Laidback Lombok was my 1st stop in Indonesia and while my initial stopover was pleasant, the following visits were riddled with unfortunate incidents. Distinctly different place from the much famous, glitzier Bali, Lombok was peaceful, easy paced and much less crowded than its Hindu neighbour. Part of the West Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia, it is no wonder that Lombok is often referred to as “an unspoilt Bali”.
Separated from Bali by the thin Lombok Strait and from Sumbawa island by Alas Strait, Lombok was indeed delightfully pristine. A fairly large island, it is what tropical dreams are made of and also has the gorgeous Gili islands in its kitty. Famous for dazzling white sand beaches, stunning tropical hikes and the looming Mount/Gunung Rinjani, Lombok is also a popular base for those wanting to explore Flores and Komodo islands by boat and its awesome surf breaks especially around Kuta, makes it a surfers paradise.
I had initially stayed at Mataram, its largest city for a few weeks and later had shifted to a small cottage on the flower filled slopes of Sengiggi. While Mataram was a typical bustling capital town with malls, restaurants, traffic and lines of warungs (road side eateries), Sengiggi had been much more peaceful. A strange ribbon like tourism centrist town, Sengiggi was rather ill defined and had charming pockets of tranquil kampungs (villages), bays, coves, forested winding patches amidst hotels, resorts, beach cottages and occasional shopping areas. In fact, while I had to struggle to pass my off duty times in Mataram, at Sengiggi, the lovely view from my balcony used to be enough to relax me (when not feeling manic). I remember watching quite a few stunning sunsets from there and had once seen the stupendous sight of a giant thunder cracking into the huge ocean below.
Denpasar Airport in Bali had been my launch pad into the country and my 1st sight of Indonesia had been a crowded, humming place filled with taxi drivers, hotel touts, scantily dressed tourists and airport staff. A sweet, sticky tropical breeze blew languorously through Denpasar and everybody seemed to be in a holiday mood. But when the Garuda airlines flight dropped me off at Lombok International Airport, a very different scene met my eyes and Indonesia immediately revealed her sharp diversity. A smaller, quiet aerodrome, Lombok airport was strangely deserted. Ramadan was in full swing and a few traditional Muslim men in sarongs waited at the arrival hall with their ladies in burqa and hijabs grouped together. Their children ran about playfully, mischievous boys chasing little girls in bright, little headscarves.
The 1st sight clearly gave away the religious mindset of Lombok and the drive from the airport was also very different from Bali’s car choked streets. Lush paddy fields stretched endlessly, with swaying palms silhouetting against a cloud filled sky. Golden hushed sunshine fell generously and the broad street was refreshingly not busy. Onion domed mosques peeped from everywhere and Lombok looked very clean and untouched. Although my Mataram days had passed in a daze, I can never forget the magical aura of its Ramadan celebrations. The hushed fasting, the tangible anticipation of evening and the post sunset explosion of life, Mataram had been a very interesting experience.
I remember Mataram’s hauntingly empty afternoon streets, which used to magically start humming with life as the time for sunset drew closer. Warungs used to spring up at every 2nd step and flurry of activities filled the evening. All kinds of food used to get chopped, diced, fried, smoked, baked and people started counting the last few minutes of fasting by grouping together for gossip, flirting or zipping around the streets on their motorcycles. Muezzin prayer calls used to be ensued by a hushed silence and then the whole city used to explode with joy. Celebration greetings, happy communal dinners and fireworks used to fill Mataram evenings and those used to be my favourite moments of city watch. With time, even I gave in to its infectious happy spirit and started refraining from eating in public before sunset out of respect for the fasting Mataram residents.
I did miss Mataram a lot, as my Sengiggi days were spent pretty much by myself and at that time dealing with solitude/loneliness had been one of my serious issues. While my days were spent with my colleagues, dinners had always been lonesome. The mediocre, but famously expensive Bumbu Cafe was situated right across my home and out of sheer laziness, I used to always end up there at dinner time. Sengiggi food was uninspiring at best (due to my own lack of experimenting) and I used to miss the lively warungs of Mataram. This boredom slowly drew me out of my shell and eventually lead me to explore Lombok in parts. My 1st foray beyond Mataram and Sengiggi was Kuta and it’s picture postcard beauty made me its fan for life.
Located in the southern part of Lombok, Kuta was difficult to find and the road in most parts, during those days, was in a very poor condition. It was however a beautiful drive through a dry, sun parched area and southern Lombok happened to be the poorest part of the island. Riddled with illegal gold mines, rugged landscape and dry weather, it also had a most stunning long coastline with some of the most breathtaking beaches in Indonesia. Tobacco fields, tangles of lush banana plantations and ramshackle hamlets bordered both sides of the dusty, pebbly road and I reached the scruffy Kuta village with a very sore bottom. I had been riding on a puttering scooter for more than 2 hours and Lombok hinterland had seemed to stretch forever.
Insinuating smell of fresh cooking made me take a quick lunch break at a Kuta restaurant and I remember being shocked at the paltry size of the village. A surfers’ den, Kuta consisted of a handful of homes, which also doubled up as home stays, rickety beach shops and stores and oddly quite a few nice restaurants and coffee shops. I left Kuta soon, after getting pestered by sweet faced tenacious children selling sarongs and shells and drove for a few minutes, when suddenly the stunning Tanjung Aan beach revealed itself. Resplendent with snow white sand, crescent shaped turquoise sapphire water and endless blue sky, Tanjung Aan had made me gasp out aloud.
Absolutely devoid of anybody else, the huge football field sized beach had seemed like my private slice of paradise. I had whooped out in joy, run around like a happy child and gone completely giddy from happiness. The vast empty beauty of Tanjung Aan had also made me lose my inhibitions and for the 1st time in my life, I had swum in the warm ocean blue comfortable in my own skin. It had been a turning point of my life, when I learned the joy of solitude and being happy with my own company. After that, there had been no looking back, but the beauty of Tanjung Aan remains embedded in my memory forever.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE