The Indonesian island-hopping continues…with a train journey from Yogyakarta in central Java, cutting across the island to infamous Mount Bromo, on Java’s east coast.
Apologies for the poor-quality scanned 35mm film photos. Negatives and prints are in an unfortunate condition from decades of less than optimal, storage.
A surreal, dreamlike panorama spills out with Mount Bromo (Gunung Bromo) billowing smoke against a moonscape-backdrop to the lava sand below. A spectacular volcanic and otherworldly landscape that escapes words. You would be forgiven thinking that Tolkien used this landscape for his Lord of The Rings trilogy. Of the five volcanic peaks that emerged from an ancient volcano’s caldera, four are active.
The panoramic vista from the top of Mount Bromo at 2,329-metres high is breathtakingly stunning. Ethereal. Lost for words, you can only sit and stare into this exquisite natural beauty.
Located in the middle of an expansive plain named the Sea of Sand, this active volcano in the Tengger mountains is as mesmerising as it is dangerous. Smoke creeps slowly, curling and blanketing the crater-like mountain cliffs, lingering throughout the mystical barren landscape and dancing across the horizon, until night falls. Deep blackness dissolves one remarkable vista to reveal another – a beautiful starry-lit extensive sky, under the cold, clear blackness of night.
This wonderful Amazing Places on our Planet video by Milosh Kitchovitch gives you a taste of Mount Bromo, although the park seems much busier with tourists than a couple of decades ago, in 1998.
Jeep trip to Mount Bromo’s peak
Meeting a Dutch couple last night at the pleasant Lake View Hotel, decide to split costs for the memorable jeep trip to the top of Mount Bromo. The hotel’s paper-thin walls force a sleepless night, and we are ready at 3am to start the jeep tour at 3:30am for the journey to Mount Bromo.
Pitch blackness and cold greet us as the jeep heads into a fathomless terrain, towards the imposing shadowy mountains. It’s not long before our jeep is greeted by a plethora of tourists, bikes, and more jeeps all funnelling towards the same destination – scrambling to watch the sunrise from the top of Mount Bromo.
Dropped off at the viewpoint, icy-cold winds bite exposed bare skin in this 2°C clime. Without shelter from the elements, teeth chatter from the bitter cold, while waiting the long hour for the sun to awaken from its slumber and deliver a fantastic spectacle!
Pale colourful hues develop into deeper shades, painting an esoteric majestic canvas. Cloud slivers streak and etch the sky momentarily, until swirling into the distance leaving wispy traces in the deepening horizon.
The viewpoint takes in Mount Bromo (2,329m), Mount Batok (2,400m) and Mount Semerau (3,676m) in the background. As the sun rises higher, the volcano puffs out thicker smoke, creating a tremendous and magnificent scene.
Our trusty, jeep driver takes us to the start of the climb for the crater, with a deluge of other tourists vying eagerly for a space.
Guides and their ponies await anyone not wanting to endure the steep 20-minute-climb to the beginning of the 249-steps, which ascend to the top. Of course, there is a fee for a guide and pony. Horses and ponies laden with people larger than the animals, scurry up and down the volcano in a military procession.
Not wanting to watch the ponies and horses work so incredibly hard, I decline the offer to hire one, so starts the arduous climb while inhaling sulphur fumes, until reaching the steps. The almost 90° angle of the stone steps is an even tougher climb. Sulphur fumes become thicker and harder not to breathe into your lungs, the higher the steps ascend.
Finally reaching the top and gazing down from Mount Bromo’s peak, impressive manmade Hindu Temple Pura Luhur Poten in the distance is dwarfed and insignificant, surrounded in a canvas of nature’s barren landscape and volatile volcanoes.
Peering deep into Mount Bromo’s abyss, the caldera’s thick acrid fumes force our eyes to weep as we momentarily look away, to take respite from the burning sensation.
Formed approximately 820,000 years ago, Mount Bromo’s endless cavernous cracks from eruptions across centuries scar its caldera, creating a moonscape still life.
Mount Bromo’s descent is slightly easier, although the sulphur fumes never abate…
Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
Covering 800-square kilometres, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is the largest volcanic region in east Java’s central province.
Declared a national park in 1982, the famous Tengger – Sea of Sand – spans 10-kilometres across an ancient caldera and is the only conservation of its kind in Indonesia. Mount Bromo’s continuous eruptions over the decades, buries volcanic sedimentation of sand across this land-sea.
Getting to Mount Bromo
Travelling in Indonesia during 1998 is challenging and sometimes painful.
I wonder whether the decades have changed this…the long journey from Yogyakarta to Mount Bromo isn’t easy.
Yogyakarta to Surabaya
Leaving crammed Tugu Train Station in Yogyakarta on the Kereta train at 15:45 this afternoon, the train slices across central Java to the Gubeng Train Station in Surabaya. Trying to stay off Indonesia’s dangerous roads for a while.
The executive train is really the only way to travel – no traffic, fast, and worry-free.
Arriving late in the evening after an uneventful trip, hustling Becak drivers pounce on us once again – we are a captive audience.
Decide to evade these relentless hustlers and walk laden with gear for a while, only to discover that the hotel is fully booked. Continuing the walk, through several dark and dingy lanes to the Centrum, and hopefully a quiet bed for the night.
It is 1998 so no mobile phones or internet at your fingertips, telling you where to go and what to do, especially when in a foreign country. Although a little more stressful, I much prefer this intrepid type of travelling.
Train from Surabaya to Probolinggo
Many travellers use the bustling city of Surabaya as a base to visit the active and famous Mount Bromo volcano.
Settled in the 10th-century, only spend overnight in Surabaya before it is time for another train trip. This time, only for a quick 2-hour journey to Probolinggo, which is at the base of Mount Bromo.
Pulling out of busy Surabaya, the train heads south until reaching picturesque lush-green paddy fields. Incredibly, houses and shacks are perched precariously close, almost kissing the train line.
Arriving at Probolinggo, a rustic public bus takes eager passengers on a wild trip. Winding around sheer hills while ascending the mountain, cabbages, corn, and potatoes dot the steep mountainsides, which fall deep into nothingness.
Everything is grown up here and everything is cultivated manually as it’s not possible to get machinery across the mountain’s dangerous slopes. At over 2,000-metres high, the farming against the mountainsides is impressive.
Lake View Hotel
Arrive at the Lava View Hotel in the hamlet of Cemoro Lawang to an even more incredible sight. The hotel rests at the edge of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park – overlooking but opposite Mount Bromo – spectacular.
The hotel offers rooms with hot-water showers. Although, as all are fully booked, a room with a freezing cold-water shower is the only option tonight and with the colder ambient temperature at this height, showers are brief.
The hotel offers a restaurant and also another close by, both of which offer poor service and mediocre meals – full of tourists, this is not surprising. After waiting an hour for food to arrive, the meals are missing the main ingredients – chicken and prawns. Only receiving Mie soup and vegetables, the rest of the meals arrive later after asking again.
The location of the hotel is a bonus as you can head out for stunning photos any time of the day or night – sunset is marvellous.
Leaving Mount Bromo
Decide the next island-hop is to Bali. With a touristy reputation even in 1998, only spending a few days there before another island-hop…