While most tourists visiting Indonesia limit their travel to the small island of Bali, nearby Java is steadily gaining popularity. This is particularly true in the latest years when the internet has made traveling easy. Those who are keen on exploring this terra incognita, can arrange basic commodities on the go, google the main attractions, pin them on offline maps, and pre-book accommodation and transport. Java, therefore, is rapidly being “discovered”, and one of its most famous sights is Mt. Bromo in East Java. This mountain is a highly active volcanic crater (called a caldera) and is part of the giant Bromo-Tengger National Park. Most tourists climb to one of the viewpoints on the rim of the caldera at sunrise for a gorgeously beautiful panorama. The fame of Mt. Bromo is, in fact, well justified.
A sacred volcano
While not nearly as tall as Mt. Semeru, which belongs to the same group of volcanoes of the national park, Bromo holds a special significance to the local tribe, the Tenggerese. Their beliefs are close to the Javanese Hinduism/Animism (a syncretic faith well preserved in Java under the overlaying layer of Islam), but with this specific twist: volcano worship. There’s Pura Poten, a Hindu temple, at the foot of Mt. Bromo, where ceremonies are conducted on auspicious days and during tribal festivals. Of the latter, the most important is Kasada Yadnya. On a date selected each year by the priests (which is not predictable), thousands of pilgrims come to pray in the temple. Then they climb the volcanic cone and throw their offerings into the crater. Beautiful virgins are not sacrificed (and never were – wrong continent, sorry), but live chicken and goats, bundles of vegetables and money, are. Basically, people offer whatever they produce to the powerful spirit – or god, if you prefer – in the crater. Tourists can also climb the cone, and it’s an easy walk, but the best panorama of the caldera can only be seen from the viewpoints on its rim.
Shamanic insight versus science
In Java, magic is as common as motorbikes. This everyday attitude to the supernatural means new myths and legends keep forming in the 21st century. The area around the Bromo-Tengger Caldera became the scene for one such modern myth when Bromo erupted in early 2016. A massive phreatomagmatic eruption covered the surrounding territories with volcanic ash, killing crops and causing respiratory problems for the local population. Volcanologists predicted that the eruption might increase in power and strongly recommended evacuation. The people, however, went to seek advice from a "pawang kunci gunung", a person who possesses a mystic ability to communicate with the spirit of a particular volcano – in this case, Bromo. “The spirit is angry,” – said the shaman – “but don’t worry, he’ll calm down in half a year or so”. Most Tenggerese stayed where they were, and the volcano cooled down after a few months. It still occasionally puffs out a cloud of hot steam, though. It has a bad cough, maybe?
The Bromo-Tengger Caldera is popular enough to be featured on most organized tours. If you prefer to explore independently, the nearest transport hub in East Java is the town of Probolinggo. From there, regular minibusses run to Cemoro Lawang, the base for hikes around the caldera. It would all be straightforward if not for the tourist scams. One of them involves public vehicles in Probolinggo dropping you off at the wrong location, where a local guy will claim that the minibusses to Mt. Bromo have been “canceled” and offer an overpriced car ride. Another scam involves overcharging tourists right on the minibusses themselves. Do keep in mind that public transport to Cemoro Lawang does stop running in the afternoon. Cemoro Lawang has plenty of accommodation, including quite a few options bookable online. To see the most beautiful volcanic panorama, you will have to climb to one of the viewpoints, traditionally in time for sunrise. Access to the main ones requires paying an entrance fee, and it’s nearly ten times higher for foreigners than for locals (~15$/~1.7$ accordingly at the time of research, plus ~40% surcharge on weekends). If you don’t support this unfair practice, use common sense and a good map to plot your way around the ticket booths. It’s easy enough. Finally, it’s freezing up there! Come prepared.
Mt. Bromo, East JavaBromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Jawa Timur, Indonesia
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