Sunday, 5 August 2012

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java - a stunning natural landscape

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
We based ourselves in Malang for our visit to one of Indonesia’s most breathtaking sights, which meant that we had to get up extremely early to witness the sunrise over Gunung Bromo.  We booked a private tour for just the two of us with a jeep and driver at a cost of about $80.  We were picked up from our hotel at 1.30am for the three hour drive to Gunung Penanjakan, the best vantage point from which to watch the sunrise.

Mount Semeru
It was the first night of Ramadan and we were fascinated, as we drove through the night, to see (and hear!) groups of boys (some of them extremely young) walking through the villages banging drums, both real and makeshift (oil drums, plastic petrol canisters, etc.), to celebrate the start of the holy season.

As we neared our destination and climbed ever higher, the road conditions worsened and we were grateful to be in a 4WD vehicle!  It was still pitch black, but, fortunately, our driver appeared to know every pothole and bump in the road (he did tell us that he made the journey every single night in the dry season!).  Descending the mountain a few hours later, we were horrified at the sheer drops at the roadside and were thankful that we hadn’t been able to see very much on the way up!

Sunrise watchers wrapped up for the Arctic!!
We were one of the first jeeps to arrive at the viewpoint, so our driver was able to get us as close as possible and turn our vehicle around so that we were ready to ‘escape’ later.  We had dressed as we always do in shorts and short-sleeved shirts and, whilst it was a little chilly on top of the mountain, we were relishing the slightly lower temperature – it made such a change from what we have become used to in Vietnam!  Other Indonesian tourists, however, were aghast at our attire and implored us to hire one of the long, thick jackets being offered for 10,000 rupiah (about $1).  We declined and, when we stopped for a welcome cup of coffee before making the final 100-metre ascent to the summit, we realised that we had become the main tourist attraction!  Locals, wrapped up as if they were heading for the south pole, wanted their pictures taken with these crazy Brits who were dressed for the beach!

Magic moment!
Once at the summit, we jostled for position with several hundred others and settled in for the long wait for sunrise.  We had about an hour to wait, but no-one was going to give up their vantage point, so we all just stuck it out!  There was very little conversation or noise of any sort.  It was quite mesmerising watching the dawn breaking.  The colours constantly changed until the magic moment when the sun appeared over the horizon and everyone cheered.  From then, the sun rose rapidly and began to spread its warmth through us (I have to admit that we were feeling a little bit cold by now!).  In the daylight, we were able to see our fellow ‘sunrise watchers’ for the first time and wonder at what had brought such a diverse group of people together at this time in this place.  It was quite a moving experience.

Sunrise watchers
Once the sun was well and truly up and we had taken as many photos as we wanted to of the breathtaking landscape, we joined the throngs and headed back to our jeep.  When we were in it and driving back down the mountain, we were able to see just how many 4WDs were parked on both sides of the approach road.  It had seemed like we were the only car on the road a few hours earlier!  All of these vehicles now formed a procession on the way to Gunung Bromo itself.

Tengger riders

Horses & riders in the sand!

The scenery was truly stunning as we descended.  It was so green and lush, but then it levelled out and became more lunar-like as we drove across a lake of sand that seemed to move like water as the wind picked up the top layer.  Then, out of the swirling sand, came riders on horseback.  Not having read the guidebook properly first, I was surprised by this surreal sight!  As we discovered, these were local Tengger people offering to take tourists on horseback across the plain and two-thirds of the way up Bromo to the base of the final 250-step ascent to the crater.  Neither of us being confident with horses, we refused the offer and, instead, made the ascent on foot.  It was a hot, hard walk and climb, made worse by the ever-increasing amount of sand being blown up by the wind and the horses hooves as they passed us.  We stopped halfway so that I could have a fortifying glass of hot, sweet coffee made by one of the enterprising ladies who had set up a table offering refreshments.

Lunar landscape
The last part, the stairway, was the worst, as many of the steps had eroded away or were too full of sand to offer proper footholds.  In several places, too, the handrail was missing.  Eventually, however, we made it to the top and looked down into Bromo’s crater.  We could just about see the lake in the bottom of it, but, I have to say, our view was somewhat obscured by the amount of sand being blown around.  On a clear day, I’m sure it’s amazing!  Nevertheless, we felt it was worth the effort!

Bromo's crater
Once back in the jeep, we drove on through the national park, marvelling at the breathtaking beauty of the landscape.  As we left the park, we passed through farming communities where the land had been terraced and planted with every vegetable known to man, a beautiful sight in its own right.  We stopped along the road a way and ate our delicious breakfast which had been provided by the tour operator.  We were careful to eat and drink out of sight of our driver who was fasting.  We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, taken within sight of Mount Semeru, the highest peak on Java.

Vegetable terraces
Despite the early start, and the often bumpy ride, our trip to the Bromo-Tengger-Semuru National Park was well worthwhile and I’m very glad we did it.

See more photos here.

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