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An Introduction to Lombok Indonesia
With stunning natural beauty and a multimillion dollar resort complex in the making, Lombok plans to become a travel hot spot.
The island of Lombok sits just across a narrow strait from Bali. But unlike its sister island, Lombok has become even more popular thanks to Chinese package tours. Until recently Lombok has remained in the shadows but for a small trickle of foreign travelers who have discovered its charms.
Now the bucolic island is gaining a following among tourists turned off by the commercialisation of Bali. A number of up-market boutique resorts have sprung up along Lombok's west coast to cater for this crowd. Serving capiroscas and other fancy cocktails on the beach at sundown, but are just a stone’s throw away from rural, unspoiled countryside, much as Bali was four decades ago.
Lombok’s new wave of resorts marks the latest attempt by the island to become a serious tourist draw. Like other travel destinations throughout Indonesia, Lombok has battled to overcome a series of setbacks, including the Asian financial crisis in the late 90's and tourist attacks in Bali a few years ago. Despite new changes on the horizon, including a global recession, locals in Lombok are hoping that major foreign investments from Asia and the Middle East, combined with Westerner's desires for less expensive holiday resort alternatives in the area, will finally put Lombok on the tourist map.
The Standard rooms at the stylish Qunci Pool Villas, which opened three years ago near Senggigi Beach costs, then, less than US$100 per night, at least a third less than comparable upscale hotels in Bali. The resort also has a top notch spa offering lulur, a traditional Indonesian body scrub that uses a paste made from sandalwood, turmeric and rice flower.
About 15 miles up the coast, the newly opened Hotel Tugu Lombok, part of the top notch Indonesian Tugu chain, has rooms adorned with antique Javanese furniture that evoke the Dutch colonial era. The Lombok Golf Kosaido Country Club, designed by former British Open Champion Peter Thomson of Australia, is just next door. Farther north there’s an Oberoi Hotel, part of the Indian based chain of luxury resorts.
Just off the coast, on the largest of three small islands known as the Gilis, an Australian couple has opened the 23 room Beach House Resort, one of a handful of modern hotels that have sprung up there in the last few years. The resort ships in fresh water daily from the Lombok mainland to fill its private villa pools. It's quite a change from eight years ago, when accommodation on the Gilis was nothing more than spartan bungalows with salt water showers, catering mainly for scuba divers and backpackers who arrived by traditional fishing boats. Still today the islands retain their rugged fee, with horse and carriage the only mode of transport.
Lombok's shabby chic image and stunning rural beauty is also attracting big outside investors. Emaar Properties, the Middle Eastern developer, based in Dubai UAE, is investing US$600 million in a joint venture with the Indonesian Government to build a multiple hotel 5 star complex on Lombok's south coast. The plans include an Armani branded resort, vacation homes, exclusive shops and marinas.
Lombok’s potential has been touted before but has never come too much. Some people in the travel business in Bali and Lombok at one time considered the global recession could thwart the islands latest ambitions once again, but as the markets emerge from this downturn it appears Lombok will at last fulfil its desires and become a future player the world tourist stage.
In the early nineties, the then government of Suharto, a dictator who ruled from 1967 - 1998, developed the beach at Senggigi, which has a big Sheraton resort. The area did well for a while but after the Asia financial crisis in 1997 - 98 followed by the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing and another attack on a beach in 2005, had a devastating effect on Lombok’s tourism industry.
The financial crash also put on hold another ambitious plan by Suharto's business cronies to turn a 10 mile stretch of pristine beach and bays along the south coast, into a mega resort. It was modeled after a luxurious Nusa Dua Complex, which kick started Bali's development in the late 1980's. This is the site of the venture by Emaar, The Company agreed to buy the land from the Indonesian Government, which took it over after the financial crisis.
Indonesia has made huge strides in the last few years to curb terrorism, including making scores of arrests. When the US lifted its travel warnings on the country, travelers and ex-pats all agreed that they felt much safer.
In the past, the difficulty of getting to Lombok had been a major contributor in stunting the growth of tourism. While many international airlines fly directly to Bali, Lombok's airport just north of Mataram has only regional jet capacity and expansion is not viable due to surround terrain. As part of the deal with overseas developers the Indonesian Government permitted the construction of a new modern International Airport. Lombok International Airport opened in October 2011. Its capability in this first phase is the handling of the Airbus A300 range, this will greatly improve the traveling time to Lombok and will see a vast increase in visiting passenger numbers as Lombok will be directly available from countries outside of Indonesia. The second phase of the build at the airport will see an extension to the runway and terminal areas to allow airlines to operate larger wide bodied jets. With much of the infrastructure now in place, the resort areas of Lombok are now within easy reach of the airport.
The Lombok and Indonesian Governments want avoid the overzealous building that has scared large areas of Bali and has put in place regulations that will prevent Lombok from becoming overcrowded.
Lombok has many historical connections. 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.
Lombok's culture is distinct from that of Bali's and is the product of a complex cultural mixing. Islam arrived in Lombok in the 16th century and overtime has become the dominant ethnic group. 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 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 Lombok. He later identified the Wallace Line, which runs between the islands and divides Indonesia into two different parts; one where the birds and animals are more closely related to those found in Asia and the other to those in Austral asia.
Taking a two day trek to the 12,224ft high summit of Mt 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 through the morning mist and slowly Lombok and Mount Rinjani are revealed in all their majestic glory.
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