Passage to the Horizon
It was a freezing morning. I stumbled upon the rough, hewn steps to the top, puffing with exertion. I reach the top, where I see a small group of other foreign tourists and local guides waiting - with their high tech cameras, video cameras and even their cell phone cameras to take the pictures of the enthralling sight.
I pushed my way through the crowd and leaned over the iron railings that looked over the horizon, where the sun would rise. My hands were deep in my jacket pockets so as to keep them from freezing. I mused about the tiring but out of the ordinary events of the past 24 hours…
I was visiting my uncle, aunt and cousins in Indonesia for the summer vacations. They decided to take us somewhere adventurous for our first weekend together and so we chose to go to Bromo Tengger Serumu National Park. Jakarta, the capital city and where we were, is one of the many cities in Java, which is now of the almost 18000 islands making up Indonesia. We were now going to travel an hour long flight to Surabaya, another city in East Java. From Surabaya airport we would take a van on a three-hour drive southeast to our hotel, where the next day we would go to the aforementioned National Park to check out Mt. Bromo.
The next day we traveled to Surabaya airport, where we found a van rented out for us and our very own sanguine guide, Richard. It was a very cramped journey and so we all breathed a huge sigh of relief when we reached our hotel, The Grand Bromo which itself was at an altitude of 3000 feet. As we slowly wound our way up, evening set in and the temperature started dropping. We got to our hotel, which was one of the best around there, and turned in early, as we were scheduled to get up at 3 a.m. the next morning so that we could watch the sun rise from Bromo.
I woke up at 2:30am and got wrapped up warmly, under strict instructions, as the temperature on Bromo can be around 5 C and can even drop to 0 C. We again bundled into the car and it made its way slowly on the rocky road until we are forced to stop at a point beyond where only jeeps are allowed as the terrain is too rocky.
This was the first time I had ever ridden in a jeep and so I was not prepared for the jolty, rocky ride that was to follow. We traveled for about a few minutes on the stony terrain while my cousin and I huddled together in the front seat, willing our teeth not to chatter in the freezing air. I digested some of the information in my mind about the place we were visiting.
Enclosed by perpendicular walls 350 metres (1,150 feet) high, Bromo's awesome 2,200-metre- (7,220-foot-) high 'sand sea' caldera has three mountains within it, craters within one huge crater, the Bromo Semeru Massif. Mount Bromo (Gunung Bromo), located in the Tengger Caldera, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in East Java, Indonesia. It is an active volcano and part of the Tengger massif and even though with 2329m it is not the highest peak of the massif, it is the most well known. Many local and foreign travelers make the trek for the mystical experience of watching the sunrise from the crest of the Bromo volcano, which was exactly what we were going to do.
We arrived at the place where we were going to watch the sunrise. As I slowly trudged up the weather beaten steps while the cold stung my face, I grumbled to myself whether this whole thing was worth it, just to see a sunrise. But then I reached the top and caught my breath. On my right was the principal crater, within which there were the three volcanoes. Apart from Gunung Bromo, there was also Gunung Semeru and Gunung Batak. Even in the dark, I could see the highest peak Semeru puff up a wisp of smoke from its peak as if acknowledging my presence. I see the crater of Mount Bromo, a cloud of smoke overhanging it and then I turn to my right where I see stretching away down below my left. The grassy land full of trees. I remain transfixed there for the next half hour.
At about 5:00 am, the sky started to change colour. Then gradually, the clouds seemed like they had caught fire by the brilliant orange, yellow and red colours they had become. Ever so slowly, I began to see the three massive volcanoes more clearly as each minute passed by. There was Mount Semeru steadily and slowly puffing out a puff of smoke, every 20 minutes, our guide said. He also took the time to explain the legend of Mount Bromo to me.
According to a local folk tale, at the end of the 15th century, princess Roro Anteng from the Majapahit Empire started a separate principality together with her husband Joko Seger. They named it Tengger by the last syllables of their names. The principality did prosper, but the ruling couple failed to conceive children. In their despair they climbed Mount Bromo to pray to the gods, who granted them help, but requested the last child to be sacrificed to the gods. They had 24 children, and when the 25th and last child Kesuma was born Roro Anteng refused to do the sacrifice as promised. The gods then threatened with fire and brimstone until she finally did the sacrifice. After the child was thrown into the crater, the voice of the child ordered the local people to perform an annual ceremony on the volcano, which is still held today.
Accroding to Richard, it is an awesome sight. The 'Upacara Kasodo' ceremony, which is held annually (December/January) at full moon, attracts many tourists. Through the ceremony, the Tenggerese invoke the blessings of the deities to ensure an abundant harvest, to be cured of diseases etc. To earn such blessings, they climb down the sides of the crater to catch the offerings thrown down into the crater but the other members of the community above. The scramble of the 'sacrifices' is at once a gripping, but terrifying sight: it is not uncommon for some of the participants to tumble down to the crater's floor.
After about an hour or so of taking pictures and shooting videos, we climb back down the steps to our jeeps. By this time the sun has risen and the peaks of the highest craters are bathed in the light pink and orange rays of the sun and so are the puffs of smoke from Semeru and Bromo which are profusely smoking. It's a beautiful and serene sight and I felt very sorry to leave it.
Soon we were making our way across the Tengger sea sand, which was pretty much a sandy barren desert. On the vast expanse of sands formerly a caldera, there are two volcanoes: the extinct aforementioned Gunung Batok, which is a perfect cone and Bromo. We reached the area where you have to ride on horseback to the foot of the mountain or trek the long, long way there. It was a completely new experience for me to ride a horse and I did so with some trepidation as my brown and white horse seemed to be in a bad mood.
It took about 10 minutes to reach the foot of the mountain and then we climbed the 260 or so concrete step to the rim of Mount Bromo. Once we reached the top I could hardly breathe for the harsh sulphuric fumes that were in the air. Volcanic sulphur fumes and smoke still emanate from the depths and it scared me to peer over the iron railing into the crater which measures about 800 metres from north to south and 600 metres from east to west. It was all we could do from choking on the smell of rotten eggs, so I quickly returned back down the way I came.
Soon we were making our way back to our hotel and I could actually witness the beautiful scenery all around us as it was not swathed in darkness this time rolling fields, green mountains, multitudes of neatly kept tea plantations and fields containing other produce as well as rice and bamboo.
All in all this exquisite trip was a once in a while experience for me and I have a hundred or so photos and memories to vouch for it.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006