- A predawn trek to Mount Bromo in East Java takes you through some incredible scenery
- The active volcano is one of many in the national park and safe to visit, unless a warning is issued
My legs are still shaking from hiking up the narrow crater rim when I pause to look up at the pink and gold predawn sky. An early morning mist hangs low between the mountains, casting a veil over the rugged valley below. My tour group is the earliest group to arrive at the summit of Mount Bromo as the sun peeks from behind the jagged peaks, adding an ethereal glow to the scene.
Mount Bromo is best known of the many volcanoes in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park in East Java, Indonesia. Rising to 2,329 metres (7,641 feet), it is a somma volcano " a caldera, or a collapsed volcanic cone, with a partially formed cone inside. Although it is still active, it is monitored by a local volcanology centre, and is considered safe to visit unless a warning is issued.
The lava and ash flows from the eruptions have formed the moonlike landscape surrounding the volcano, which extends to a vast plain dubbed the sea of sand.
The name of the mountain comes from the Hindu god of creation, Brahma; the smoke escaping from the volcano is seen as a sign of the god's anger. It is a sacred mountain to the nearby Tengger people, who celebrate the yadnya kasada ceremony annually, at which villagers gather to sacrifice livestock to appease the gods.
Our sunrise trek starts at 3.45am; our guides meet us at our guest house in Ngadisari, a small village just northeast of Mount Bromo, and usher us into a jeep. We are here as part of a three-day tour from Bali that took us first to Kawah Ijen and now to Mount Bromo. The village is only five minutes from the entrance to the national park, and we soon leave the mountain road and head into a sea of sand.
"We're hiking up Mount Bromo to see the sunrise while everyone else is at the King Kong viewpoint up on the other side," our local guide says. The King Kong viewpoint, on a mountain to the north, offers a sweeping view of Mount Bromo and the sea of sand, but does not face the sunrise.
My shoes sink into the soft sand as we make our way to Mount Bromo in the near distance, the sky turning from ink blue to purple with hints of crimson and gold. Flat sand turns into slope as we make our way up, my calves burning more than expected on the sandy terrain. A lone horseman passes us and our guide tells us that it is possible to rent a horse as far as the base of the stairs.
The final ascent involves 250 steps. The height sends my heart into a frenzy as we make our way left, out of the crater rim's fenced zone. "It's safe," the guide shouts at me from a distance. "But stay away from the edge."
We arrive just in time for sunrise, and watch it peep from behind the mountains. Once there is full daylight, it is much easier to go back around the rim and down. The platform at the foot of the stairs has transformed into a makeshift rest stop. Several tea stands have sprouted up and our guides order us hot tea as we all sit and watch Mount Bromo come to life. Tourists on horses led by men in headscarves give the sensation of being in the middle of a desert, not the heart of East Java.
The walk back to the car park is made more difficult by the constant stream of human and horse traffic, a contrast to our solitary walk up. Before we descend the slopes, our guide pulls us aside and points to a row of faces carved into the rock layers across a small canyon. "They are by the Java Man," she says. She refers to an early human fossil Homo erectus, discovered in Java. These artworks are more likely to have been made by the early Tengger settlers.
The final stretch of the walk takes us across the flat plain again alongside horses, motorbikes and more hikers. I watch as Mount Bromo becomes smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror and sand drifting behind our wheels. The moon might be out of reach for us, but Mount Bromo is not.
From Mount Bromo to Seminyak, the drive is about 12 hours. From Ngadisari, it is possible to arrange a guide with a jeep to take you up. The nearest city is Probolinggo, which is connected to the rest of Java by train.
When to go
The best time to hike Mount Bromo is between April and October during the dry season. You can time your visit to witness the yadnya kasada ceremony, which usually happens in July or August. However, it is also the hottest and busiest time.
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