Bali’s sister island, Lombok, has always been on the cusp of a massive tourist boom, in the same magnitude as the one Bali experienced. I am, for one, hoping that the status quo remains. The charm that Lombok wields on visitors is that of a younger debutante/ introverted sister as opposed to the world wisely coquettish socialite that Bali has grown to become. There are various reasons to visit, chief amongst those being to climb Mount Rinjani, to visit the unspoilt beaches, to experience Sasak culture and cuisine, to splash around in the beautiful waterfalls and more recently, to visit Islamic pilgrimage sites in the East of the island.
The Sade Sasak Village is a traditional village built with thatch roofed dwellings where the old ways are kept alive. Music, sports and performances are frequently held here to give visitors a taste of the rich culture of the people. Geared towards tourists, trinkets such as T-shirts, woven bags as well as hand woven cloth in traditional motifs are on sale here as well. The village is located about 10 km from the airport at Praya, along the North-South road that leads to Kuta beach.
The highlight of a trip here are the performances. The Gendang Beleq is a welcome dance, accompanied by a riotous ensemble of drums, gongs and wind instruments. It was performed in the olden days to send warriors off to war and to welcome those that returned. It is a lively affair where the main actors were the two men with the large drums strapped across their backs. Their dance fed off each other’s moves in a duet of mock battle moves. A jester will occasionally jump in to provide comic relief, as well as to interact with the audience – drawing them into the festivities.
Towards the central portion of Lombok, towers Gunung Rinjani at 3,726 meters. From the peak, one can make out the prominence of Gunung Agung on Bali and Gunung Tambora on Sumbawa. As an active volcano, the tempestuous peak is known to belch smoke and occasionally rumble to life. Along its slopes, there are also signs of geothermic activity from hot springs and rivers green with sulphur. Most popular amongst these are Tiu Kelep and Sendang Gile. Tiu Kelep is a dramatic waterfall that requires a trek of about an hour from the park gates. It’s height, volume and verdant setting, makes the journey worth it. The clear waters fall from a height of 40 meters into a large pool that looks inviting to dive into. Do exercise caution as there have been known fatalities due to the unpredictable vortex of water created by the watrefall.
Mangku Sakti is further North, and much less visited. What you get for roughing the unpaved roads and scrambling over rocks are breath taking ravines wildly shaped gorges and sulphuric waters that are purportedly good for skin ailments. The crowds have not yet discovered this spot, so access is difficult. Hire a driver to get here.
Lombok and its islands were “Gili” means island in the local Sasak language, so be specific when asking for directions. Most travellers here, head to the Northwestern trio of islands named Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan. The first and last are party central anywhere on the mainland or in the vicinity. The ring road around both Gili Trawangan and Gili Air are lined with bars, restaurants, shops and hotels; a far cry from the scene here 30 years ago, where the only ones to set foot on the powdery white beaches were Bugis fishermen from Sulawesi.
Gili Trawangan and Gili Air have a youthful, YOLO atmosphere, where the visitors party all night and sleep all day. Gili Meno is decidedly more up market. It is more conducive for a family or a romantic getaway. All 3 islands do not allow the operation of motorised vehicles and have a quaint horse buggy taxi service which serves as the public transport on the islands. The islands are also known for its marine life. There are various scuba diving sites scattered around the islands and turtles are frequently sighted in the waters.
Lombok can be reached by ferry or plane. From Bali, head to Padang Bai Ferry Terminal. You will be dropped off at Lembar on Lombok. From here, it is a 40 min taxi ride to Mataram, the main city where, you can find a whole range of accommodations and services. Most then proceed to Kuta in the South or Sengigi, on the West coast, a further up 30 mins from Mataram. These are the 2 main tourist areas.
Lombok International Airport is at Praya, a transportation hub right smack in the middle of the island. From here, it is about 1 hour to Sengigi Beach by car.
Gili Trawangan, Air, Meno is accessible from Sengigi Beach and Bangsal Ferry terminal in the West and North west coasts respectively. The ferry ride fro Bangsal is the closest to the islands, taking only 30 mins and costing about Rp 50k for return tickets. There is also a fast boat from Bali’s Padang Bai which takes 2.5 hrs.