Lombok is just across the Lombok straight from Bali, but it is a world away. The island of Lombok is the first island in Indonesia’s Nusa Tenggara region, or "Far East". Lombok is a much drier and tougher island than its lush neighbor Bali, defined by dry desert terrain, rugged highlands, towering volcanoes, dramatic bays and headlands, and numerous white sand beaches scattered throughout the southern coast.
Lombok (population 2,950,105 in 2005) is an island in West Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia. It is part of the chain of the Lesser Sunda Islands, with the Lombok Strait separating it from Bali to the west and the Alas Strait between it and Sumbawa to the east. It is roughly circular, with a "tail" to the southwest, about 70 km across and a total area of about 4,725 km² (1,825 sq mi). The administrative capital and largest city on the island is Mataram.
Lombok is now becoming more and more popular as a world tourist destination. Visitors are attracted to the simple pleasure of sun, sand, beach in quieter settings, unique culture and the rich eco-adventure tours. Lombok is a perfect getaway for individual travelers, honeymooners or returning guests. Escape to picturesque mountainside landscapes to white sand beach of the Gili Islands. Lombok island is accessible by air or sea from its neighboring island of Bali. Daily direct flight are available from Jakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar and Singapore. Less developed than Bali, Lombok has better beaches, a bigger volcano and more varied landscapes. Tourism is still low key, and many visitors are independent travelers drawn by the island's intoxicating diving and snorkeling, hiking and surf spots, as well as Lombok's intriguing endemic culture.
The earliest recorded society on Lombok was relatively small kingdom of the Sasaks. The Sasak peoples were agriculturalists and animists who practiced ancestor and spirit worship. The original Sasaks are believed to have come overland from north-west India or Myanmar (Burma) in waves of migration that predated most Indonesian ethnic group. Few relic remain from the old animist kingdoms, and the majority of Sasaks today are Muslim, although animism has left its mark on the culture.
Not much is known about Lombok before the 17th century, at which time it was split into numerous, frequently squabbling states each presided over by a Sasak "prince" - a disunity exploited by the neighboring Balinese.
In the early 17th century, the Balinese from the eastern state of Karangasem established colonies and took control of west Lombok. At the same time, the roving Makassarese crossed the strait from their colonies in west Sumbawa and established settlements in east Lombok. This conflict of interests ended with the war of 1677-8, in which the Makassarese were booted off the island and east Lombok temporarily reverted to the rule of the Sasak princes. Balinese control was soon reasserted and by 1740 or 1750 the whole island was in their hands.
While the Balinese were now the masters of Lombok, the basis of their control in west and east Lombok was quite different. In west Lombok, relations between the Balinese and the Sasaks were relatively harmonious. The Sasak peasants, who adhered to the mystical Wektu Telu interpretation of Islam, easily assimilated Balinese Hinduism, participated in Balinese religious festivities and worshipped at the same shrines. Intermarriage between Balinese and Sasaks was common.
The western Sasaks were organized into similar irrigation associations (subak) that the Balinese used for wet-rice agriculture. The traditional Sasak village government, presided over by a chief, was done away with and the peasants were ruled directly by the rajah or a land owning Balinese aristocrat.
Things were very different in the east, where the recently defeated Sasak aristocracy hung in Limbo. Here the Balinese had to maintain control from garrisoned forts and, although the traditional village government remained intact, the village chief was reduced to little more than a tax collector for the local Balinese district head (punggawa)
The Balinese ruled like feudal kings, assuming control of the land from the Sasak peasants and reducing them to the level of serfs. With their power and land-holdings slashed, the Sasak aristocracy of eastern Lombok was hostile to the Balinese. The peasants remained loyal to their former Sasak rulers, and supported rebellions in 1855, 1871 and 1891.
Traditional law (adat) is still fundamental to the way of life on Lombok today, particularly customs relating to courting and marriage rituals and circumcision ceremonies. In western Lombok you can see Balinese ceremonies and temples with colorful procession and decorative offerings. Sasak ceremonies are often less visible, though you may see colorful procession as well. Ask around and you can probably find when and where festivals and celebrations are being held.
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The laws of Islam require that all boys be circumcised (Nyunatang), and in Indonesia this is usually done somewhere between ages of 6 to 11 years old. Much pomp and circumstance mark this occasion on Lombok. The boys are carried through the village streets on painted wooden horses or lions with tails of palm fronds.
Young couples in Lombok have a choice of three rituals; the first is an arranged marriage, the second a union between cousins, and the third elopement. The first two are uncomplicated: the parents of the prospective bridal couple meet to discuss the bride's dowry and sort out any religious differences. Having handled the business arrangements, the ceremony called "sorong serah" is performed. The third method is far more complicated and dramatic. Theoretically a young girl is forbidden to marry a man of a lower caste, but this rule can be broken through kidnapping and eloping. As a result, eloping is still a widespread practice on Lombok, despite the fact that in most instances the parents of the couple know what's afoot.
Originally it was used as a means of eluding other competitors for the girl's hand or in order to avoid family friction, but it also minimized the heavy expenses of a wedding ceremony. The rules of this ritual are laid down and must be followed step by step. After the girl is spirited away by the boy, he required to report to the Kepala Desa (Chief of the Village). The Kepala Desa then notifies the girl's family through the head of their village. A delegation from the boy's family visits the girl's parent, and between them they settle on a price for the bride, a fine (uang adat) which is distributed among members of the bride's family in recompense for losing her.
Traditional dowries are worked out according to the caste differences; the lower his caste and the higher hers, the more he has to pay. Once this has been settled the wedding begins. Generally the bride and the groom dressed in ceremonial clothes, carried through the village's street, accompanied with sounds of traditional music (gamelan) mingle with the shouts and laughter of the guests as the couple are swooped up and down and around on their way to the wedding place. Throughout the whole ceremony, the bride must look downcast and unhappy at the prospect of leaving her family.
The Lombok Strait marks the passage of the bio-geographical division between the fauna of the Indo-malayan eco zone and the distinctly different fauna of Australasia that is known as the Wallace Line, for Alfred Russel Wallace, who first remarked upon the distinction between these two major biomes.
Lombok lies 8 degrees south of the equator and stretches some 80km east to west and about the same distance north to south. It is dominated by the second highest mountain in Indonesia, Gunung Rinjani, which soars to 3726m. It has a large caldera with a crater lake, Segara Anak, 600m below the rim, and a new volcanic cone which has formed in the center. Rinjani last erupted in 1994, and evidence of this can be seen in the fresh lava and yellow sulphur around the inner cone.
Central Lombok, to the south of Rinjani is similar to Bali, with rich alluvial plains and fields irrigated by water flowing from the mountains. In the far south and east it is drier, with scrubby, barren hills. This area gets little rain and often has droughts which can last for months. In recent years, several dams have been built, so the abundant rain-fall of the wet season can be retained for irrigation throughout the year.
In Lombok's dry season - from June to September - the heat can be scorching. At night, particularly at higher elevations, the temperature can drop so much a sweater and light jacket are necessary. The wet season extends from October to March with January the wettest month.
Flora & Fauna
The 19th century naturalist Sir Alfred Wallace (1822 - 1913) observe great differences in fauna between Bali and Lombok - as great as the differences between Africa and South America. In particular. He postulated that during the ice ages when sea levels were lower, animals could have moved by land from what is now mainland Asia all the way to Bali, but the deep Lombok strait would always have been a barrier. Thus he drew a line between Bali and Lombok, which he believed market the biological division between Asia and Australia.
Plant life, on the other hand, does not display such a sharp division, but there is a gradual transition from predominantly Asian rainforest species to mostly Australian plants like eucalypts and acacias, which are better suited to long dry periods. This is associated with the lower rainfall as one moves east of Java. Environmental differences, including those in the natural vegetation, are now thought to provide a better explanation of the distribution of animal species than Wallace's theory about limits to their original migrations.
Modern bio-geographers do recognize a distinction between Asian and Australian fauna, but the boundary between the regions is regarded as much fuzzier than Wallace's line. This transitional zone between Asia and Australia is nevertheless referred to as "Walacea"
Population & Language
Lombok has a population of 2.4 million (1990 census), with the majority living and around the principal centers of Mataram, Praya and Selong. Almost 90% of the people are Sasak, about 10% are Balinese, and there are minority population of Chinese, Javanese and Arabs.
Most people on Lombok are bilingual, and speak their own ethnic language (Sasak), as well as the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, which they are taught at school and use as their formal and official mode of communication.
Apart from those working in the tourist industry, few people on Lombok speaks English, and this includes police and other officials. Nevertheless, English is becoming more widely spoken on Lombok.
Greetings and Civilities
Sasak does not have greetings such as "Good Morning". A Sasak approaching a friend might ask, in the local language, " How are you?, How's your family?" simply as a form of greeting. Locals will frequently ask foreigners like this in English (it may be their only English!) as a greeting. Don't get annoyed - they are just trying to be polite. A smile and a "hello", or greeting in Indonesian, is a polite and adequate response.
Unlike the Muslims in general, the Sasak in Northern and west Lombok have a caste system. There are four caste castes, the highest being Datu for men and Denek Bini for women, the second Raden for men, and Denda for women, the third Buling and the fourth Jajar Karang. In Central and East Lombok, Lalu for men and Lale for women.
In the main Tourist area; Senggigi, Gili Islands and Kuta Beach Lombok, numbers of Tourist's Restaurant available serving Western food, Indonesian and Chinese food. In Mataram and in some remote area on Lombok, Indonesian food, Padang food and Chinese food are dominant. A Rumah Makan (eating place) can be found easily in Mataram, Ampenan and in most main streets. Sasak Food uses white rice as a staple, served with vegetable curries or soup, chicken, beef, fishes, hot chili and no pork. In Bahasa Indonesia, the word Lombok means Chili pepper and it is used liberally in local cooking.
Some famous sasak foods are:
Ayam Taliwang, fried or grilled wild young chicken with chilli sauce is originally from Taliwang Sumbawa, but it has become a Lombok specialty.
Sate Ikan Tanjung, one of the tastiest food on Lombok, originally coming from a village called Tanjung - Northern Lombok. Pieces of fresh snapper or tuna mixed with coconut milk, lemongrass, garlic, chili pepper, spices, wrapped onto sate stick and grilled. Try them on your way back from a day tour from waterfall or Gili Islands.
Ares, a dish made from the pith of banana tree stem, with coconut juice, garlic and spices.
Pelecing Kangkung, very popular on Lombok as a daily dish to eat together with plain rice. Cooked water convolvulus (kangkung), mixed with a sauce made with chilli, fish paste (terasi), tomato salt and lime.
Economy and politics
Lombok has much in common with nearby Bali, but less well-known and less-visited by foreigners. It has been working to increase its visibility to tourists in recent years, promoting itself as an "unspoiled Bali". The most-developed center of tourism is Senggigi, spread in a 10-kilometer strip along the coastal road north of Mataram, while backpackers congregate in the Gili Islands off the west coast. Other popular tourist destinations include Kuta (distinctly different from Kuta, Bali) where surfing is considered some of the best in the world by leading surfing magazines. The Kuta area is also famous for its beautiful, untouched beaches.
While the area may be considered economically depressed by First World standards, the island is fertile, has sufficient rainfall in most areas for agriculture, and possesses a variety of climate zones. Consequently, food in abundant quantity and variety is available inexpensively at local farmer's markets. A family of 4 can eat rice, vegetables, and fruit for as little as US$0.50. Even though a family income may be as small as US$1.00 per day from fishing or farming, many families are able to live a happy and productive life on astonishingly small incomes.
In early 2000 thousands fled from religious and ethnic violence that swept over the island, and some tensions still remain. Some travel websites warn that tourists sometimes provoke anger in this economically depressed region. This warning lacks credibility, since all of Lombok has had a long history of welcoming visitors to the island. Both the government and many of the residents recognize that tourism and the services required by tourists is Lombok's highest source of income. Further proof of the island's hospitality is show by the fact that tourists are virtually never seriously injured by any interaction with the local population. While many of the local population are friendly, there is certainly an element of danger and numerous travelers have shared accounts of violence, particularly in the South Kuta Beach region where locals, displaced by hotel projects, resent the foreign presence. There is also a refugee camp on the island, costs paid for by Australia, which holds mostly Hazara Afghans who have tried to enter Australia by boat.
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