It is not every day that one wakes up at 2 am in the bitter cold, scales a hillock in the darkness to see the sun rise behind a volcano. Indonesia has over 15,000 islands and almost every island is filled with volcanoes, most of them active. One of the most popular destinations is Mount Bromo, the volcano in East Java named after the Hindu God Brahma. Your itinerary here normally starts in the wee hours of the morning. The journey begins with a jeep safari in the dark as you head to the adjacent Mount Penanjakan to see the sunrise. Standing atop the viewpoint with a sea of humanity, do not be surprised if the sun decides to play truant or the mist plays a wet blanket. The best moment is yet to come.
Driving through the Bromo Tengger Sumeru National Park early morning, you can see the mist clearing as Mount Bromo stands bathed in the hues of dawn. The journey then takes you through the Sea of Sand to the base of the crater. A temple stands in the midst of the sands. Go on horseback to the base and climb 200 steps to reach the top. A huge gaping hole in mother earth is all that you can see as the sulphur fills the landscape. It is both surreal and scary. Looking around, you can see stretches of sand everywhere and the temple in the middle.
From East Java, if you go towards the West, you will reach Bandung, the third largest city of Indonesia. Located near Jakarta, Bandung was once a plantation town of the Dutch more than 300 years ago. As you drive around, you can see the slopes carpeted by tea and coffee plantations. Your first destination is an active volcano called Tangkuban Perahu, which translates to an ‘inverted boat’. You can see the ashy white crater in the centre with wisps of sulphur floating around.
It is full of tourists and locals taking selfies all the time. A couple of wilted shrubs lie dead on the ground. The slopes of the mountain have turned into a little village filled with souvenir shops and street food stalls. Buy some ginger tea, sit with the locals and ask them to tell you the story of Dayang Sumbi, a maiden who had been granted eternal youth. The story goes that she fell in love with Sangkuriang without knowing that he is her estranged son. When realisation dawned, she tried to stop the marriage by creating hurdles in his path. One of his missions was to create a huge lake with a dam in the centre and a boat to cross over it before dawn break. While Sangkuriang was close to completing his task, Dayang Sumbi created an illusion of dawn which led to Sangkuriang kicking the boat out of frustration. The mountains were believed to have been created out of his anger and disappointment.
Your next halt is Kawah Putih, another crater lake. Melancholic and eerie, the crater is haunting. The lake changes colours—from green to yellow to a dull blue. It is still, silent and overwhelming. There are hardly any tourists around as well. Dry dead branches lie on the floor. Nothing apparently survives the acidic environment, even birds drop down dead. The stark barren world hits you. Wear a mask here as the sulphur in the air is a bit too strong.
The last on the agenda is a halt in Kintamani in Bali. Driving down to this stretch is an experience in itself as the area is known for its beautiful scenery and bubbling hot springs. A beautiful blue crater lake below Mount Batur, an active volcano awaits you. Hike the volcano or if you run out of time, then you can spend hours photographing the lake, one of the largest in Bali with the volcano in the distance. A temple, Ulan Danu, stands here, atop a ridge and it has been relocated from the crater. It is so silent and serene that it makes you wonder how the mountain can turn into a violent destructive force any time, any moment.
These are just some of the volcanic trails in Indonesia. For a country filled with mountains and beaches, almost every island offers a trail of its volcanoes with their legends and stories.