of Flowers”, reflecting the old-world architecture of its colonial heritage and a lively scene of cafes, restaurants, hotels, resort retreats and institutions of learning …

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