svetlana baghawan maverickbirdWhat do you do at a place which is paradisaical ?  Swim, explore, relax and enjoy the beauty to the fullest? I did all that and more at Lombok. To call  Lombok, a beach paradise would not be exaggerating. With miles of unexplored pristine beaches, the lesser known (along with well trodden) Gili islands and intriguing island customs, I had enjoyed my initial Lombok stay a lot.

Apart from the beaches, I had loved exploring its quaint kampungs where scrawny chicken ran amok, prized fighter roosters were carefully guarded under wicker baskets, decorative cages held song birds and women in conical wicker hats piled huge bamboo bowls with jewel like fruits and vegetables for sale at morning markets. Ears of corn, plantation flowers, ruby red chilies and strange unknown herbs, the morning markets guaranteed cacophony of traffic horns, excited bargains and tremulous voices of nervous singing birds.

I used to love visiting the morning market at Mataram and never failed to go there on weekends. Apart from providing cheapest food stuff, it used to be photographers’ delight and the vendor ladies were friendly. Slowly they got used to my unfamiliar non white “Bule” (foreigner) face on weekend morning and my Bollywood lineage created a furor. Although Bollywood and I were poles apart in every way, but simply stemming from the same country helped me make friends with them and on rare free moments, I used to sing popular Hindi movie songs for them. This in return, got me Ramadan dinner invitations and once an opportunity to accompany a family to the rarest of the rare bird song competition, held at a far off village. That had been the highlight of my Mataram stay and I still regret not carrying my camera with me.

Song bird songs are highly prized among Indonesians and the indigenous Sasak people of Lombok simply love them.  A predominantly Muslim community, Sasaks are closely related racially and culturally with the Hindu Balinese and constitute of the majority of Lombok’s population. Gentle, friendly folks, Sasaks used to be ruled by feudal princes in the past and often intermarried with the Balinese. Famous for being highly skilled artisans, they are excellent potters, weavers and have their own signature traditional housing style. Pile built, bonnet domed Lumbung (granary) and interesting tiered thatched houses make a traditional Sasak village, which although rarely found at the cities, were amply scattered in the poorer (and culturally proud) southern part of the island.

In touristy Sengiggi, all these pleasures got replaced by bagel, French pressed coffee and beach trips. I used to work 5 days a week, had my evenings free and on weekends morphed into a complete beach bum. Sengiggi had some nice places around and I have enjoyed a few morning/evenings at the beach Hindu temple of Pura Batu Balong. Dedicated to the Hindu god of creation, Brahma, the temple was very picturesque and I have been lucky enough to have witnessed a religious ceremony there. There was also a small Muslim shrine near the temple, and dedicated to a drowned fisherman/seafarer’s God, it used to draw faithfuls at sunsets, thus making the coarse strip of land beyond Sengiggi, lively in the evenings. Apart from a handful of kampungs, a weaving village and lush forests, the area beyond Sengiggi (and before the next town) had much left to be desired.

A bit littered, and desolate, its only beauty were glimpses of Sengiggi beach as the road went winding up and down the forested monkey riddled slopes. Sengiggi beach was also quite plain and as a solo (long term tourist) woman, it was not very easy to relax there without getting too much of unwanted attention from other long timers on the prowl. It was no wonder that outlying beaches of Lombok attracted me so much and gave rise to numerous trips to the stunningly empty golden sands of Mawun, gorgeous bite sized Selong Blanak and the idyllic Tangsi or Pink beach. While Mawun and Selong Blanak were not difficult to find and en route landscape was similar to rest of the island (read placid buffaloes with big wooden bells, forested dry patches, tobacco fields and men in belted sarongs, conical hats and bamboo bird cages), Tangsi or Pink Beach took a real toll on my scooter and my bottom.

Located in east Lombok, Tangsi was around 2 and half hours drive from Mataram and the road went from badly broken to non existent. Villages became dismally poor and according to geologists, this area was the most dry and arid part of the island (often plagued by drought). Sad stories of villagers facing acute water crisis and sometimes having to walk for hours to fetch a pail of water, seemed horribly true. Huge craters filled the road and because of Ramadan, everything was closed. Fasting villagers lazed in the shade of their huts and the bad decision of not getting food along with me, made me starve the whole day.

Tangsi beach was also very difficult to find. The local Sasak community spoke no English and my paltry knowledge of Bahasa Sasak did not help either. Somehow after going round in circles for some time, I managed to be on the right track and finally reached the nearby Sekaroh village. Protected deciduous forests (it used to be the king of Lombok’s hunting ground), lack of infrastructure and tourists, made the area delightfully pristine and a kind villager’s self guided direction took me to my destination. The beautiful Pink/Tangsi beach got its name from the deep red hued sand which blushed crimson at sunsets. Particles of coral reef called Homtrema rubrum, mixing with the white sand, supposedly impart its gorgeous colour and the curved bay was a beach lover’s delight. Accessible by a steep downhill drive from the forest path, the rocky dirt track was exactly where I had gone flying off my scooter, scrapped my knees, elbows and chin badly and managed to dent both my ride and my body.

Tangsi however was worth all the dents and pains and apart from a wee bit of scattered trash, it was the most beautiful beach I had ever seen. Absolutely empty except for an uninhabited army barrack on the surrounding hill, only a deep blue sky and a bluer ocean accompanied my Tangsi solitude. The hill was as historical as it could get in a remote area like that and it is said that the Japanese soldiers had once made it their headquarters. A few Japanese relics were said to be still scattered all over the area in form of artificial dug outs and canon, but on that day I had been happy just to laze about on the astonishingly pink sand with a book.

Except for my bruises and broken road weary body, it had been a beautiful day and one which I had enjoyed a lot. With each Indonesian day, I had slowly gotten more comfortable with destiny and life was eventually limping back to normal. Sky of clearest blue, gentle turquoise ocean and jewel hued sunsets were healing me in a way, I had never thought was possible and my content Lombok nights were spent lying on its soft sands till stars shone bright.

Temple sunsets

Sengiggi temple sunsets

Pristine rural life

Pristine rural life

Quiet contemplative moments

Quiet contemplative moments

And intrepid villages

And intrepid villages

Made my Lombok moments

Made my Lombok moments

And I completely gave in

And I completely gave in

To its stupendous natural beauty

To its stupendous natural beauty

A bit of social life

A bit of social life

Shopping

Shopping

And local culture

And welcoming local culture

Made me feel at home

Made me feel at home

And I morphed into a beach bum

And I morphed into a complete beach bum

Mawung

Mawun

Sengiggi

Sengiggi

And forested

And forested drives

Got me hooked to my beach life

Got me hooked to my beach life

And eventually Tangsi happened

And eventually Tangsi happened

Stunning

Stunning

Empty and deliciously only mine

Empty and deliciously only mine

Lombok made me

Lombok made me

Fall in love

Fall in love

With life again

With life again

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE