I peered down into Jomblang Cave, down 80 meters, with a feeling of apprehension. I was standing at the very edge of a massive, gaping hole in the earth. My harness was being attached to the long rope that would lower me down into this seemingly bottomless pit. Everything was happening much too quickly for my liking. I was told to sit in back into my harness over the edge of the cliff. The moment of truth.
My new friend, an exchange student from the Netherlands who was my buddy for the long trip down, already sat in her harness hovering over the empty abyss. She was ready to go, quietly encouraging me, telling me that it was safe. Slowly I sat down holding my breath, trusting the harness, ropes and people who put the whole thing together, hoping I wouldn’t suddenly plummet into a free fall. To my great relief everything worked as it should. Soon I began to relax and enjoy the incredible scenery as I was lowered down into Jomblang Cave.
All About Jomblang Cave
Located just outside the metropolis of Yogykarta on the island of Java, Indonesia, Jomblang Cave was a place I just had expereince, despite my fear of heights. Part of a giant 300+ cave system covering the Gunug Kidul region, Jomblang Cave is the most accessible to explore. Created over the course of thousands of years it was slowly eroded and carved out of the earth by rainwater and underground rivers. The giant cave entrance I was being lowered into was actually a collapsed section of the cave system.
The tour of Jomblang Cave takes explorers though 3 sections. The first is Jomblang Cave, the entrance into the underworld. Spanning 50 m in diameter and 80 m in depth, this section is filled with lush jungle vegetation and feels like something out of Jurassic Park.
Once on the floor of Jomblang Cave there is a second section, a massive 250 meter long tunnel (think Grand Central Station size). This tunnel gradually narrows until it’s about the size of a hallway and is completely pitch black.
At the end of the tunnel there is another cavern called Grubug Cave. Here, if the lighting cooperates, “Heavens Window” can be seen. Grubug Cave also has a sinkhole opening, though much smaller than Jomblang. This hole allows sunlight to stream down into the cave and provides illumination in the otherwise pitch black cavern.
Grubug Cave is approximately 120 m from top to bottom. However, if you enter through the tunnel from Jomblang, you arrive just below the center of the cave. You can look up at the smaller cave opening above and down to the cave floor below where an underground stream can be seen and heard.
Getting To Jomblang Cave
My day started with a 7:30 am pick up at my hotel in Yogykarata. I had arranged a private car and driver for the day through my hotel. This seemed to be the standard way to get to and from the cave.
Through the course of my research I did find one or two tour agencies that arranged group tours to the cave, including transportation. Unfortunately they were booked solid during my stay in Yogya, so I was on my own!
The drive took about 2 hrs to get out of the city and through the winding roads that lead deeper and deeper into the countryside. The last bit of the drive saw me being tossed up, down and sideways in the back seat of the car as we traveled along a very rough, single lane dirt road to the humble Jomblang Cave headquarters, deep in the jungle.
Into The Cave I Go!
After checking in I joined my group of co-explorers around a large pile of black rubber boots and was told to find a pair that fits. These would be our footwear for the expedition into the caves as the floor is very muddy.
Walking along a short path through the jungle, the Jomblang cave entrance soon came into view. We were handed harnesses and helmets as the cave guides helped to outfit everyone in the appropriate safety gear.
Lining up in pairs, I took my place beside a group of 3 European exchange students, one of which was elected to be my partner as everyone is lowered down with a buddy.
It was very unnerving to sit down over the edge of this enormous hole with so much open air below. Once we began to descend however, I forgot about my fears and took in the new world around me. The large cave was filled with lush jungle vegetation, a private little ecosystem belonging only to the cave.
At the bottom, my feet found sloping, muddy ground as a crew member relieved my partner and I of our climbing harnesses. I took a short wander around the immediate area, holding onto trees for support. Looking up I watched as the next pair was lowered to the cave floor, with giant vines draping the cave walls.
When my entire group was safely at the bottom we followed our guide down a steep and slippery mud-covered hill. This was the entrance into the massive tunnel that connects Jomblang Cave to Grubug Cave.
Once inside the tunnel I was enveloped into darkness with only our guides torch to light the way. As the massive tunnel began to narrow I saw light up ahead, flooding the cavern from the hole above Grubug Cave. Almost as large as Jomblang, I entered Grubug Cave to see light streaming down from above. It illuminated the massive cavern, exposing a small river that was carving its way through the cave below.
Words cannot express how truly amazing this place was! Having a bit of free time to wander, I examined the interesting rock formations on the floor of the cave. Looking up, I admired the streams of light shinning down a few stories above my head.
All too soon our guide began calling out that it was time to head back from where we came. Taking one last look over my shoulder, I followed my group back into the darkness of the tunnel. Trying not to fall on the slippery mud floor, I carefully made my way back towards the sunlight. Once back in Jomblang Cave we were again fitted with harnesses and hoisted back up to the earth’s surface in pairs.
A Final Surprise
When I got to the surface of the cave I was in for quite a shock. I had assumed they were using a ropes system to pull us back up out of the cave. To my great surprise, I watched as the next pair of intrepid cave explorers were pulled from the sinkhole by a line of local villagers, all pulling on the rope like in a game of tug-of-war!
Back at the headquarters, I rinsed myself off with a hose. My legs, arms and clothing was caked in the light brown mud, despite my best efforts to stay clean. Sitting down in a common area I was handed a container filled with a typical Indonesian lunch of nasi gorang and a bottle of water. At this point I was starving and eagerly accepted the meal.
With the tour at its end, I found my driver and climbed into the back of the jeep for the long ride back to Yogyakarta. I was beyond thrilled to have experienced such an incredible place! Although it was a lengthy trip to get there, it was worth the effort in order to explore the epic Jombang Cave.