With stunning natural beauty, Lombok aims to become a travel hot spot for any discerning traveller and lover of sheer tropical paradise.
Indonesia’s Lombok island sits just across a narrow stretch of sea from Bali. But unlike its neighboring island, Lombok has thus far played second fiddle as it slowly and progressively unveils its hidden secret. Just a trickle of foreign ardent travelers have discovered its charms.
Lombok’s new wave of resorts marks the latest attempt by the island to become a serious tourist draw. Like travel destinations throughout the region, Lombok has battled to overcome a series of setbacks, including the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s and terrorist attacks in Bali a few years ago. Despite new challenges on the horizon, including a global recession, locals here are hoping that a major investment from a Middle Eastern developer, combined with Westerners’ desires for less expensive resort alternatives in the area, will finally put Lombok on the tourist map, and attract regular visitors to Bali where commercialization is hitting peak levels. Those opting for a more serene ambience are making their way to Lombok. Many feel Bali is becoming truly and surely overcrowded.
Those selling Lombok as the “unspoiled Bali” have many historical connections to draw upon. In the 18th century, a Hindu Balinese king conquered much of the island, and his progeny ruled until the Dutch pushed them out at the turn of the 20th century. Today, 10% of Lombok’s population, mainly in the western part of the island, are of Balinese origin, and the island is dotted with Hindu shrines. In the town of Narmada, the same king built a temple on a hill as a replica of Mount Rinjani, an ancient pilgrimage site. On days leading up to a full moon, the temple in the palace is festooned with garlands of flowers and baskets of fruit offerings.
Yet Lombok’s culture is also distinct from Bali’s, and is the product of a complex cultural mixing. Islam arrived here in the 16th century and over time the dominant ethnic group — the Sasaks, who today make up 85% of the population — became Muslim. But as in many parts of Indonesia, orthodox teachings were only partially embraced. The mountain village of Bayan, in the northern part of the island, is the center of Wetu Telu, a religion that blends elements of Muslim, Hindu and animist beliefs. Followers pray three times a day, instead of Islam’s standard five.
Nearby, Mount Rinjani is the spiritual heart of Lombok’s animist traditions. It is also the place where Alfred Russel Wallace, the noted Victorian explorer and naturalist, observed the differences between bird species on Bali and on Lombok. He later identified the Wallace Line, which runs between the islands and divides Indonesia into two distinct parts: one where the birds and animals are more closely related to those found in Asia and the other to those in Australasia.
Taking a two-day trek to the 12,224-foot-high summit of Rinjani is the perfect way to crown a visit to Lombok. Starting off under the jungle canopy at its base, travelers are likely to see wild pigs and black-leaf monkeys along the way, before arriving for the night at the rim of the mountain’s lake-filled volcanic crater.
The steep push for the summit begins before daybreak the next morning. As dawn approaches, the circular contours of Lombok become visible below. And to the west, across the Lombok Strait, a faint outline of Bali’s Mount Agung becomes visible through the morning mist.