Mt. Bromo (large crater, foreground) at sunrise
|Elevation||2,329 m (7,641 ft) |
Mount Bromo (Indonesian: Gunung Bromo), is an active volcano and part of the Tengger massif, in East Java, Indonesia. At 2,329 metres (7,641 ft) it is not the highest peak of the massif, but is the most well known. The massif area is one of the most visited tourist attractions in East Java, Indonesia. The volcano belongs to the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.
Mount Bromo sits in the middle of a vast plain called the Sand Sea (Indonesian: Lautan Pasir), a protected nature reserve since 1919. The typical way to visit Mount Bromo is from the nearby mountain village of Cemoro Lawang. From there it is possible to walk to the volcano in about 45 minutes, but it is also possible to take an organised jeep tour, which includes a stop at the viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan (2,270 meters) (Indonesian: Gunung Penanjakan). The best views from Mount Bromo to the Sand Sea below and the surrounding volcanoes are at sunrise. The viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan can also be reached on foot in about two hours. From inside the caldera, sulfur is collected by workers.
The national park is named after its two mountains, Mount Semeru (the highest in Java at 3,676 metres), Mount Bromo (the most popular) and the Tengger people who inhabit the area.
Mount Semeru also known as Mahameru ("Great Mountain"), is one of Indonesia's most active volcanoes. What stands out most about this mountain is the fact that it erupts periodically (and very reliably so). Every 20 minutes or so, the volcano belches out a huge cloud of steam and smoke, sometimes interspersed with ash and stones. Climbing Mount Semeru requires some planning and a permit from the national park authority. The mountain is often closed due to its highly active nature.
Mount Bromo (2,329 metres) is easily recognized as the entire top has been blown off and the crater inside constantly belches white sulphurous smoke. It sits inside the massive Tengger caldera (diameter approximately 10 km), surrounded by the Laut Pasir (Sea of Sand) of fine volcanic sand. The overall effect is unsettlingly unearthly, especially when compared to the lush green valleys all around the caldera.
The major access point is Cemoro Lawang (also Cemara Lawang or Cemora Lawang - blame the East Javanese accent!) at the northeastern edge of the caldera, but there are also trails from Tosari (northwest) and Ngadas (southwest). The village of Ngadisari, on the road from Probolinggo about 5.5 km before Cemoro Lawang, marks the entrance to the national park. Both Cemoro Lawang and Ngadisari are rather picturesque, with brightly-painted houses and flower beds outside.
Roro Anteng and Joko Seger
Javanese folklore has it that during the 15th century, Princess Roro Anteng (daughter of the Majapahit King Brawijaya) and her husband Joko Seger fled marauding Islamic forces and ended up in safety at Mount Bromo. Here they developed a new kingdom and named it Teng-ger using parts of their respective surnames.
The Kingdom of Tengger prospered and their religion flourished but the royal couple were unable to produce an heir to the throne. In desperation they prayed and meditated on Bromo for many days before the crater opened and the almighty god Hyang Widi Wasa announced that they would be given children with the condition that the last borne was to be sacrifcied back to the mountain.
No less than 25 children were produced but many years later Roro and Joko broke the condition and refused to sacrifice their last borne, Prince Kesuma. A dreadful eruption of Bromo followed and swallowed Kesuma into the crater. To appease the great God, Kesuma's brothers and sisters held an offering ceremony at the crater once every year and this still happens today - the Upacara Kasada held on the full moon of the 12th month (Kasada) of the Tenggerese calendar.
The area in and around the park is inhabited by the Tenggerese, one of the few significant Hindu communities left on the island of Java. The local religion is a remnant from the Majapahit era and therefore quite similar to that on Bali but with even more animist elements. The Tenggerese are believed to be descendents of the Majapahit prices and were driven into the hills after mass arrivals in the area of devoutly Muslim Madurese in the 19th century. These Madurese immigrants were labourers working for Dutch coffee plantation owners and the native Hindu people of the region soon found themselves outnumbered and either converted to Islam or fled to the inhospitable high mountain tops where they remain today.
The religion is quite low key though (certainly when compared to Bali) with the most visible manifestation of faith being the rather austere Poten temple in the sea of sand. The Tenggerese number about 600,000 and they reside in 30 villages scattered in and around the park with smaller communities elsewhere in East Java.
For many visitors, the sight of the angular-faced, sunburned, moustachioed Tenggerese wrapped in poncho-like blankets, trotting about on ponies with craggy mountains as the backdrop, more resembles Peru than Indonesia!
If ever a landscape were need to demonstrate the meaning of the phrase desolate beauty, then this is surely it. Rugged, barren volcanic peaks, gravel plains and that sea of sand. Truly unworldly.
The park also includes large areas which are very lush and green fed by rivers from the high tops. The medium elevations are clad with much thinner forest before this gives way to the barren plateau and peaks.
In the parts of the park which most interest visitors (the caldera and mountain tops) flora and fauna is limited - a general lack of vegetation. At lower elevations and away from the sea of sand there are though lush green valleys with a typical tropical forest flora. The higher elevations before the tree line ends are largely clad with casuarina (cemara) forest.
Down in the valleys, a few leopard cats are present but rarely seen. Java rusa deer, muntjac, marbled cat and wild pig are amongst the mammals more likely to be glimpsed by casual visitors. This park is not so renowned for birdwatching as others in Java but up on the plateau you often see hawks and eagles soaring over the valleys below.
Temperatures are refreshingly cool during the day but outright cold at night as temperatures can drop close to zero in the summer and are rarely much above 5°C in winter. Daytime temperatures anywhere in the park never exceed 20°C with low teens being normal.
It can rain at anytime and the mean average rainfall is 6,600 mm. Most of that comes in the wet season though - November to March. During periods of heavy rain in January and February especially, many parts of the park are inaccessible due to flooding. Landslips are also a real issue at these times.
Mount Bromo is the perhaps most accessible of Java's active volcanoes and for that reason it does get a lot of domestic tourists, often in package groups. It is also a popular destination for high school groups who camp in the area. For that reason, those visitors seeking a quiet appreciation of the park should avoid major domestic holiday periods. That being said, this is a large park and providing you get away from the main watchpoint areas, quiet enjoyment is possible at any time.
There are three established routes into the park.
The nearest larger town is Probolinggo, on the north coast of Java about 45 km as the crow flies from the park (but it feels a lot further). This is by far the commonest route used to access the park as it is the most straightforward (but not necessarily the most interesting). About 6 km west of Probolinggo on the main coastal highway, turn south at the village of Ketapang. From there the road snakes up for 40 km through Sukapura (not a bad idea to stay the night here as the hotels are good) to Ngadisari and finally Cemaro Lawang on the edge of the caldera. Total journey time about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
To get to Probolinggo from Surabaya, take a Damri shuttle bus from the Juanda International Airport in Surabaya to the Bungurasih bus terminal (also called Purabaya) in the city. Then take an express Patas air-conditioned bus for the 2 to 3 hour journey from Surabaya to Probolinggo.
This route is only a little harder than the Probolinggo option and Pasuruan has the benefit of being closer to Surabaya. From Pasuruan on the main north coast road between Surabaya and Probolinggo, take the road 45 km south to Tosari via Pastepan. Irregular buses ply this route or you can drive it in a regular car. From Tosari to Wonokitri it is another 3 km via a local bemo or on the back of a truck. From Wonokotri up to Bromo it is a really nice three hour 14 km trek, so you do need to start very early if you want sunrise. Alternatively you should be able to hire a 4 x 4 with a driver for that journey. There is accommodation in both Tosari and Wonokitri.
This route approaches from the south east and is seldom used due to the lack of facilities. Certainly the most off-the-beaten-path way to approach the park. Take a microbus from Ardosari bus station in Malang to Tumpang and then a 4WD vehicle or a heavy truck from Tumpang to Ngadas. There are no facilities to speak of at Ngadas but you will find informal accommodation in family homes in the village. At Ranupani up on the top there is very simple homestay accommodation avaiable - ask at the park office there. The route from Ngadas on to the caldera is interesting because it transverses the Sea of Sand and directly passes Mount Bromo. A dirt road leads across the flat bottom of the caldera, up to Jemplang on the southern rim and on to Ranupani where you should check in at the park office. You have to take a 4WD vehicle (unless you prefer to walk).
To enter the park an official Rp 50,000 permit must be purchased at one of the four entrance gates.
If you intend to climb Mount Semeru (only for serious trekkers and often closed due to eruptive activity) you will need to apply for a permit in advance to:
From the village of Cemoro Lawang, you can easily hike up Mount Bromo and Mount Penanjakan and the best time to do this is pre-dawn. Villagers offer horseback rides to the top of Mount Bromo and you can also hire a jeep to take you around the area. The whole area is a hiker's dream though - walk if you possibly can.
When timing any activities in the area, bear in mind that sunset is soon after 5 PM and sunrise is correspondingly early at around 5:30 AM. This means you will usually need to get up by 3:30 AM or so to get to a watchpoint in time for dawn.
For the keen hiker, this park is a dream come true and you can make your own schedule. There are so many possibilities once you are away from the obvious well known area at Mount Bromo.
The most popular local product, at least based on the number of hawkers selling them, appears to be the Bromo hat, a colorful wooly hat with BROMO embroidered on it.
Scarfs and extra warm clothing are also popular and useful if you are not prepared for the cold mountain air.
Every lodge and hotel has an attached restaurant and there are few independent eateries of any note.
There are simple roadside warungs though selling the regular basic Indonesian dishes and Rp 2,000 mugs of hot Javanese coffee (kopi panas). There is no nightlife in the usual sense of the word but all restaurants are open at 3AM as that is when everybody wakes to see the sun rise.
Evenings in the park are quiet. A few beers with fellow travellers are in order.
The mulled wine served at some places in the evening seems to be heated Tuak (a palm wine) with soem local spices added. Only those with the strongest constitution should even consider this and frankly, it is not very nice.
Make sure you always have enough water with you during the day as it is deceptively easy to de-hydrate here, despite the fresh climate.
There are plenty of accommodation options around the park. Facilities at Cemoro Lawang and elsewhere close to the caldera are quite basic though and those visitors looking for more comfortable accommodation should stay in Sukapura or Tosari.
Camping is certainly possible in the park but you must register at the Cemoro Lawang gate (where there is an adjacent campsite). There are many sources of safe, fresh water in the park - ask locally.
Potential campers should be very aware of how cold it gets here though and be thoroughly prepared for that. Heavy duty sleeping bags are essential.
Temperatures on Mount Bromo are refreshingly cool during the day (although sunburn is still a real danger), but outright cold at night, as temperatures can drop to zero in the summer and are rarely much above 5°C in winter. Some of the cheaper places to stay may not provide adequate blankets or heating, so come prepared. If needed, you can rent jackets and hats at Cemoro Lawang and at the Penanjakan viewpoint for about Rp 10,000.
There are cases of Malaria each year in the lower foothills of the park and any visitor planning a long stay or to camp in this area should take necessary precautions. This is not though a problem for those visiting Mount Bromo or the high plateau only.
The "path" at the top of the steps up to Mount Bromo is only about 1 metre wide and in places the drop into the crater is sheer and considerable. Be careful, make sure you have a flashlight for any pre-dawn climb and always have your wits about you.
Bromo is an active volcano, and Semeru is a very active volcano. In June 2004, two tourists were killed at Bromo by rocks flung from a sudden explosion. The Smithsonian Institute's Volcanic Activity Report  keeps an eye on both, and is worth checking.
It gets very cold up on the high tops at night, probably colder than anywhere in Indonesia outside of the glacial highlands of Papua. Be suitably prepared for nightime temperatures not far above zero.
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