As a misty dawn began to break over the Tengger Sand Sea, the figures started appearing.
At first, it was a trickle, a few hardy souls briefly appearing before disappearing into the ether. Before long it became a deluge as more and more shadowy forms skulked past, some on motorbikes, others on horseback. Most were on foot, but all held a common purpose.
Their destination was Mt Bromo, an active volcano in East Java and one of Indonesia’s truly iconic images. Try as it might, the morning sun could not break through the smoke belching forth from its crater.
The day had begun in the early hours of the nearby village Cemoro Lewang. A convoy of jeeps raced across the flatlands, their passengers sitting silently, trying to gauge their surroundings as the impenetrable blackness raced by.
Before long they reached the viewing platforms of Mt Pananjakan. An already formidable crowd had gathered to take in the otherworldly grandeur of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.
Below lay some of the conservation area’s volcanic inhabitants, seemingly emanating from the swirling fog itself. The collapsed crater of Mt Bromo lay supplicated before dormant Mt Batok and in the far distance lay the grandest of the trio: Mt Semeru, the gigantic cone rearing over the entire landscape. The constant plume of grey smoke, ash and stones rising from the three peaks reminded visitors of destructive, and most definitely active, power brooding ‘neath the site.
Cosmic ebbs and flows
A dense mist was already ebbing and flowing around the vast plain, bestowing upon the area a somnambulant quality, ideally suited to the park’s mystical atmosphere. As the crowds descended upon the volcanic sand sea, the fog, if anything, grew thicker as smoke continued to pump from Bromo’s crater. The outline of strange swirling forms quickly grew and reconfigured themselves before disappearing completely.
Finally, though, the sun broke through the cloud cover. Despite the clear skies above a new challenge presented itself in place of the morning’s limited visibility: the unforgiving Indonesian humidity. Soon enough, the exhausting climb up Bromo’s side slowed to a crawl as brows were mopped and water bottles downed in thirsty gulps.
In this state of semi-exhaustion, the landscape took on newer, odder dimensions.
Serene Batok seemed to pulsate gently as it lay covered in casuarina trees, their verdant green swathes at odds with the surrounding shades of white and grey and somehow surviving despite the volcanic ash from its neighbour.
The impression was that of a long-forgotten alien moon, an effect heightened by the smoke pouring from great fissures at Bromo’s base, covering the jagged craters and extending out to the edge of the desolate sand sea.
After the final, lunging climb came to an end, it was easy for the visitors to stand overawed in the presence of these ancient monoliths. Under the gaze of the incessant mid-morning sun, the volcanic trio offered only a glimpse into their ultimately unknowable natural power. The fog, uncomprehending, continued its ebbing gyrations across the park’s floor.
(Spluttering Editor: Java is home to many enigmatic wonders. The Ijen Crater in Banyuwangi is possibly the most diabolical. Observe here.)