Strap on your boots to explore the natural wonders of Java’s Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.
After a 3am wake-up call, we’re greeted by the fresh pre-dawn breeze and the spectacular panorama of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. Even the half hour shivering in the dark waiting for the beautiful sunrise over Mount Bromo is worth the excitement.
It’s a two-hour drive from Malang before another 30-minute jeep ride to reach the scenic lookout at Mount Penanjakan. Because it’s the holiday season, we have to squeeze ourselves into a large crowd waiting for the magical hour of sunrise at around 5.30am. Revitalised by the amazement of dawn breaking in shades of orange and blue, the sub-zero temperatures are no longer an obstacle. The sunrise is undoubtedly the main attraction here.
Open to the public since 1982, the national park is famous for the 2,392m Mount Bromo and the Tengger people who inhabit the area, as well as the 3,676m Mount Semeru, the highest in Java, and the 2,440m Mount Batok.
The friendly Tengger people, most of whom are farmers, are genuine and welcoming. We encounter a native Tengger who take us on a short cut to a better vantage point. The views of steam-belching Bromo and its volcanic neighbours surrounded by the ‘sand sea’ take us to cloud nine.
We continue our journey to Mount Bromo’s crater, a 15-minute drive from the Mount Penanjakan lookout. The most enjoyable part of this short journey is going through the sand sea.
A hard-top jeep is the most convenient means of transport in the national park, although a few people, mostly locals, use motorcycles to get around the park. However this is not recommended for visitors and tourists, owing to adverse road conditions and weather.
Our jeep driver Kembar Sanyoto (Toto), a native Tengger, shares with us the myth about the origins of the Tengger tribe. “Roro Anteng, princess of Majapahit Kingdom, married Joko Seger, an ordinary man from Padepokan, Bromo. That’s how the name Tengger is derived — Anteng and Seger… Tengger,” he explains.
Roro Anteng and Joko Seger promised Sang Yang Widi, the Hindu supreme deity, to sacrifice their youngest child into Bromo’s crater if they were blessed with many children. Out of the 25 children they had, the couple loved the youngest, Kusuma, the most and didn’t want to sacrifice him.
The anger of the gods made Mount Bromo spew lava, and its explosion was a disaster for the Tengger tribe. Kusuma finally threw himself into Bromo’s crater to ease the gods’ fury, and Mount Bromo has stayed appeased ever since.
Until today, the predominantly Hindu population of Tengger holds a ritual ceremony in the full moon every September to commemorate Kusuma’s sacrifice. As a symbol of respect to Kusuma, the Tengger people present offerings of vegetables, and live animals such as goats and hens, to Bromo’s crater.
As we begin our trekking adventure from the car park towards Bromo’s crater, we take in the sand sea surrounded by mountainous scenery. The distance between the car park and the location of the crater is about 1km. Visitors can rent a horse or simply walk along the sand sea.
We decide to travel on horseback. Accompanied by a guide, we pass the ancestral temple of Poten along the way. Regularly used by Tengger people for ritual ceremonies, this Hindu temple has an austere yet eye-catching design. Our horse riding ends at a steep concrete stairway which we must climb before reaching the rim of Mount Bromo’s crater.
Our visit coincides with “Sweet Friday”, the day the Tengger people believe is the best to ask the Almighty for blessings. We see a few people bringing offerings of vegetables and goats while praying in the rim of the crater.
Despite feeling tired after the morning’s journey, we’re eager to see more sites. Our excitement only increases as we walk through Savannah Field (Padang Savana), located on the foot of Mount Semeru on the other side of sand sea.
Tengger people call this oro-oro ombo (oro-oro means “savannah”, ombo means “wide”). This meadow has a backdrop of hills that resemble those in the children’s TV show, Teletubbies (the area has become known among visitors, and even some locals, as “Teletubbies Hills”).
Mountaineers will enjoy hiking to the top of the 3,676m Mount Semeru. But beware that the mountain’s summit, Puncak Mahameru (Mahameru Peak), blows toxic gas every 20 minutes. In the afternoon the wind blows stronger towards the peak, so it’s not advisable to approach the crater, and climbers should leave the summit before noon.
However, climbing to the mountain peak is not for us. Instead we visit the 14-ha Ranu Kumbolo Lake, located 2,400m above sea level on a hill near Mount Semeru. There is a climb at the hill known as “Love Climbing” – a name deriving from the local legend that anyone who climbs the hill without stopping will have his or her amorous wishes come true.
About Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park
Foreign tourists must pay IDR25,000 (S$3.80) per person to enter the park, while it only costs IDR6,000 (S$0.92) for a local visitor.
Daytime temperatures never exceed 20ºC, but the temperature can drop to zero at night. Bring warm clothes including a hat and gloves, as well as a flashlight – visitors need to be at the scenic lookout before dawn.
The best time to visit the park is during the dry season from June to October.
Few hotels have tour arrangements to Bromo, but cars can be rented in Malang for IDR400,000 (S$61) per day including driver and petrol.
A jeep is a must when visiting the national park. Hiring a jeep with a driver for four hours costs IDR275,000 (S$42) including petrol. In the event that you need more time, you can always negotiate with the driver to get the best deal. In our case, we topped up IDR75,000 for another three hours.
The trek on horseback to Mount Bromo’s crater costs IDR100,000 (S$15) for the round trip.
For more information: Office of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park , 6 Jln Raden Intan, Malang, East Java, tel: +62 (341) 491 828
Where to stay
HOTEL TUGU MALANG
Nestled in the heart of the old city centre, Hotel Tugu Malang is designed to represent the romantic stories of the island of Java. With hundreds of antiques and historical artefacts, the hotel’s warm interiors take guests through the Dutch colonial era, and the gradual fusion of the Indonesian and Chinese cultures. Jln Tugu, tel: +62 (341) 363 891, www.tuguhotels.com/malang
JAVA BANANA LODGE
Perched 2,000m above sea level near Mount Bromo, Java Banana Lodge offers a unique alpine-style stay in a tropical highland setting. Jln Raya Bromo, Wonotoro, tel: +62 (335) 541 193, www.java-banana.com