Lombok is an island in Indonesia often described as “an unspoiled Bali”. And the comparisons between Indonesia’s most popular destination and Lombok are well deserved. Lombok has an area of 4,739 square kilometers and a population of 2.3 million, stats similar to Bali. There is also cultural link between the two islands. Thanks to their forefathers who invaded the island in the 18th century, there are about 90,000 Balinese living in Lombok today. The Balinese in Lombok also worship in temples and perform rituals much like their relatives in Bali. At one time, the tourist department of Lombok took advantage of the similarities, adopting the motto: “You can see Bali in Lombok but you can’t see Lombok in Bali.” Fortunately, the tag line has been dropped. It really is better to see Bali in Bali and Lombok in Lombok.
Comparable to Bali, Lombok is unfortunately much less popular, largely due to the riots in 2000, when Muslims and ethnic Sasaks attacked and looted the homes, businesses, and churches of ethnic Chinese and Christians to protect the sectarian violence in Maluku. While peace and stability has since returned to the island, the tourists have not.
Today, most foreign visitors who do come enjoy spending time in the resort beach town of Senggigi in the west, or in the north on one of the three Gili island. Tourists have also started discovering the Kuta beach area in the south. Despite the mountain resort areas in Gunung Rinjani, most tourists choose Lombok’s beaches for their vacation. Several travel agencies and freelancing operators offer one-day tours of the island out of Senggigi. These tours usually include a look at the major Balinese temples, the weaving village of Sukarake, the pottery village of Penujak, and the tradition tourist village of Sade, and the bay in Tanjung Aan. While this is enough for most visitors who can’t seem to get enough of the beach in Senggigi, there really is more to Lombok. Exploring the rest of the island entails some initiative.
For traveling purposes, Lombok is best divided into three districts: West Lombok, Central Lombok, and East Lombok. West Lombok is an urban sprawl consisting of three contiguous cities: Ampenan, Mataram, and Cakranegara. Ampenan is the old port town by the coast and blends inland into Mataram, which is known as the administrative city. Mataram, in turn, blends further inland into the commercial town of Cakranegara (or Cakra). Further east and inland is Sweta, the site of the largest market on the island and Lombok’s bus terminal. These cities make up 10% of the island’s total population with an estimated 350,000 people.
Mataram is the capital of the West Lombok district as well as the province of Nusa Tenggara Barat, which encompasses both Lombok and Sumbawa. The other capitals on the island are Praya of Central Lombok and Selong of East Lombok, both tiny in comparison.
The three cities are all connected by a long and wide, 8-kilometer one-way street. Horse-drawns carts are actually prohibited from using the road, making transportation on the thoroughfare smooth and unfettered. The road begins in Ampenan where it is named Jalan Langko, continue onto Mataram where the name changes to Jalan Pejanggik, and then ends in Cakranegara where the road is called Jalan Selaparang. The road turns at Cakra into the main cross-island road that’s used to reach Labuhan Lombok. It ends at Kayangan, about 77 kilometers away from Mataram and where the Lombok-Sumbawa ferry is.
Each of the three big cities of Lombok have their own distinct character. Ampenan is a maze of narrow streets lined with old buildings. Its most lively area is the Chinese and Arab quarters, which is admittedly a decaying port. Mataram is more formal and official. It is the administrative capital of the province and has a series of government buildings that bring minimal tourist appeal. Cakranegara, meanwhile, is known for its weaving, craft shops, and historic sites.
West Lombok is the most popular region of the island for tourists, thanks to the three cities area of Ampenan, Mataram, and Cakranegara. This same region also has the island’s only airport in Mataram, as well as the largest concentration of hotels on the island. Moreover, the popular Gili islands, the major Balinese temples, and the base camps of Mount Rinjani and Wetu Telu are all in this district.
The Senggigi beach is north of the three cities area, as are the Gilis, Wetu Telu, and Mount Rinjani. In the south and southeast peninsula of West Lombok are quiet beaches and great surf spots.
Central Lombok is another important tourist region on the island. It boasts a number of traditional villages that are on the itineraries of most one-day tours, as well as Kuta beach and Tanjung Aan in the south – both offer pretty beaches and good surfing. The Kuta beach is also where the nyale seaworm festival is held.
While Kuta and Tanjung Aan are the most popular places to visit in Central Lombok and are easily accessible from the three cities area, other parts of the region are more interesting. The Batu Kumbung village, for example, is a destination offering “alternative tourism” – a great place for those interested in learning more about the Sasak culture. It is a traditional Sasak village located about 2.5 miles north of the Narmada water palace. Some of its women still use the back-strap looms to weave ikat. The village is also known for its music and dance troupes, as well as its creek, which is rumored to have healing powers. Homestays can be arranged. The local dance groups are also open to teaching visitors how to play their instruments.
East Lombok is largely ignored by tourists. It’s true that the area is not as well facilitated as the other regions of Lombok, but it does have an excellent crafts area around Kota Raja. The coast between Kali Putih and Labuhan Lombok and the Selong area offer great views of the countryside, deserted shores, and the towering Mount Rinjani.
Off the coast of Lombok, there are a cluster of small islands called “Gili”, which in Sasak means “island”. Some of these tiny offshore islands are inhabited by fisherman and cattle herdsmen. The best known of the Gilis are Gili Air, Gili Trawangan, and Gili Meno, all of which are northwest of Lombok. The “three Gilis” welcome scores of young, mostly European, tourists every year in the summer.
Lombok’s most famous geographic feature is Gunung Rinjani, the highest volcano in Indonesia and the second highest in the archipelago after New Guinea’s Puncak Jayakusuma in the city of Irian Jaya. Gunung Rinjani or Mount Rinjani has a peak of 3,726 meters. It is the crown jewel of a group of mountains in the north-central region of Lombok. The rainfall striking these mountains streams south, providing irrigation to a large fertile area. Other parts of the island, however, are dry and barren. Not much farming is possible, except during the rainy season from October to March.
In the south, coastal hills reach elevations of 500 meters and drop almost suddenly into the sea. The cliffs resulting from such dramatic drops create sandy coves and beautiful bays. In fact, the south coasts boasts the only decent bays in Lombok outside of Labuhan Lombok in the northwest and Lembar in the southeast peninsula.
The famous 19th century biologist, Sir Alfred Russel Wallace, discovered an ecological boundary formed by the strait between Lombok and Bali. The biologist noticed in his travels that the range of Asiatic animals and plants decreased sharply going east past Bali. Lombok, as a neighboring island, features flora and fauna more similar to Australia than western Indonesia. To mark this boundary he discovered, he drew the Wallace Line. Botanists and zoologists have since refined his finding, replacing the Wallace Line with a “zone of transition’ called Wallacea.
Lombok is all about relaxing and embracing the recreational activities you’ll find around its beaches, from swimming, surfing, and sailing to scuba diving and snorkeling. The Senggigi beach and its neighbor, Mangsit, north of Ampenan are perhaps the most popular stretches of sands with its rows of beachside hotels, resort-like atmosphere, and crowds of tourists. The three Gili islands further north and the Kuta beach area in the south are also great places. The former, the Gilis, are a favorite among backpackers and the latter is a surfing mecca.
Besides beaches and water activities, visitors can enjoy trekking up Lombok’s great volcano, Mount Rinjani, which rises to a height of 3,726 meters. Along the way, you’ll find numerous tranquil lakes, calderas, sulfurous hot spring pools, waterfalls, rivers, caves, small villages, and campsites.
Lombok is also full of temples or pura that you can visit. It is not always easy to visit them, however. They open up only when a ceremony is taking place and are locked all other times. It can be a fruitless endeavor at times trying to locate the person with the key. There are a few temples designated for tourists that are open most of the time. Otherwise, timing your visit to coincide with a ritual is a good idea. The important rituals usually take place at full moon (purnama). Some of the more notable temples in Lombok include the Pura Segara north of Ampenan, the Batu Bolong near the Senggigi Beach, the Mayura Water Palace in the middle of Cakranegara, the Pura Meru near Mayura, the Narmada about 10 kilometers east of the Pura Meru, and the Lingsar Temple, which is a few mile north of Cakranegara.
There aren’t many museums in Lombok, except the Panji Tilar museum in Ampenan, which has an excellent and well-displayed ethnographic collection.
Austronesians from mainland Asia are believed to be the first inhabitants of Lombok. Historians believe Austronesians first expanded from Taiwan around 5,000 BC, populating Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Like the rest of the archipelago, people on the island speak Sasak.
The first mention of Lombok in records is by the great East Javanese Majapahit Empire in a 14th century chronicle referring to the island as a dependency. The chronicle, called the Negarakertagama, was found in the Lombok village of Pagutan in the late 1800s.
During the 14th and 15th century, historians believe there were many local chiefs on the island controlling a few villages. Some rulers with the title of “Raja” were able to control larger areas. One empire called Selaparang was able to conquer eastern Lombok.
In the 16th century, Islam was introduced to the island from Java either by Pangeran Sangopati or Sunan Giri. These pioneering Muslims preached a version of Islam that combined Hinduism with indigenous animism. The first mosque was built in Bayan in the north and it is still maintained today.
In the 17th century, the Balinese from Karangasem conquered West Lombok shortly after Islam was introduced to the island and remained in control for a long time. However, they were prevented from expanding eastward by a thick forest. They eventually crossed the forest in 1678 with the aid of Sasak aristocrats and pillaged the Selaparang empire in the east. But it took another 150 years before the Balinese were able to establish hegemonic rule of East Lombok.
The Balinese brought rice-growing techniques to the island, but otherwise did not influence the Sasaks culturally or religiously. The Islamic faith remained part of the Sasak way of life.
Sasak aristocrats in the east, in fact, regained a measure of independence in 1775 thanks to internal feuding among the Balinese. By 1838, the feuding had stopped. The Balinese at Mataram gained firm control, defeating their rival factions in Cakranegara. The Mataram Balinese took control of the east and ended the independence enjoyed by Sasak nobility. The peasants in East Lombok were subjected to serfdom. Three times in 1855, 1871, and 1891, the peasants revolted, but each time were crushed by the Balinese.
Thanks to serfdom, land tax, and control over trade, the Balinese Raja of Lombok became extremely wealthy. Between 1850 and 1890, extravagant palaces, public fountains, and main streets were built in Mataram and Cakranegara.
In the late 19th century, Holland’s interest in Lombok grew. The Dutch had traded in the region since the 1600s. In a treaty signed with the Balinese rulers of Lombok, the Dutch had agreed never to annex the island. However, stories describing the Raja of Lombok as the richest ruler in the archipelago and speculation of large tin deposits on the island prove too big a temptation for the Dutch. Under the pretext of a Sasak revolt, Holland invaded Lombok in 1894. But despite being equipped with European weapons, the Dutch were soundly defeated by the Balinese. In a total rout, hundreds of Dutch soldiers died.
Humiliated, the Dutch returned with reinforcements and sacked Mataram to the ground. They then routed the Balinese stronghold in Cakranegara and killed their crown prince, Anak Agung Ketut.
The victory was costly for the Dutch, as they suffered hundreds of casualties. The survivors, however, were rewarded; they looted the Raja’s treasure chamber, which boasted vaults gold coins, priceless ornaments, and precious stones.
The Dutch were now the new rulers of the Sasaks, and treated them much more brutally than the Balinese. They taxed the Sasak excessively and forced them into heavy labor. The colonial exploitation was severe and many of the peasants suffered unprecedented impoverishment.
Under colonial rule, the Balinese and Sasak aristocrats were forced to pay most of their revenues to the Dutch. However, colonial policies allowed the Balinese and Sasak nobility to concentrate land ownership by dispossessing the peasants of their land.
Through forced labor, the Dutch built several dams and greatly increased rice production. Still, the average daily rice intake for peasants dropped by 25% between 1900 and 1940; the Dutch required 80% of the rice harvest as taxes, whereas the previous Balinese rajas demanded only 50%. Things got even worse during WWII when the island was occupied by the Japanese. The Sasaks faced starvation and inhumane atrocities.
In 1949, Indonesia gained independence. Lombok briefly became part of the province of Lesser Sunda until 1951 when the province of Nusa Tenggara Barat was established with Mataram as its capital. Today, Lombok has three political districts: West Lombok, Central Lombok, and East Lombok. Their capitals are Mataram, Praya, and Selong, respectively.
“2005 Population Estimates for Cities in Indonesia.” < http://www.mongabay.com/igapo/2005_world_city_populations/Indonesia.html>
“Lombok.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lombok>
Muller, Kal, and David Pickell. East of Bali: From Lombok to Timor. Lincolnwood: Passport Books, 1991. ISBN: 0844299057.
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