TRAILS OF THE GODS

At the heart of East Java lies Bromo caldera, a vol­canic land­scape of awe­some power, real and sym­bolic.

Action Asia - - CONTENTS - Story by Steve White

SUN­RISE ATOP MOUNT BROMO. TO THE NORTH­EAST, A SEA OF CLOUD be­gins to spill silently over the caldera rim. Slump­ing to the sandy floor as an omi­nously ex­pand­ing pud­dle, its front edge quickly nears the foot of the gi­ant ashy cone on which the four of us stand. As it breaks upon the mar­gins of the moun­tain there’s even a faint ir­ra­tional sense of alarm – are we be­ing ma­rooned? Then come the first pierc­ing glints as the sun chases the cloud over the rim. Re­as­sur­ingly, there is to be an­other day. The rays are an­swered by flick­er­ing from the Pe­nan­jakan view­point to the north as hordes of tourists share the mo­ment. Soon an­other wave, of vans and bikes and horses, will im­pact Bromo. Now though, we are alone with the spir­i­tual axis of the uni­verse . . . we tilt that axis and let the ash take us, whoop­ing into cold air, moon-strid­ing me­tres at a time as we slither down a moun­tain­side too steep to run, too fun to not try.

***

In­done­sia is strewn with still-smoul­der­ing vol­canic peaks. Java in par­tic­u­lar has plenty of craggy, cratered moon­scapes, but the Bromo caldera is pos­i­tively Mar­tian in scale and strange­ness. Pro­tected to­day as the Bromo-teng­ger-se­meru Na­tional Park, this area has long been revered. Back when In­done­sia was mostly Hindu, it was thought to be the cen­tre of cre­ation, a be­lief main­tained by the lo­cal Teng­gerese who are among Java’s last sur­viv­ing Hindu hold­outs. Se­meru, the peak that looms im­pe­ri­ously at the back in a mil­lion self­ies of Bromo, is named af­ter Meru, the abode of gods. Most of those self­ies are taken from at sun­rise from the high­est point of

We are alone with the spir­i­tual axis of the uni­verse . . . we tilt that axis and let the ash take us . . .

the rim, at Pe­nan­jakan. If you aim to be among them, head out re­ally early as it gets choked with vis­i­tors well be­fore the sun ever shows it­self. Oth­er­wise, elect for a lower view­point or em­brace the con­trar­ian view and head across the Sea of Sand that lines the caldera, to its twin cen­tre­pieces: the fluted form of Mt Ba­tok, and Mt Bromo it­self. In the past, Teng­gerese horse­men eked out a liv­ing from fer­ry­ing tourists all the way to Bromo but to­day most reach this sa­cred spot drag­ging a bil­low of dust be­hind their 4WD or mo­tor­bike. All must then re­lin­quish such proud mon­u­ments to man’s in­ge­nu­ity – leave their mo­torised trans­port at the car park – and as­sume a more proper level of mod­esty as they ap­proach the moun­tain and its at­ten­dant Hindu tem­ple. Look­ing up, you will of­ten see this crater­within-a-crater topped with an off-white cloud of steam as ev­i­dence that it re­mains very much

Move around the rim be­yond the stone rail­ings for more room to con­tem­plate this ex­tra­or­di­nary place.

ac­tive. Fol­low the ob­vi­ous trail through a maze of wa­ter-carved gul­lies, and mount the stone stairs for a view down Bromo’s gap­ing gul­let. As the crowds build with day­light, move around the rim be­yond the stone rail­ings for more room to con­tem­plate this ex­tra­or­di­nary place. Each year, Bromo’s rim is the pre­car­i­ous set­ting for the cli­max of the Teng­gerese fes­ti­val of Yad­nya Kasada, or Ke­sodo, when of­fer­ings are thrown into the crater to as­suage the gods.

The Teng­ger peo­ple have long used horses to get around their moun­tain­ous home. Their nimble hooves cope as well with the ash in­side the caldera as with the rich vol­canic soil of the farm­land that lies on its out slopes.

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