Rays

Sikkim. Viewing the peaks in the non-peak season. Therefore, none of the clichéd photos of either the summer blooms or the wintry snowy landscapes. Mostly barren mountains, with the promise of colour. Expecting clear blue skies and getting clouds. Making us look harder and deeper. Winter may be coming, but we got there first.

As always, I began my holiday planning from the homestay search. Gangtok, Lachung, Lachen, Rumtek, Pelling … all beckoned, but when Airbnb lobbed ‘Zuluk’ at me, there was no other place I wanted to see. Mum and Usha Aunty, my travel companions, had little choice but to go along with my plans.

It took a fair bit of my hard headed determination to get us to Zuluk, and what a delightful experience that journey was. Living with the locals, partying with strangers, and the private theatre of the sun’s romance with Kanchenjunga at dawn to cap it off!

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Our hosts’ kitchen at Zuluk

 

 

 

Getting to the viewing site was an adventure itself. A series of misunderstandings and an overcast sky the night before all threatened to put a dampener on our excursion. We left late, and hoped and prayed with all our might that it was not too late. That wish was granted:

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Kanchenjunga waited alone until we got here

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The sky turned fiery

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The clouds made way

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And the sun came out in a blaze of glory

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While Kanchenjunga blushed

We woke and dressed up at 2.30 am to get to this spot in time, and were blessed to be the only ones at this spot. More of the scene unfolded as the day got brighter.

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Paused our chattering teeth just enough for a sunrise selfie

After we had thawed a little in the sunshine ourselves, we looked beyond the obvious landscape, and found this:

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A bit of frost that couldn’t decide whether to stay icy at the freezing temperature, or to thaw with the gentle persuasion of the sun’s warmth.

And the reason I picked Zuluk? The ‘roadscape’:

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Just Another Gorgeous Sunrise at Borobudur

Going to Jogja and not to Borobudur? Next to impossible! I believe I’d covered most of the angles of the largest Buddhist temple in the world, except the one where you watch the sun rise from behind Gunung Merapi, and the temple emerge from the misty landscape. The day after Dieng, Sara and I thought it wise not to waste too much time catching up on sleep, but to rouse ourselves at another unearthly hour to make the short drive to Puntuk Setumbu behind Borobudur.

The ‘safe’ driver and my awesome climbing speed ensured that it was a race against time to the top before the sun appeared. The hill is as cute as its name. For a change, the local villagers have claimed the site, added some rudimentary ‘just right’ development, access to which is a paltry sum of Rp 15,000 (about a dollar). That’s a far cry from the sunrise tour at Borobudur from the hotel which costs about $35! This spot has got popular; we had a good sized crowd of sun worshippers.

Sunrise from Setumbu

After the mild disappointment from the day before, we were rewarded for our patience with a bright sunrise.

The landscape is magnificent! Merapi, furiously puffing up clouds of sulphur towers over Borobudur, and everything else in the vicinity. It’s a humbling sight.

After the sun was up, we enjoyed those famous mint-chocolate brownie treats as a mini-breakfast. At which point this guy rolled his tobacco and struck a pose that was too good to resist. I don’t ever endorse smoking, but it does look exciting in a photo!

The Hotel Plataran en route to Setumbu offers good views of Borobudur and an even better breakfast spread. We had a bit of both.

As profiles and silhouettes go, here’s some food for thought.

Sunrise from SetumbuSunrise at Borobudur

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Golden Hour

Indonesia has some of the most spectacular sunrise landscapes. It takes waking up at unearthly hours, then a drive and a trek to catch these views. And lasts only a few minutes.

Bromo at sunrise

Sunrise at Mount Bromo, viewed from Mount Penanjakan

Sunrise at Borobudur

A perfect sunrise at Borobudur over Mount Merapi, as Buddha watches

 

The Adventures of Uju in Indonesia – #3 In the Middle of the Night

Right after our very exciting hike on Pulau Sempu, we packed up and departed Malang at midnight to head to the village of Tongas, where we were met by the jeep and driver who would take us on the sunrise tour to Bromo. Uju wanted action-packed, and she got it.

At 3 am, the driver drove us into the caldera to head to Penanjakan 1, which apparently has different views than Penanjakan 2. Our Bahasa was stretched beyond limit, because we weren’t sure what exactly we were doing, driving around in the mist. Turns out, the driver had no clue either. We followed two other jeeps who followed us, all in the dark, and we narrowly missed tumbling into the ravine in that volcanic ash. Just kidding. Anyway, our driver decided it was smarter to eat humble pie, apologised for his appalling sense of direction, and offered to take us to Penanjakan 2 instead, the tried and tested spot. We had no complaints with that. In fact, as soon as I realized we’d be the first ones there, I got excited at the prospect of ‘shooting stars’, and quickly hired the horse to haul me up. Souvik and Uju decided to take the hard way on two feet.

Starry night it was, and we were much too early.

Bromo at sunrise

 

So we stood around, shivering in the cold, taking some long exposure shots undisturbed by people, noise and flash photography.

Bromo at sunrise

 

And we waited. And shivered.

Bromo at sunrise

 

And waited. And shivered some more.

Yeah, you get it, right? I also got cursed by my loving companions for getting them up there so early. So we waited.

And then there was a big cloud cover, and we didn’t get to see the sun rise. It just got bright all around.

Bromo at sunrise

 

By which time there were hordes of people joining us and taking ‘flashy’ pictures.

So we decided to be silly ourselves.

Bromo at sunrise

 

Actually that’s the goody photo. Here’s the silly one. Uju couldn’t hold her pose for 25 seconds, so she’s all blurry.

Bromo at sunrise

 

We needed to squeeze some more juice out of our Bromo visit, so up the volcano it was for Uju. I decided to sit out this one, so that we could finish the tour on time, and not take 3 hours to climb 200 steps.

Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise

 

I crossed the ravine in daylight, and got some interesting views. Imagine – it’s all ash, no rock!

Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise

By this time the sun had started to thaw us, and all the dew from the ground started to steam up.

Bromo at sunrise

The biggest surprise for me was the greenery. Just a few months back, we’d been here, amazed at the brownness of the landscape, and now, it was showing signs of life after the wet season, even seeping into the caldera.

Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise

We took a pit stop at Java Banana, before driving off to Surabaya for the next leg of our journey.

 

 

The Sunrise Drama

The top activity at Gunung Bromo is to watch the sunrise, and for me, all the photo ops that go with it. We dutifully woke up at 3 am, donned our multiple jackets (it was cold in the morning!) and set out in the 4WD to the sunrise point. The driver found a spot to park with 100 other jeeps, and asked us to walk the remaining 200m. Uh…uphill of course. And it turns out the 200m is the elevation, NOT the walking distance. After negotiating a bend or two, I was out of breath again. What’s more, the sunlight was starting to show, so there went my opportunity to get some good night shots. Not wanting to waste any more time, I quickly accepted a ride on horseback (quite the veteran now), and was glad because the viewpoint was way up. Souvik the athlete made quick work of that slope on foot, keeping pace with me, the red cap being a good marker.

The mist had rolled in at night, just to add to the drama of the scene. I found my spot, set up the tripod, and clicked away.

 

 

 

 

The slope that we ascended had this dramatic effect from the mist and the sun’s rays and the dust from the morning traffic.

 

 

 

After we descended and set off on the drive through the caldera, our driver offered (for more money, of course) to take us to the Savannah, a green grassy area just behind Bromo.

I was eager to drive into the mist, and was not disappointed.

 

 

The Savannah was a surprising contrast to the Bromo landscape. It seems to me that the drops of dew from the night mist are enough to sustain and grow this vegetation. What a marvel of nature! (I read somewhere that there’s rain too.)

 

 

We had to get back for a final glimpse of Bromo naturally, and were delighted by the increased activity of the morning.

 

 

 

 

The calves ache and the knees creak, but I am game to do the Bromo sunrise again!

 

The aura of Borobudur

The nice part about Souvik’s touring job is that I have an opportunity to tag along, and do my own thing while he works. Last week it was Yogyakarta, where I chilled out at Dusun Jogja Village Inn, interspersed with some unsatisfying shopping, but the highlight of that trip was the sunrise visit to Borobudur. We had friends, Jaya & Prabha, in a conference at Jogja, and the Delhi girls were dragged out of their hostel at an unearthly hour of 3.30 am on an hour-long drive to Borobudur. Ever since we moved to Vietnam, we were keen on visiting Borobudur, but after the tour of Angkor, we were quite ‘templed out’, and put Borobudur on a back burner, until now.

So here we were, driving up to Manohara Hotel for the sunrise tour, all of us having to drape ‘sarongs’ over our regular clothes as appropriate temple wear. The cloud cover didn’t deter us, especially as the moon was clearly visible.

The sun took its time to peek out from above a cloud, though when it did it was worth the wait. The gradual ‘unveiling’ of the monument as the sun came out gave us a huge spiritual fix, but we were brought down to earth with a thud when one unimpressed lady remarked that she could see the sunrise from her window everyday, and what was the big deal. UGH.

Before long, the daytime tourists started to arrive, and there was some jarring jazz music to be heard unnecessarily, but nothing detracted from the grandeur that was Borobudur. From the bottom, looking up, you can hardly tell what sort of structure to expect, so after the short climb to the top, when you spot the bell-shaped ‘stupas’, it is an absolute WOW moment.

 

 

 

 

We material girls did our best monk-like serene smiles:

Comparisons with Angkor were inevitable after this visit. While Angkor dazzles by its sheer size, I have to say that Borobudur, though just a single structure, is a shade more elegant.