This national park is named after its two mountains, Mount Semeru (the highest in Java at 3,676 m), Mount Bromo (the most popular) and the Tengger people who inhabit the area.
Mount Semeru, also known as Mahameru (“Great Mountain”), is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes. What stands out most about this mountain is that it erupts reliably: every 20 min or so, the volcano belches out a huge cloud of steam and smoke, sometimes interspersed with ash and stones. Climbing Mount Semeru requires some planning and a permit from the national park authority. The mountain is often closed due to its highly active nature.
Mount Bromo (2,329 m) is easily recognized as the entire top has been blown off and the crater inside constantly belches white sulphurous smoke. It sits inside the massive Tengger caldera (diameter approximately 10 km), surrounded by the Laut Pasir (Sea of Sand) of fine volcanic sand. The overall effect is unsettlingly unearthly, especially when compared to the lush green valleys all around the caldera. With more than 500,000 tourists a year, Bromo is full with tourists in school holidays and long holidays (at least 4 days), because about 95 percent of the tourists are domestic tourists, so avoid these times.
The major access point is Cemoro Lawang (also Cemara Lawang or Cemoro Lawang – blame the East Javanese accent!) at the northeastern edge of the caldera, but there are also trails from Tosari (northwest) and Ngadas (southwest). The village of Ngadisari, on the road from Probolinggo about 5.5 km before Cemoro Lawang, marks the entrance to the national park. Cemoro Lawang and Ngadisari are rather picturesque, with brightly-painted houses and flower beds outside.
Every year, starting in January, climbing Semeru is prohibited for several weeks (usually more than a month) to allow the vegetation to recover.
The area in and around the park is inhabited by the Tenggerese, one of the few significant Hindu communities left on the island of Java. The local religion is a remnant from the Majapahit era and therefore quite similar to that on Bali but with even more animist elements. The Tenggerese are believed to be descendents of the Majapahit princes and were driven into the hills after mass arrivals in the area of devoutly Muslim Madurese in the 19th century. These Madurese immigrants were labourers working for Dutch coffee plantation owners and the native Hindu people of the region soon found themselves outnumbered and either converted to Islam or fled to the inhospitable high mountain tops where they remain today.
The religion is quite low key though (certainly when compared to Bali) with the most visible manifestation of faith being the rather austere Poten temple in the sea of sand. The Tenggerese number about 600,000 and they reside in 30 villages scattered in and around the park with smaller communities elsewhere in East Java.
For many visitors, the sight of the angular-faced, sunburned, moustachioed Tenggerese wrapped in poncho-like blankets, trotting about on ponies with craggy mountains as the backdrop, more resembles Peru than Indonesia!