The most popular and well known of East Java’s tourist attractions is undoubtedly Mt Bromo. The pre-dawn departure and trek across the mountain’s famous ‘sand sea’, to watch the sunrise at the crater rim, has become something of a ritual, enacted daily by people of every nationality.
Bromo is actually just one crater in the vast, 800 km2 Tengger massif, which forms the largest of East Java’s five main volcanic ranges. Although by no means the highest mountain in the region (2392m), it has gained its reputation partly because of its unique location and partly through the reverence shown to it by the local inhabitants.
A legend connected with Mt Bromo tells of the origin of the Tenggerese people. According to the story, it was during the closing years of the 15th century, when the East Javanese empire of Majapahit was in decline, that a princess of the kingdom, named Roro Anteng, and her husband Joko Seger, retreated to the Bromo region and established a separate principality, which they named Tengger, a combination of the last syllables of each of their names. The region, it is said, developed and prospered, yet no descendants were born to the ruling couple.
In despair, Roro Anteng and Joko Seger climbed to the top of Mt Bromo and prayed to the gods, asking for their help. The gods consented to the request on the condition that the last child born be sacrificed in the crater of the mountain. This agreed, the royal couple returned home happily and it wasn’t long before the princess gave birth to their first child. In fact, the gods turned out to be more than generous and in the following years 24 more children were born. However, when the princess learned that the twenty fifth children, named Kesuma, was to be the last and thus the one to be sacrificed, she could not bring herself to fulfill her part of the bargain. In anger, the gods threatened fire and brimstone from the smoking volcano and eventually there was no alternative but to throw the child into the crater.
Shortly after the sacrifice had been made, the child’s voice was heard, ordering the Tengger people and their descendants to perform an annual ceremony at Mt Bromo, to commemorate the event and to appease the anger of the gods.
To this day, the Kasodo ceremony, held on the 14th day of the Tenggerese month of Kasodo (December), is the biggest event of the year for the people of Mt Bromo. Ritual prayers and traditional performances are held at the village of Ngadisari, after which crowds gather on the sand sea surrounding the mountain for the climax of the ceremony at midnight, when livestock and agricultural produce are flung into the crater. Now a days, as an additional attraction arranged to coincide with the Kasodo ceremony, bull races are organized at the village of Muneng Probolinggo.
The Tengger Range is one of eight official nature reserves in East Java and centres around the peaks of Mts. Bromo and Semeru. Most of the area is more than 2000 metres above sea level, Mt Semeru itself being Java’s highest mountain at 3,676m.
There are several ways to get to the Bromo and Semeru Reserve. The well-worn route is from the north coastal town of Probolinggo, 60 km away. A reasonably good road winds its way south and up into the hills via Sukapura, ending at Ngadisari, one of the largest of the 38 traditional Tenggerese villages. For those wishing specifically to visit Mt Bromo, this is the best route, since there is accommodation at Ngadisari, as well as at Cemara Lawang on the edge of the sea sand above the village. The most comfortable place to stay is at the brand new Hotel Grand Bromo at Sukapura, which was officially opened early in 1990. Thoughtfully designed to blend in with the contours of the landscape, the hotel offers pleasantly furnished rooms and a very efficient hot water system. Organized tours are available from here to Mt Bromo and other places of interest nearby.
An alternative route, from the northwest, leads from Pasuruan on the coast through Wonokitri and Tosari, to the summit of Mt Penanjakan on the edge of the sea sand. This is rapidly becoming the favoured spot to welcome the dawn, since it is the highest point in the vicinity and offers a spectacular view of Mt Semeru and the entire Bromo caldera. As yet, however, there is only limited simple accommodation at Tosari.