Long since tagged the “Bali of the future”, Lombok still lags far behind its world-famous neighbor in many aspects. Despite recent reports about massive developments across the island, especially in the south, change is happening less rapidly and smoothly than projected.
Which is precisely why you should visit Lombok now – when it is still awash with its pristine charm despite the occasional pockets of progress. Don’t hang back and wait until Lombok really has become the new Bali: All you need is a weekend break to sample some of the island’s fabulous scenery and tongue-torching cuisine.
A Dash of Chinese Cooking
Forget about the new international airport in central Lombok said to be operating “soon”. For now, you should be satisfied with arriving at the old, petite Selaparang Airport in old-town Ampenan, on the island’s west. Grab a cab and head to Ampenan’s old seaport, now a slice of beach baking in the sun, for a meal in the Chinese quarter. For decades, Manalagi II Restaurant (Jalan Pabean 128) has been dishing out delicious noodles to its many patrons. Get slurping with their signature mie kuah (noodle soup).
Malimbu’s Scenic Drive
Your belly full, it’s time to feast your eyes. Catch a ride northward along the western coastline past the once-popular Senggigi beach to Malimbu. The road meanders through mountains as tranquil beaches morph into towering cliffs and back again. You’ll reach a point where you can perch and admire (or take awesome pictures) vast expanses of coconut trees sweeping inland right by the white coastline, against the backdrop of the shimmering waters of Lombok Bay.
Sunset by the Hollow Rock
The next stop, Pura Batu Bolong, nestled on a ragged precipice facing the blue waters, is the perfect spot to catch the sunset. Legend has it that this ancient Hindu temple, named for a gigantic hollow rock nearby, was once used as an altar for sacrificing virgins to appease the deities of the sea. While you’re not going to see that happen these days, if you come here during the new moon or the full moon, you could witness one of the spectacular ceremonies held by the local Hindus. As you watch the sun’s final rays fade from the horizon, nibble on sate kerang (mussel satay), a snack many middle-aged women sell along the beaches at a delightfully low price – an ideal appetizer for the meal that is to come.
A Feast of Fire
Downtown Cakranegara is home to several decent restaurants specializing in authentic Lombok cuisine. Rumah Makan Taliwang Irama (Jalan Ade Irma Suryani 20, Cakranegara) serves some of the best Taliwang-style dishes on the island. (If you still haven’t fully appreciated the meaning of the word lombok – “chili” – now is the time to find out.) The pelecing kangkung (water spinach, fresh tomatoes and bean sprouts covered in spicy sauce) and ayam taliwang (grilled chicken) are so blisteringly hot they will burn innocent tongues as surely as they will satisfy the seasoned ones. Not a spicy-food aficionado? Ask for a milder blast of spiciness, but do exercise caution at all times.
Arts and Crafts
Start the day on a southward trail. The island’s indigenous people, the Sasak, are notably skilled in the art of weaving. One kind of cloth, songket, is so intricate that it takes even the most competent weaver at least a month to create a piece. With no need for blueprints (the design exists only in each weaver’s mind), songket-weaving is an ancient skill that Sasak women must master before they can be deemed eligible for marriage. While weaving the dazzlingly colorful songket is strictly a women-only affair, another kind of cloth, ikat, is made by the men via less complicated processes. Lombok’s terracotta pottery is also popular, especially the curious kendi maling (the thieving jug), which is filled from the base instead of the top. Visit Banyumulek village for some fine terracotta, then drop by Sukarara village further south to see the songket maestros in action.
Dance with the Funny Man
Maintained for tourists and relying on donations, Sade traditional village in South Lombok keeps on attracting new visitors. Its attraction lies in the way villagers maintain age-old traditions in the midst of modernity. Where else can you step into Sasak traditional houses whose floors are mopped regularly with buffalo manure – yes, you read it correctly – and yet sport satellite dishes? For an additional donation, the villagers will gladly perform traditional rituals, including the brutal-looking presean war dance and the amusingly absurd “funny man” dance.
The Sensational South
One of Lombok’s best-kept secrets, the chain of sun-kissed beaches along the island’s rugged southern coastline offers matchless tranquility to soothe the senses. This area is more arid than the rest of the island, which creates dramatic vistas through the stark interplay of earth and sea. Carved by forces of nature into small secluded coves separated by towering mounds or steep cliffs, the beaches ranging from Belongas in the west, to Kuta, Mawun, Tanjung Aan, Gerupuk and Dundun, along to Ekas in the far east, differ in the type of sand and wave – Mawun, Gerupuk and Ekas are the stuff surfers dream of – but all year round they share a common trait: serenity. Except for the occasional fisherman or seaweed farmer, whichever stretch of sand you look at is, at the time, your private beach.
Spices and Stars
Sleeping in or around Kuta to see just how quiet it gets once night falls is a good idea. With the area devoid of all the noises that bug you in the city, you’ll hear nothing but the peaceful lull of the wind and the waves. And while you’re at it, why not stargaze? Look up and be surprised by the splendor of the night sky.
But before you start looking up, gobble down an enlivening dish of pelecing ayam (chicken in extra-spicy sauce) from the kitchen of Ibu Riko at Warung Murah Meriah (opposite Sekar Kuning Bungalows) by the beach.
An Entirely Different Setting
As the sunrise paints the sky with a rosy tinge, get yourself ready for an entirely different setting. Whereas the southern part of Lombok is suitable for beach worshippers, the northern part is a haven for adventure junkies. A proper climb of Mount Rinjani – Indonesia’s second-tallest volcano – takes three days, but you can easily access the bucolic village of Senaru, at the foot of the mountain, by car. Surrounding the village are several pretty waterfalls, two of which are within an hour’s hike: the slim, vertical Sendang Gile and the more vivid, fan-shaped Tiu Kilep. Dare yourself to bathe in the numbingly cold water: Your reward will be an invigorating feeling of freshness that will stay with you … at least until you remember you have to catch a flight home.
Writer: Chriswan Sungkono