Climbing the altar of lord Brahma

The clock shows 2.30 in the morning, when a hesitant knock on my door wakes me up. With sleepy eyes I open the door, and meet the smiling kind face of an aged man, speaking in his own language, he is my wake up call! Hastily I prepare myself, then make my way through the garden corridors to the reception, where I meet my guide, my beloved Erma, and our driver, with a 4wd Land cruiser.

Let’s embark on the ritual…

Our journey commences in the middle of darkness, I can feel our jeep climbing the mountain, through the winding road, taking bumpy, sharp turns… A series of lights from other jeeps going the same way is lighting the way. I can feel the anticipation and excitement in my rapid heartbeats, I cannot measure time, what matters is the road…

“and the road becomes my bride,
so in her I do confide…”

Finally we arrive and start walking, it’s pitch dark and chilly!! Erma was right recommending me to dress in layers, loads of them!!

The only source of light is a few bonfires on the side of the path… higher up, tiny coffee shops opening up. One of them is filled with people and smiles, therefore we decide to spend time there, plus I desperately need coffee!! Although the options for breakfast are countless, and hot noodle soups always sound nice, I got tempted by  some delicious stuffed tofu pies, which you definitely must try with a bite of chili pepper, even though It’s 4 o’ clock in the morning! This little place is brimming with loud people dressed as if going to hit the slopes, it’s so funny, considering we are in the middle of summer. Smiling faces and enthusiasm, the best is yet to come. As everybody in this lovely party are Asians, they keep asking me questions, where I come from, how did I decide to go there all alone, they find me so strange! A group of them is performing also, giving us their version of Charlie and his Asian angels. Time flies while sharing travel stories, taking pictures together, laughing, having a great time.

Afterwards we begin the ascent through steep slippery roads. The goal is to reach the top of mount Penanjakan, at 2.770m.  and discover the perfect spot on the vantage point. Walking in darkness, I can feel a great deal of people all around, hurrying their way up. Finally, the horde reaches the top and stays there a while, patiently waiting for the sun god to perform his miracle…

When the spectacle begins, the hundreds gathered at the top of the mountain, sigh… Colours begin to unfold in the night sky, the horizon is overflowed by a yellowish-orange light, unveiling the blue of the sky, transforming it to purple. Stunning, indeed!!!!

As the warm rays of light paint the atmosphere, an orange hue dominates the landscape, offering us magnificent vistas, it is majestic!! Below the kaleidoscope of colours, an eerie white fog is covering everything, it’s almost like a veil protecting the sleepy villages…

And when the fiery caldera is bathed in light, down below, the smoking Bromo volcano greets us with astonishing views, and a hint of sulphurous scent in the air… This does not look as an infernal place, it’s gorgeous!!!

The clicks from the cameras create a continuous buzz, we all move like wild goats, climbing rocks, ascending, descending, trying to find the spot for the perfect shot. My sweet companion, Erma, always worrying about me, keeps shouting “no Nat, do not climb down there, it’s dangerous!”.  A generous smile always resides at her face! Every guide in the area calls her “Ma”. Moreover, she is patient and possesses a magnificent sense of humour, and a superb singing voice!

After enjoying the view, the convoy of hundreds of jeeps begins the slow crawl through the mountain. The weather is now warmer, and we enjoy glorious views of the volcano and the sandy valley… while descending, we can feel the magnitude of the volcano, it’s massive!!!

Time to immerse ourselves inside the sea of sand. Almost alien landscape, devoid of life, a sea of ashes! The drivers unleash their inner Stig, if you don’t speed up here you could end up stuck inside the sand. The clouds of ashes do not allow us to see anything, it’s bumpy, it’s thrilling, we feel like children in a playground, going full speed, shouting with excitement!

“and with dust in throat I crave…”

Time to become an amazon, my mighty horse is a beauty, and is guiding me through the steep volcanic paths graciously. My excitement climaxes, this adds up to the experience. Finally, we arrive at a stop, hundreds of horses around, time for them to rest a bit, as we begin the final ascent.

The climb of the almost 250 sandy steps is tricky. The steps are steep and overcrowded. The weather seems nice, but sudden wind shifts can fill your lungs with smoke. At this point, a tiny sting of fear grasps my soul, what if I cannot breathe on the way? Nevertheless, I decide to attempt it, but Erma sounds extremely worried. She cannot join me, because she sprained her ankle and it hurts. Decisively I begin the climb, I will conquer that peak!!! I reached the fountain, how can I not drink the water? If your dreams don’t scare you a bit, they are not big enough…

Lost in my thoughts, I feel a touch on my back, it’s a young man, saying “I’m coming with you, Erma said so”.

Breathtaking, indeed! When the winds decide to attack with waves of sandblasting, we stop for a minute, covering our faces even more… additionally, the urge to stop and just gaze is intense, because the views we are being offered with, are glorious! The resting pit of the horses, a plethora of them! The jeeps further away, spinning their way inside the clouds of the sea of ashes!

Finally at the peak! This is the mountain of Brahma, the lord of creation.  I am standing at the top of one of Indonesia’s ring of fire crowns.

 “And the earth becomes my throne”

It also serves as an altar:  Once a year, Tenggerese worshippers, hike through the sea of sand and climb all the way to the top of the mountain, in order to make offerings of fruit, rice, vegetables, flowers and sacrifices of livestock, praising the mountain gods by praying and throwing their offerings into the crater of the volcano. The tradition of throwing sacrifice into the volcano to appease these ancient deities, continues today and is called the Yadnya Kasada ceremony. – Wikipedia

There is a narrow and steep way around the crater, but all the safety mantels are broken down. The wind rages up here, you are forced to put all your effort in order to just stand. And then, you look down below, deep inside the earth, the fiery crater resembles and sounds like the pit of hell, smoking menacingly, rumbling and showing its blazing fury… so much energy!!!

Next to me, locals on their knees are praying to the gods of the volcano and throw flowers in the smoking crater…

The descent is slow, I don’t want this to end, I need to pause at every step to enjoy the eagle-eye view around me…

Time to meet my horse, once again. The weather is extremely hot now, I have sand on my teeth, but we must still cross the sea of sand together. On the way, I try to turn back and capture the imposing view on my mind, as much as I can…

The ride back is so different! Full of light and amazing views of the mountains around! The nature is blooming, valleys with colourful flowers, forests covering the peaks, feels like I am crossing Switzerland! Finally we arrive at my hotel, nested at a gorgeous hamlet, called Sapikerep Sukapura. I spend the time I have left relaxing inside the gardens, having a rich breakfast, with loads of nasi goreng 🙂 , and enjoying the views!

When my dear friend and driver, Endro -one of the kindest men I have ever known, who still honours me with his friendship- arrives, he seems even more excited than ever.  With his wide smile he reveals that they have a surprise for me, before taking the trip back home!

The cherry on the cake was a visit to the spectacular Madakaripura waterfall, with its 200m. water curtains, the tallest one in Java. Due to the fact that it is mandatory to be accompanied by a local guide there, I had a different companion, gentle Ali. We crossed together a dense forest, noisy rapids, rocky paths and an enormous cave before stepping into the miracle! The thundering sound of the waterfall, the rays of light combined with the water curtains forming rainbows, provided an almost mystical experience, deep in this secluded paradise!

Ali was putting his best efforts in an attempt to keep me dry and safe while walking in water, over sharp and slippery rocks. We were forced to squeeze ourselves between green mossy boulders, just because “there’s more!!”.  No way, let’s get under the water and play like unsupervised children, getting messy and wet.

“at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty,

your hair messy and your eyes sparkling….”

Under the rumbling sound of the eternally falling waters pouring their blessings on me, Ali did also transform me into a model, recommending on how to pose like a star. J

I returned to my friends, with a triumphant smile to my ears, and both my body and soul refreshed. Such tranquility and joy, a day to always remember…

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