At only 1,653m high, Mount Penanggungan is not even close to being among Java’s highest peaks but it holds a special significance in the hearts and minds of Hindu’s and Javanese mystics who have made pilgrimages to the mountain for thousands of years and still do to this day.
According to an ancient Hindu text, Mount Penanggungan is the tip of Mount Mahameru, the sacred mountain at the centre of the Hindu cosmic universe. The story goes that when Mahameru was being transported from India to Java to hold the place together, it began breaking apart, pieces of it falling to earth to form a chain of volcanic peaks. The base became Mt Semeru, Java’s highest mountain, while the summit came to rest on the plains south of Surabaya to become Mount Penanggungan. The volcanic peaks referred to in the text are the surrounding peaks of the Arjuno-Welirang volcanic complex on the south side of Penanggungan.
The slopes of Penanggungan are dotted with ancient Hindu temples, bathing places and meditation sanctuaries. A Dutch archaeological investigation in the 1930s identified the remains of at least eighty structures. Most lay overgrown and in ruins but many have been lovingly maintained and are fine examples of some of the earliest Hindu temples in Java. Archaeologists have dated inscriptions spanning a period of more than five centuries from 977AD to 1511 just before the Majapahit Empire fell
The temples on Penanggungan add an interesting element to climbing Penanggungan as the routes to the summit pass by a number of temples although you don’t have to be into history, culture or ancient architecture to enjoy the trek. The mountain is an almost perfectly formed cone and affords fabulous views back over the plains and neighbouring peaks of Arjuno, Liman and on a clear day as far as Semeru and Argopuro.
There are several routes to the summit but the most popular is up the western flanks close to abundant accommodation in Tretes and Trawas towns, and the PPLH Environmental Education Centre which can provide good information about the area and history of the mountain and some of the oldest and most sacred temples on the mountain.
The starting point is 977AD Candi Jolotundo temple at an elevation of 560m and along the way, you’ll pass five more temples including Bayi, Putri, Pura, Gentong and Sinta and a nice view of Gunung Bekel over your left shoulder. Once you’ve cleared the bamboo forests, plantations and farmlands on the lower flanks, the trail becomes noticeably steeper and narrows so it will test your fitness level. However, a moderately fit person should be able to make the climb in around 4-5 hours and descend in about half that time.
Because the confusing network of farm trails crisscrossing the lower slopes of the mountain and the summit route is mostly unmarked and not always obvious a guide is recommended. You can organise one from the PPLH Environmental Education Centre for a fairly hefty 300.000Rp. You might be able to do better by haggling with the guides that hang around the trailhead at Candi Jolotundo. Guides aren’t mandatory though and if the prospect of a few dead ends or backtracking occasionally doesn’t bother you then you could probably manage without one. In the plantations, there are usually farmers around who can point you in the right direction and once you’re through the plantations you could probably find your way to the summit simply by continuing in an uphill fashion.
If you’re up for the challenge and want to get more off the beaten path, you can also reach the neighbouring peak of Puncak Bekel (1,245m) by following a trail that begins at Sinta temple (1,157m). This trail leads away from the tourist areas and past many untouched temples but it gets very steep and overgrown in some sections so a local guide is a must. Most of the Bekel temples are build back against the hillside in tiers, although the exception and also the highlight is Kendali Sada (1,127m) which is built into a cleft in a rock face etched with reliefs leading to an inner sanctum.
The Bekel trek is only suitable for experienced trekkers and takes a full day on its own. If you want to double summit Penanggungan and Bekel without returning to Trawas overnight you’ll need to spend a night one of the mountains. The best place to pitch a tent is on the grassy peak of Pennanggungan where you’re guaranteed of magnificent sunset and sunrise views. Obviously, you’ll need to be fully provisioned with camping gear, food and water. Also, be sure to organise your guide in advance so they also have time to prepare for overnighting on the mountain.
For the western summit route, Tretes and Trawas are the main access points for Pennanggungan. They’re not far apart and either town can be reached in about 1.5hrs by private car from either Surabaya in the north or Malang in the south. This really is the only viable option as public transportation to this area can be both frustrating and time consuming.
There are plenty of accommodation options for all budgets in the villages of Tretes and Trawas. For cheap, clean bungalow style accommodation try the PPLH Environmental Education Centre.[/show_more]