When armed conflict broke out between the rebellious Islamicized coastal districts of East Java and the Hindu Majapahit Empire at the end of the 1300s, the nobles, priests and artisans fled to Bali (the famous Tanah Lot temple was built by Javanese priest, Sang Hiyang Nirarta).
But the ordinary Hindu folk fled to the Tengger Highlands, a spectacular mountainous region, surrounding the magnificent Mount Bromo volcano.
Undoubtably, this place is really worth a visit, and whatever you may have heard, you won’t be prepared for this ethereal, unforgettable spectacle. The caldera around Bromo is absolutely vast, and when you do the early morning walk up to the crater you really feel as if you are walking on the moon or something.
The best approach to the volcano is from the village of Cemoro Lawang, only around 3kms from the crater, where there are plenty of cheap hotels, hostels and homestays.
Be warned though, it’s damn cold up there and if you arrive wearing only a T-shirt and jeans (like me), then you’re really gonna freeze.
Everyone else has booked horses for the 4.30am departure. But not me. I’m fit and have spent most evenings over the last five years in the gym. I’m gonna walk it.
So we get up at 4.00am, gulp down tons of hot coffee, and put blankets around us to keep warm.
The Tenggerese dudes and their horses are waiting as promised, and they lead the way.
They start off slowly, but soon start to pick up pace. The horses are practically running now. Well, I’m fit enough, and even with a 10kg rucksack on, am soon jogging too. At least I don’t feel cold any more. In fact, I’m starting to break into a sweat.
The sky is pitch black and the stars are as bright as I’ve ever seen them.
But after the flat sandy plain, the going starts to get tougher as we gain some elevation. But the Tenggerese guides don’t slow the pace: they continue to move briskly.
After about 15 minutes of this, I’m trailing way behind them, but they’ve now stopped.
Thank God: we’re at the foot of the crater!
As I catch up with the group, catching my breath, one of the Tenggerese guys is smiling at me, and to my amazement is puffing away on a fucking kretek cigarette! Bloody showoff!
A steep 256-step concrete staircase gets you up to the rim. But it’s now crumbling and, it seems to me, fairly dangerous.
Up on the rim, the volcano is belching out huge plumes of sulfuric gases. We follow the rim around a bit and sit down.
You’ve really got to be careful up here. Although touted as a tourist attraction, it’s actually pretty dangerous. One slip and you are dead – that is the reality. Only last year, two tourists from Switzerland and Aus fell into the crater never to be seen again. And there have been plenty more before them too.
In fact, the Tenggerese believe the volcano needs victims to appease the Gods. The sacred couple Joko Seger and Roro Ateng had to take their last child, Kusuma, to the crater, and chuck him in (the name "Tengger" derives from the last syllables of the sacred couple’s name ... AnTENG and SeGER).
The sunrise is simply awesome, by far the most beautiful I have ever seen.
Mount Bromo, a truly unforgettable experience.