Mount Bromo and the Price of Happiness

What is the actual price of ‘happiness’?

Bromo - Tengger

PHOTO BY NICO WIJAYA.

IT was 2.30 in the morning when I jumped into a red jeep heading to Mount Bromo. I was still a bit sleepy, but excited nonetheless. There is something about the mountains that never fails to envelope me in a certain sense of wonder and serenity. I had wrapped myself in thermal clothes, two layers of scarf, an overcoat, and an adopted brown ushanka–a thick and warm hat with earflaps that are normally used during winter (my friend decided to throw his ushanka away, and I decided to claim it as mine). The temperature in Bromo could drop to around 3°C – 5°C in early morning. Not to mention the wind!

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The entire top of Mount Bromo has been blown off in an eruption and the crater inside it is like a giant chimney that paints the sky with white sulphurous smoke. Today, the mountain sits majestically inside Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, surrounded by a sea of volcanic sand and a ring of green valleys. In the dark of the morning, enveloped by the fog, hundreds of jeeps and motorbikes were racing along the road’s rough twist and turns to reach the Sunrise Point, or Penanjakan, as the locals dubbed it. At around 4.30 – 5.00 am, everyone would gather around the viewing point with their cameras–ready to snap the breath-taking view of the first rays of sunshine bathing the mountaintops with golden lights.

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That morning was no exception. Plus, it was also a Sunday. The amount of people who were trying to reach Sunrise Point was overwhelming. Old people, young people, little kids–they competitively shoved their way along the steep hill to occupy the front row at Sunrise Point, their cameras out and ready. I didn’t feel like joining the crowd; or pushing my way forward, so I just sat at the side of the road–next to the Tengger people selling chilis, onions, and Teddy Bear made out of dried flowers; enjoying the cool mountain breeze and the warmth of the rising sun on my face.

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***

“DID you see that?” a friend of mine who just got back from Sunrise Point shook her head in disbelief.

“See what?” I asked, a bit confused.

“You see that platform over there?” she pointed at a raised platform with a roof next to Sunrise Point. “That is actually a platform for prayers. People are not supposed to stand there; and definitely not with their dirty shoes on–but because the Sunrise Point is so full, the crowd just spilled onto the platform. Some tourists even stepped over a pile of clean praying mats, and a local guy was desperately trying to tell them to step off, but they were not listening!”

***

A FEW minutes later, I found myself in a small warung not far from Penanjakan, sipping tea while listening to the chatter around me–looking dreamily at the wave of tourists who were climbing down the hills cheerfully; now that the sun had risen. Some of them who traveled in groups were busy chatting and showing each other pictures from their cameras or smartphones, before taking more pictures along the way.

It was heart-warming to see their happy faces in the cold, however, I was also feeling a bit sad thinking about the incident at the praying platform. Some people might be too focused and too excited in getting their perfect sunrise shot that they couldn’t care less about anything else. They were so proud and happy to show their perfect sunrise shot later on, unconscious about how they might have hurt someone’s feelings during the process.

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I wondered, if I also did this as I went through life–sometimes unconsciously, some other times carelessly. What is the actual price of a perfect sunrise shot? What is the actual price of ‘happiness’? How many people and feelings I have ‘hurt’ so I can be ‘happy’?

***

I was reminded of a story told by a friend of mine one day–about him trying to climb up a mountain in East Nusa Tenggara with a group of friends and a local guide. “I wasn’t that fit to climb a mountain,” he told me, laughing. “So after a while, when everyone was still so energised, I told them that I might not be able to continue. I was so sad and disappointed at myself, because really, I would love to get to the top and see the view from up there!”

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 6.47.09 AMWhen my friend told the group and the local guide that he was going to ‘give up’ and just wait for the rest of them there, the local guide apparently saw the disappointment on his face. “Why were you so disturbed by this?” he asked.

“Because I want to see the view from the top! It must be really beautiful! But I couldn’t get there,” he replied, a bit pissed off with himself.

“Look around you,” said the local guide.

“Huh?” my friend looked at the local guide, confused.

“Look around you,” the local guide repeated what he was saying.

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So my friend did just that. He looked around him. And only then he realised that he was seeing the lush green valleys, the view of the small town beneath, the swaying trees, the wild flowers dancing in the wind, the bright blue sky…

“Isn’t it beautiful?” the local guide smiled.

“It is…” my friend answered in amazement. “I didn’t realise how beautiful it is here, I was too busy climbing and watching my steps along the way!” he laughed.

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“Yes, sometimes we’re too busy thinking about getting to the top safely, so we watch our steps and we push ourselves, and we just ignore the beauty around us–because in our mind, we’re only thinking about enjoying the view from the top,” said the local guide. “But the view from here is beautiful, too, right? We have been surrounded by beautiful views from the point where we started.”

My friend told me later that it was one of the most eye-opening moment in his life.

***

MOUNTAINS will always have a special place in my heart.

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The town I live in is surrounded by mountains. To me, mountains represent reconciliation–something to mend what has been broken. When my parents got into a heated argument and didn’t talk to each other for a few days, one of them would say, “Let’s go to Puncak (the mountain area).” The pursued party would not say a thing, but if it was my mother, she would start packing some snacks and drinks for us to say ‘OK’–or if it was my father, he would start heating the engine of our red Chevrolet pick-up.

And off we go to the mountains.

I would sit in-between them. My father behind the wheels, my mother next to the passengers’ window. I didn’t really know what happen, but they usually started talking after a while, and when we got back home, they were already reconciled and started cooking dinner together or teasing each other at the kitchen, just like the good old days.

***

So what is the actual price of ‘happiness’?

I am always reminded of this question every time I think about Bromo. And it is, in itself, a reminder for myself every time I think about being ‘happy’. Or maybe I just need to redefine ‘happiness’ once more.

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Maybe happiness is not really about getting the perfect sunrise shot. Or about enjoying the beautiful view from a mountain top. Maybe it’s more about everything we hold dear in our hearts on our way there. Because maybe, the happiness we’re looking for is already here all along.

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*) thank you to The Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia for having me in your Wonderful Indonesia trip to Mount Bromo.

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