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Trek to a moonscape in Malang
NOTHING ventured, nothing gained. Keep that maxim in mind as you hold on for dear life (or the car's grab-handle) amid the whiplash-inducing zigzags of a dusty 4x4 jeep ride as it whizzes through an intimidatingly narrow and meandering farming village amid the blackness of the wee hours.
We are making our way to the mountainside of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park after spending a night at a no-frills backpacker lodge in Probolinggo, a city in East Java, Indonesia, that would make anyone less than a seasoned camper go "yikes."
Not your kind of adventure? Think again.
The uncomfortable jaunt is worth it once you reach the viewing deck atop Mount Penanjakan - a few minutes of hiking fills your lungs with mouthfuls of crisp, cold air - along with hundreds of others who have also gathered. There, ahead of you, is a breathtaking, mesmerising view of Mount Bromo, an active volcano with a constantly smouldering caldera awaiting to be enveloped by the sunrise.
Imagine watching a desolate, just over 2,300-metre high mountain at a distance, with its entire top flattened out with a white-smoke spewing crater coming alive with the majestic hues of the sunrise amid below 5 deg C temperatures.
This panorama of Mt Bromo, derived from the Javanese derivative of the name of the Hindu god of creation, Brahma, lingers in your mind as you head down Mount Penanjakan, fuel up with the sweetest bite-sized banana fritters (five golden half strips for 10 Singapore cents) and a cup of bracing local java for the next stop.
Don't forget to pick up one of the dainty, dried flower bouquets sold by the locals as offerings to the volcano gods (or you could take the bunch home as a souvenir) and hop back into the jeep where another breathtaking view awaits.
A bumpy but tolerable jeep ride over a vast, dusty ash desert "Sea of Sand" (bring a face mask as it can get pretty dusty) later and you arrive at the foothill of Mt Bromo where Poten - a Tenggerese Hindu temple made of natural black stones from volcanoes nearby - is situated.
Visitors can also climb the nearly 250 sandy steps of the "Stairway to Heaven" to look into the bottom of Mt Bromo's crater, roaring with rising fumes. Or within minutes, take a horseback ride accompanied by a seasoned horseman over the "moonscape" - an apt description of what appears to be rocks and ash scattered as far as the eye can see - and be dazzled by the vastness of a sweeping, grey savanna. Thrilling. Once up at Mt Bromo, make a wish and throw rice or a bunch of dried flowers as is the tradition of the Tenggerese tribe in the form of a vow to the gods or in the case of visitors, as a show of gratitude for this spellbinding bucket-list experience.
Probolinggo is a large city that is nearest to Mt Bromo and once the rugged expedition is complete, don't leave for home just yet as more of East Java beckons.
A five-hour bus trip will land you in Malang, a laid-back and breezy spot and the second largest city in Indonesia's East Java province after Surabaya.
Malang, a popular retreat among Dutch officials in colonial times because of its temperate climate, has been called the "Paris of East Java" or the "Switzerland of Java".
Dubbed a "flower city", Malang is big on agriculture and horticulture. Like the rest of Indonesia, warung or food depots serving up Javanese cuisine such as bakso, sate (satay), tempeh and soto, accompanied by an immense variety of chilli-based condiments and krepek (crackers) line its bustling streets.
If you've had enough of the rustic setting and crave boutique coffee or an elegant dining experience, you'll be spoilt for choice. One of them is Taman Indie, a charming architectural garden restaurant in Malang's upscale Araya residence that boasts an 18-hole golf course and family club, which will reinvigorate your palate with its stunning Indonesian or fusion flavours amid uber-warm hospitality and spirited live music - a fitting end to an enchanting and exotic East Java sojourn.
- This trip was organised for journalists by the Media, Social & Cultural Affairs of the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore