East Of Bali
Lombok is often compared to Bali. The neighboring islands have many similarities and many differences. They are only about 20 miles apart. Both islands have Hindu and Muslim influences, but in opposite proportions. Both islands have beautiful highlands and white sandy beaches, but Lombok is quieter and dryer than Bali for the most part. The administrative capital and largest city on the island is Mataram.
Until 1987, few visitors made the trip to Lombok. Today, Lombok is growing in popularity, but it is still relatively quiet and undeveloped. Tourism is already is the second-largest industry on Lombok. Mount Rinjani, beautiful coastlines, coral reefs, and stunning waterfalls highlight the list of popular destinations on Lombok.
The Gelgel Balinese Kingdom conquered Lombok in the early 18th century, which brought a large population of Balinese to the island. The Balinese population of Lombok today consists of about 300,000 people. The Balinese have influenced the Wektu Telu religion of Lombok with the Hindu religion.
The Dutch first visited Lombok in 1674 and settled the eastern part of the island. The Dutch left the western half of the island to be ruled by a Hindu dynasty from Bali. The Sasak people of Lombok were restless under Balinese rule and a revolt began in 1891. The revolt ended three years later with the annexation of the entire island to the Netherland’s East Indies.
People and Language
About 2.5 million people reside on Lombok. About 85 percent of the residents are Sasak, who follow a mixed religion comprised of Islam and animism. The other 10 percent of the people who live on Lombok are Balinese and a small fraction is Chinese, Arab, Javanese, and Sumbawanese. About 90 percent of the people in the west are farmers. They grow rice, soybeans, tobacco, and other crops. The Sasak language belongs to the Bali-Sasak-Sumbawa family of languages.
Geography and Geology
Lombok is part of the chain of the Lesser Sunda Islands, with the Lombok Strait separating it from Bali to the west. The Alas Strait separates Lombok from Sumbawa to the east. The Lombok Strait is part of the Wallace Line—the dividing line between the fauna of Asia and the distinctly different fauna of Australasia.
The island’s topography is dominated by Mount Rinjani, a massive volcano that rises 12,200 feet out of the ocean. It is the second-largest volcano in Indonesia and it often is shrouded in clouds. The most recent eruption of Rinjani was in 1994. The volcano, and its sacred crater lake, is protected by Rinjani National Park, which was established in 1997. The towering volcano collects a great deal of rainfall, which tumbles down the mountain through a series of cold and cascading waterfalls below.
Most of the southern part of the island is a fertile plain where corn, rice, coffee, tobacco, and cotton are grown. However, parts of the southern side of the island are too arid to produce healthy crops.
Arts, Crafts, and Culture
Lombok has much in common with nearby Bali, but it is less known and visited by world travelers. It has worked to increase its visibility to tourists in recent years by promoting itself as a virgin version of Bali.
Lombok is famous for its baskets and pottery. However, its artisans don’t use the bright colors found on Balinese art. Local artisans weave baskets tight enough to hold water. The unique local pottery often features inlaid eggshells and leafs to create an artistic flair. Some artisans weave basket cases around the pottery for an unusual effect. Local artisans incorporate geckos on much of their work because they believe that geckos bring them good luck.
On Lombok and Bali, you can tell the married women from the single ones by looking at the flower behind their ears. If the flower is placed behind the left ear, the woman is not married. A flower behind the right ear indicates that a woman is married. In addition, people on Lombok never wear yellow because they believe it is bad luck.
The Sasak people converted to Islam between the late 16th and 17th centuries. They mixed basic Islamic beliefs with Hindu-Buddhist beliefs and created the Wektu Telu and Wektu Lima religions. Most of Lombok’s Sasak people follow the Wektu Lima version of Islam, which means that they pray five times every day as with traditional Islam. The Sasaks who are followers of Wektu Telu only pray three times a day.
A small minority of Sasaks (about 8,000 people) called the Bodha is mainly found in the village of Bentek and other remote areas of Lombok. They are totally untouched by Islamic influence and worship animistic gods alongside with some Hindu and Buddhist influences.
Lombok’s Towns, Villages and Nearby Islands
Bangsal (BAHNG-sahl): This small port town is the primary gateway to the Gili Islands. Travelers have reported hassles from the locals as they pass through this town. These people have earned the nickname “Bangsal Mafia.” Violence isn’t an issue, but they have pressured visitors into buying unwanted items and services at inflated prices. Avoid detours and go straight to the boat terminal. To avoid the challenge, just arrange for a boat ride directly from Senggigi to the Gilis and bypass Bangsal.
Gili Islands (GEE-lee): There are a series of small, but beautiful islands that surround Lombok. The most popular destinations are three islands off Lombok’s northwest coast called Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan. Boat rides are available from Senggigi. (The word Gili is one of the local words for island).
These islands are beautiful destinations with white beaches, colorful coral reefs, no vehicles, and limited electricity. Accommodations consist of basic huts on most of these islands. Gili Trawangan, the outermost of these three islands, however, features some nicer hotels with air conditioning and swimming pools. The nightlife on all three islands typically appeals to younger travelers.
Gili Nanggu (GEE-lee NAHN-goo): This is a tiny island off the southwestern coast of Lombok. It’s primarily a destination for snorkeling and diving. In addition to clear waters, colorful reefs, and abundant fish, it features a restaurant and a few bungalows. It also has a turtle hatchery that raises hundreds of sea turtles each year and releases them into the sea. To reach this island, hire a driver or work with a local tour guide. Drive about an hour southwest of Mataram and then hire a boat in Taun or Lembar. You can snorkel right off the beach because of a gradual sandy slope that connects it to the reef just a few meters off shore.
Kuta (KOO-tah): Unlike Kuta in Bali, this area is quiet and remote. However, as with Bali’s Kuta, this southern coast is a destination for surfers. The area is beautiful and undeveloped, but developers are planning resorts in the area.
Lembar (LEHM-bahr): This town is the primary port for ferries and boats from Bali. It’s easy to get to and from Mataram and Senggigi from this seaside village. There isn’t much to see or do in this town, but it’s a friendly place to experience local life.
Mataram (MAH-tahr-RAHM): This is the capital of Lombok and the largest city on the island. It’s also the capital and largest city of West Nusa Tenggara province. About 320,000 people reside in Mataram.
Three separate townships constitute the city—Ampenan, Mataram, and Cakranegara. They are distinct cities, but run together. Ampenan is an aging port city with more of a Chinese influence, Mataram is the governmental and office center for the province, and Cakranegara is the major commercial center on the island.
Mataram is a friendly city with several Hindu temples and other interesting sites. The morning markets are colorful and busy, which makes for interesting photographs. It’s also a city that relies heavily on horse carts (dokar) for transportation, which makes it fun to observe. Travelers usually visit Mataram, but stay elsewhere.
Senaru (SEHN-ahr-ROO): This is a small village on the north side of the island. This is the drop-off point for volcano trekkers and those who are taking shorter hikes to the waterfalls. In fact, the Mt. Rinjani Trek Center is located in Senaru. The villagers are friendly and they occasionally perform local music and dance for visitors.
Senggigi Beach (SEHN-gee-GEE): This is the central tourist area on Lombok. The area features both old and new resorts and a quiet town with numerous restaurants, hotels, and shops. It also offers some very good deals for travelers. It’s centrally located and easy to get around the island from this village. It’s a beautiful area to watch the sunset over Bali.
Lombok’s Temples and Monuments
The Hindu temples on Lombok are different from those on Bali in two ways. First, there are not as many. Secondly, visitors are asked to wear a sash instead of a sarong.
Gunung Pengsong (GOON-oong PEHNG-sohng): This is one of the charming Hindu temples on Lombok. In the morning, you can see rice fields, volcanoes, and the sea, making it a rewarding destination. Later in the day, clouds are more likely to cover Mount Rinjani, which can block the view. It is about nine kilometers south of Mataram.
Mayura Water Palace (MYE-oor-RAH): This water palace was built in 1744 as part of the Balinese kingdom’s royal court in Lombok. It features a large man-made lake and a large swimming pool. Both are open to the public. It also has a small Hindu temple and a great deal of open space with colorful flowers and plants. In 1894, the Balinese fought the Dutch here for control of Lombok. Located in Mataram.
Pura Batu Bolong (POOR-rah BAH-too BOH-lohgn ): This Hindu sea temple is one of the most interesting temples on Lombok. It sits on the rocky coast facing Bali’s holy mountain, Gunung Agung, while constantly absorbing large waves from the sea. It is located between Mataram and Senggigi. Visitors must wear a sash around their waist to enter the temple. For a small donation, you can borrow a sash from the attendant. A hole in the rock under the temple lets waves come through, which adds to the site’s charm. Located between Mataram and Senggigi.
Pura Lingsar (POOR-rah LEENG-sahr): This is the holiest temple on Lombok. It was built in 1714. It is a temple for both the local Hindu and the Wektu Telu religions. The Hindu area is higher than the Wektu Telu temple on its southern side. The Wektu Telu temple features a small pond with holy eels living inside. The tour guides encourage you to make a wish and then throw a coin into the pond over your shoulder without looking. It’s located about 10 kilometers east of Mataram.
Pura Meru (POOR-rah MEHR-roo): This is the largest temple on Lombok. It was built around 1720. It features one large primary shrine and 33 smaller shrines around it. It also has three large, multi-tiered shrines. Symbolizing the universe, the shrine was built by the Balinese prince Anak Agung Made Karang of the Singosari Kingdom as a tribute to the Hindu gods of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Located in Mataram.
Pura Suranadi (POOR-rah SOOR-rahn-DEE): This is one of the holiest Hindu temples on Lombok. It is set in the countryside and features a nice garden and a spring with holy eels. This temple is just east of Mataram.
Other Attractions on Lombok
Air Terjun Sindang Gila (EYE-eer TEHR-joon SEEN-dahng GEE-lah): This is the series of waterfalls on the way up Gunung Rinjani. The first waterfall is Sindang Gila (about a 15-minute hike). The second waterfall, Tiu Kelep, is about 45 minutes further up the trail. The final waterfall, Betara Lenjang, is about three hours up the trail. The further you hike, the fewer people you see. These treks depart from Senaru Village. Travelers can see long tail macaques and silvered leaf (black) monkeys along the trail.
On the way back, have a local guide walk you through the water tunnels. They are pitch black, but they make for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Located above the village of Senaru.
Pusuk Memorial Forest and Monkey Forest: The Memorial Forest is an area where the Green Foundation will plant a tree in your honor. There is no cost, but donations are appreciated. Supporters don’t even have to go to Lombok to plant the tree. If you can’t go yourself, just send a donation and they will gladly plant one or more in your honor. Just around the corner is an area inhabited by dozens of macaque monkeys. The Pusuk Memorial Forest is a good place to stop and take a stroll. Drive north out of Mataram on the highlands road. Look for the signs marking the forest.
Mount Rinjani (REEN-jahn-EE): This is the tallest mountain (gunung) on Lombok and the second-tallest volcano in Indonesia. At a peak of 12,200 feet, it takes most people three days to hike to the summit. Mount Rinjani is an active volcano that last erupted on October 1, 2004. The volcano and Segara Anak lake are part of a National Park established in 1997. Lake Segara Anak sits inside the caldera at the top of the volcano. The sacred lake is contoured in the shape of a giant croissant around a new cone called Gunung Baru (new mountain). The lake supports a healthy fish population, which is unusual for an active volcano.
For the people of Lombok, the volcano is a sacred place and home to the gods. Rinjani means princess, and it is named after the princess who threw herself over the cliff and into the sea to save the island’s people.
The Mount Rinjani Trek Ecotourism Program won the prestigious World Legacy Award in 2004 for its work to conserve this fragile and important ecosystem. The conservation group works in partnership with local villagers and the New Zealand International Development Agency.
It takes about three days and two nights to hike from Senaru to Sembalun Lawang. Porters can be hired in Senaru. Senaru is on the northern side of the island, about a two-hour drive north and east of Mataram.
Pearl Shops: There are several pearl farms off the coast of Lombok and several pearl shops in the area with beautiful jewelry.
Places to Stay On Lombok
Since Lombok is not as well known as some of the other islands, here is a quick list of recommendations and descriptions for accommodations on the western side of the island.
The Pool Villa is one of the most beautiful hotels you will ever see—right off the beach and each villa has its own hot tub. The massive swimming pool sweeps up to the patio of every villa. The spacious villas include every amenity imaginable. It’s extremely exclusive and personalized with just 16 villas to choose from on Senggigi Beach.
The Sheraton was the first five-star hotel on Lombok and still one of the nicest places to stay on the island. It has a spa, two restaurants, a poolside bar, and tennis courts. Other options include: Senggigi Beach Hotel, Intan Lombok Village, Holiday Inn, Kuta Beach Novatel, Oberoi, Banyon Tree Hotel, Hotel Jayakarta, and the Granada Hotel.
Click on this link to take a quick video tour of Lombok.