BURNING BRIGHT
Travel+Leisure India|September 2021
East Java is home to some of Indonesia’s most spectacular volcanoes, including one with blue fire. NIVEDANA JALAN embarks on a daring expedition.
NIVEDANA JALAN

“HOW DID I BRING myself to agree to this?” I wondered, as I climbed up the steep slope of Kawah Ijen, a beautiful yet deadly active volcano in East Java, notorious for its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire, which harbors more than three-fourths of the world’s volcanic activity.

Covered by a canopy of the pitch-dark sky at 2 am, my only source of light was a torch that helped me navigate the uphill hike. All attempts at keeping myself warm, including multiple layers of clothing, had failed. For a tropical country, Indonesia was sure cold that particular night, and I couldn’t help but wish that I was curled up in bed with a mug of hot cocoa.

All right, maybe it wasn’t really that terrible! After all, Kawah Ijen is not the most arduous volcano trek on the island of Java, let alone the whole of Indonesia. It is a three-kilometer uphill walk, which actually seemed to be getting easier (though rockier and more slippery) after the first hour. Besides, I had my eye on the prize.

Kawah Ijen is home to an extremely rare natural phenomenon: blue flames. This ‘blue fi re’, as it is commonly known, burns as sulphuric gases around the crater combust upon coming in contact with oxygen, giving Kawah Ijen an eerie blue glow just before the break of dawn. It is said that this is the only spot in Asia where the surreal blue flames can be witnessed. And I couldn’t wait to see them for myself.

The star of the show, without a sliver of doubt, is sulfur, and it made its presence felt immediately. As I continued my ascent to the top, the air began getting heavier with a smell akin to that of rotting eggs. That was my cue to put on a mask.

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