Thousands shoot photos of Bromo’s dawn chorus each year. As Luke Clark reports, one group of Indonesian photographers is now determined to give back to an area that has provided so many memorable images. Photography by Barry Kusuma
It is four in the morning at the edge of the earth. Below in the distance are the dark lines of a vast super-volcano. Above, an impossible universe of stars paint the night sky, as a stray one leaves the pack and dashes northwards.
Photographer Sigit Pramono first discovered this scene as a university student. Now aged 51, the banker and amateur photographer says the landscape still stuns him, even after so many exposures.
They say it is always darkest before the dawn. Add to that, coldest. Having left the township of Probolinggo an hour ago, the jeeps wind upwards into an industry of dawn, a mini-city of small stores selling warm-weather clothing. Then comes a short but labored walk in the high altitude to claim the darkened real estate near the look-out point from Mount Penanjakan. An excited throng of people gathers each morning, chattering like the volume might ward off the cold. Thankfully, free enterprise conquers even mountains, and cups of hot, sweet coffee center you again.
Suddenly a light cuts the eastern flank, as the first rays of fire flood down into a vast valley below. The iconic view creeps into sight, as a handful of volcanoes start to wake up. There it is: the tortured white-grey edges of Bromo having its morning puff. Next door, the perfect conical shape of Batok, with the looming older brother, Semeru, making up the trio. Below it all, a carpet of mist wraps around them like cappuccino foam. From pitch black, there’s now a brilliant blue dawn.
“I still believe this is a theatre of nature,” says Sigit. “For me, this is one of the most beautiful spots to see how mother nature starts her day.” Yet despite being one of Indonesia’s most iconic scenes, with thousands visiting each year to photograph the idyllic spot at dawn, the protection of Bromo and its people are not guaranteed by day-trippers alone. Indeed, the area and its residents are worthy of a longer stay, and a deeper experience of this haunting landscape.
Rather than being a single mountain, the area commonly known as Mount Bromo is in fact the remains of Mount Tengger, a “super-volcano” which geologists say blew its top millions of years ago. In its wake is a neighborhood of smaller or “children” volcanoes and a massive caldera.
The Tenggerese inhabitants are Javanese-Hindu, and said to be direct descendents of the Majapahit Kingdom. At the base of the volcano is one of the most significant Hindu Temples, Pura Agung Poten, adding even further mystique to this primeval scene.
As you hurtle down the steep mountain road from Mount Penanjakan, descending into Tengger’s massive heart, the ferocity of the stone and sand below feels eerily similar to the alpine drama of JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Then, blazing across the valley floor along the Sand Sea, summons a sense of exhilaration that feels almost like pre-battle.
Seen from Bromo’s base, you have a chance to admire his sister, Mount Batok, up close. So often mistaken for Bromo, she may well be the perfectly-shaped volcano, like an enormous crinkle cut potato chip rolled perfectly into a cone. Yet Bromo is the one that steals the thunder in terms of fame; especially during the annual Kasada Festival, when the Tenggerese bring offerings to throw into his vast open mouth to appease and honor it for another season.
Known for its dazzling diversity and rapid changes in scenery, a drive through this valley takes you from a panorama of patterned sand one moment to a carpet of green savannah hills the next – as if traversing from Saudi to Switzerland in minutes. This is a center of extreme weather variances too – from dry scorching heat one moment to thick frosts the next – making for a photographic nirvana. In summer, the rippling sand, now steel grey, turns a brilliant red. As a backdrop for horse riding, hiking, 4WD-touring and mountain-bike riding, there are few more stunning locations.
Sigit Pramono has produced four books on the area in and around Bromo. A banker with BCA Bank and chairman of the Indonesian Banking Assosiation, Sigit and his friends opened a café and photo gallery, which later became a lodge. Just two hours drive from Surabaya, the area around Probolinggo makes a perfect spot for setting off along paved streets by foot, or on mountain bikes. In and around the village is some of the region’s best agricultural land, hugging the misty hills.
Styled after a Danish ski lodge, Java Banana Resort (named after its specialty, coffee with deep-fried banana) was designed as a photographer’s retreat, including an embryonic museum of antique cameras. The first attempt at a boutique resort at Bromo, Sigit wants it to be a focal point for visitors and photographers to the area. He and his-fellow owners, all photographers or lovers of the art, hold annual jazz concerts and photographic exhibitions here, in a bid to give visitors more reasons to stay longer.
For those who do, the national park not only has numerous other viewing spots for the volcanic plataeu, but the rich soils have produced a wealth of biodiversity, from rhodendron strands and primary rainforest, to Javanese Edelweiss, a local varient of that found in the Swiss Alps. Sigit says the Tenggerese people live in close harmony with the mountains. “Bromo can at once be destroyer, with its terrifying eruptions, and creator – the material spewed out is the reason for the fertility of the Tengger area.”
Through the resort and books, Sigit wants to play a small part in protecting Bromo, inspired by American landscape photographer Ansel Adams. “He provoked his people and the government to conserve nature, by presenting his beautiful photographs about the landscape of Yosemite, Yellowstone and Utah. I’ve tried to follow that track.”
Information/ Informasi Climate: Night temperatures drop to zero in the summer, and rarely above 5°C in winter. Nearest town: The township of Probolinggo is 45km from Bromo-TenggerSemeru National Park. Flora and fauna: Higher elevations are largely covered in casuarina trees. Within the park, it’s possible to find Java rusa deer, muntjac, marbled cats and wild boar. Bromo walk: From the Poten Temple, take the steep path of 250 steps to the edge of the crater. The walk takes up to 90 minutes. Mount Semeru: Serious trekkers can climb Semeru over two days. A permit must first be obtained. Madakaripura Falls: In the foothills of the park, these beautiful waterfalls are easily accessible by jeep: but do bring dry clothing.
Contacts/ Kontak Java Banana Bromo Jln Raya Bromo , Wonotoro, Sukapura, Probolinggo Jawa Timur, Indonesia , tel: (o)335 541 193, www.java-banana.com
Sigit Pramono Photography 12AB Jln Anggrek Lestari, Blok M, Lebek Lestari Indah, Jakarta, tel: (0)819 3211 5688
Mandala Airlines Surabaya 91 Jln Diponegoro, tel: (0)31 561 0777
Panorama Tours Panorama Building 4th floor, 63 Jln Tomang Raya, Jakarta tel: (0)21 569 58585 www.panorama-tours.com
East Java Tourism Office Jalan Wisata Menanggal, Surabaya, East Java, tel: (0)31 853 1815
Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park 6 Jl Raden Intan, Malang, tel: (0)341 491828
Source: Mandala inflight magazine