Bromo Beckoning

Ever since I stumbled upon some images of Mt Bromo on the internet some two years ago, I had wanted to see this place for myself. However, no one else shared my enthusiasm for the trip so I shoved the idea in the back of my mind.

My interest in Bromo resurfaced after returning from my Mt Fuji trip in August of this year. The painful decision of having to turn back when we were just a pitstop away from reaching Fuji’s summit still haunted me and I badly needed a distraction to take my mind off the climb. On the brighter side, this episode in Japan boosted my courage and forced me come to terms with the fact that I would most likely have to travel alone if I ever wanted to go to Bromo.

I set about making enquiries, drawing lessons from my trip to Japan. Admittedly, it was a rather liberating to plan my itinerary according to my wishes, instead of having to take other people’s preferences and interests into account. Since I was going to be in East Java, I decided to extend my trip to cover Ijen Crater as well.

Just as I was in the final stages of preparation, my ex-colleague contacted me to say that he and another friend were interested to join me. This was good news as it meant that I would have some company after all, and the fixed costs could be divided among the three of us.

The anticipated day arrived and we arrived at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya at noon and were met by our Driver. After buying our prepaid SIM cards (which incidentally did not work after Day 2), we stopped by a roadside stall for Bakso (meatballs and noodles in soup) to fill our stomachs, before starting the 4-hour drive to Probolinggo where we would spend the next two nights.

Thanks to our Driver who regarded the expressways and trunk roads as a race track, we arrived at Probolinggo an hour ahead of time. Our Guide got into the car and offered to give us a quick walking tour of Probolinggo before checking in to our homestay.

The small town of Probolinggo sits in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. Bordered by a group of mountains comprising Mt Semeru, Mt Bromo and Mt Argopuro with the beach lying on the northern side, the inhabitants comprise Javanese, Maduranese, Pendalungan and Tenggerese who practise their centuries-old traditions and customs to this day.

And then…as regular as clockwork, it started to rain! Memories of the Fuji trip came flooding back to me. 

There is a mysterious beauty about the whole place, even in bad weather.
The footpath from the main road to the to the women’s hut.

A walkabout around town was now out of the question. Fortunately, our Guide had Plan B up his sleeve. He brought us to the home of two old ladies who lived in a little hut in the middle of an onion field. At first, I was a bit hesitant about how they would react to strangers invading their home unannounced and walking on their earth-crusted floor with rain-soaked shoes. They turned out be really hospitable folk, giving us a glimpse into their lifestyle and allowing us to take photos of their home.

The hut is partitioned into two. The front portion serves as a bedroom and the back is the kitchen.
This wooden top serves as a bed, dining table and workspace. An old transistor radio is their only form of entertainment and link to the outside world.
There is no electricity or hot water. The inhabitants depend on natural light to fill the rooms.

The women go out to collect wood for fire after morning prayers. They usually retire to bed at 7:00pm.

After check-in, we all met up again for dinner at Lava View Hotel. This is supposed to be the best hotel in town but I found the service to be extremely slow, the menu overpriced and the food just average.

By the time we came out of the restaurant, the rain had subsided and temperatures had dropped drastically. I had not expected this part of the region to be so cold. There were two or three street vendors waiting outside the hotel entrance, trying to sell knitted gloves, scarves, balaclava and caps to customers and tourists coming out of the restaurant. Interestingly, many of the local residents in Probolinggo keep warm by merely wrapping a sarong round their shoulders.

Back in our homestay, we were advised to get some rest before heading out at 1:00am to a secluded viewing point to catch a Bromo sunrise. Unaccustomed to sleeping at 8:00pm, I stayed awake and waited for the seconds to tick away until it was time to hit the road for our first adventure.

 

 

 

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Borobudur (#49)

The single largest Buddhist structure on earth lies in the heart of the Kedu Valley in Central Java, Indonesia. Borobudur Temple. Built in the 8th and 9th centuries and set against the backdrop of active volcanoes, those who visit cannot fail to be in awe by Borobudur’s sheer size and the remarkable attention to detail that went into its construction. This temple used to be the spiritual centre of Buddhism in Java, before being lost to the world – hidden under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth for hundreds of years. It was only re-discovered in the early 19th century by the British governor, Thomas Stamford Raffles (the founder of Singapore) and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

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The entire lava rock structure is in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha. The different levels of the monument symbolises the different levels of wisdom we have to go through during life until attaining enlightenment, symbolised by the spectacular upper terraces.

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Each of the 72 openwork stupas in Borobodur Temple contains a statue of Buddha.

The base of the temple represents kamadhatu, the ‘realm of desire’ which is the state of mind lacking of morality. The middle level of five square terraces represents rupadhatu where man gets wiser and more virtuous, has some control over his negative impulses but is still chained to earthly and materialistic pursuits. The three circular platforms as well as the monumental stupa at the summit represent arupadhatu, therealm of formlessness’ where man understands that the visible world is just an illusion and the real meaning of life is found inside oneself.

The walls and balustrades are decorated with fine low reliefs

The temple gardens are green and spacious with the occasional elephant plying the well-kept grounds.

There are two other smaller temples that are located nearby to Borobudur, Mendut and Pawon temples.

Mendut Temple 

During Vesak Day, the auspicious day that marks the birth, Enlightenment and death of Buddha, Buddhist devotees make their first stop at Mendut temple to prepare themselves spiritually, before continuing on foot up the 3 kilometre ascend to Borobudur. There is a gigantic tree outside Mendut temple that you cannot fail to notice. It is actually two trees, one growing on the other and extending its roots downwards from the heights of the branches to reach the ground.

Pawon Temple 

On the way to Borobudur, there is the smallest of the three temples – Pawon temple. It boasts of beautiful architectures and exquisite sculpture around its walls.

It may be interesting to note that Mendut temple and Pawon temple were constructed before Borobudur. Both these temples lie on a straight line with Borobudur, suggesting a symbolic connection that got lost over time.