© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin
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Tolkien's Moria in Madura Island: Arosbaya stone quarry

3 minutes to read

You would not expect an old rock quarry to be of much interest to a tourist — a setting for an adventure game, perhaps, but hardly an attraction in itself. And in the case of Arosbaya, you would be wrong. Decades of manual stone mining have turned a small part of Madura into a veritable semblance of Tolkien's Moria, the underground kingdom of dwarves. Chambers, passages, arches, and giant domed halls spread deep into the limestone hill. Unstoppable tropical vegetation adds to the fairy-tale ambiance. Vertical shafts let in enough sunlight - for miners to work by, for photographers to shoot this bizarre subterranean landscape, and for dwarven defenders to turn invading trolls into stone. The humanmade caves are extensive and very scenic, making this one of the few landmarks of Madura Island.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

The dying mine

Arosbaya is not a place for dynamite and big machines: the only concession to the 21st century made so far is using electric disk saws on the relatively soft rock. Otherwise, everything is done by hand, and since even for Indonesia, this is rather old-fashioned, not very practical or profitable, the mining is on the decline. On an average weekday, you will likely see a handful of workers; on the weekend, a few local tourists only. The quarry has become a popular place for Madurese youth to hang out, practice rock climbing, flirting and selfie-taking (for the latter, admittedly, not much training is required, Indonesians have a natural affinity). Overall, it is steadily transforming from a working mine into a holiday attraction.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Mining the old way

The few workers you might encounter are the hardy type you would expect them to be. The days of hammers and wedges are mostly gone, but the job has not become much easier – sitting on the edge of a rock, in the eternal gloom of an underground chamber, or under the scorching sun outside. The miners slice rectangular chucks out of the bedrock with disk saws, struggling to breathe in the cloud of stone dust. Ready pieces then have to be lugged away – on the back or, wherever there is enough floor, in a wheelbarrow. Despite the hard labor, they are usually cheerful and very hospitable to foreigners – they have not seen many, after all. Madurese, in general are renowned for their hospitality, exceptional even by Indonesian standards, and often excessive. Try to avoid being forced to eat their lunch.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Practicalities

The island of Madura is located right next to Java and connected to it by a giant bridge, a landmark in itself. The nearest accommodation to the Arosbaya stone quarry is in the town of Bangkalan, served by regular buses from Surabaya in Java. To reach the mine, hop on any vehicle heading east of Bangkalan – given the Madurese hospitality, hitchhiking may be faster than waiting for a bus or a minivan. So far, there is no entrance fee. A few older women may be sitting near the entrance selling snacks and coffee, but do not count on it. It will take 2-3 hours to see all the most scenic chambers. The landscape is much easier to navigate than a natural cave, and you are unlikely to have any unexpected adventures. If you need some, use your imagination – try to believe you are in Tolkien’s Moria. Apparently, there are no Balrogs in this one, but just in case, consider bringing your own Gandalf.

Arosbaya limestone hill, Madura
Arosbaya limestone hill, Madura
Plalangan Madura, Buduran, Arosbaya, Makam Air Mata, Buduran, Arosbaya, Kabupaten Bangkalan, Jawa Timur 69151, Indonesia

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The author

Mark Levitin

Mark Levitin

I am Mark, a professional travel photographer, a digital nomad. For the last four years, I am based in Indonesia, spending here roughly half a year and travelling around Asia for the other half. Previously, I spent four years in Thailand, exploring it from all perspectives.

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