Friday, 18 May 2012

Travel Diaries: LOMBOK

Bull-racing is popular in Central Lombok as this municipal statue testifies.


Last month my Sasak-Lombok friend Amir convinced me to try the new improved ferry service from Padangbai Harbor in East Bali, to Lembar Harbor in neigbouring Lombok.
These days I’ll do anything to avoid Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport: going by ferry allows one to bring both car and support team. Ferries leave hourly, around the clock, which means there’s no panic.
We lucked out on the way there with the top of the line ‘M.V. Putri Nungging’ ferry: it has an air conditioned, carpeted ‘lesehan’ (or crashing room) with mattresses for rent at Rp. 30,000 a flop. On the way back we were not so luckly and had to rent a below-deck crew cabin to escape the mayhem.

Beautiful Kute Beach, Central Lombok, in front of the Novotel.
Either way it’s only a gentle 3 – 4 hour crossing and P.T. Indonesia Ferry’s does a great job managing the logistics.
Lembar Harbor is a pleasant 40 minute drive from still-pristine Kute Beach, the island’s great white (sand) hope.
In Kute I stayed at the Novotel, an Eastern Indonesia village-themed masterpiece by Bangkok’s dynamic design duo, Bill Bensley and Lek Bunnaq, designers of the equally theatrical Four Seasons Langkawi and the over-the-top Four Seasons Chiang Mai.
As “over the top” is my middle name I revelled in the wildly romantic Hawaiian-Sasak villagescape: The gardens, after 15 years, are particularly splendid; their almost private beach is to die for.

The lovely lagoons and verdant hills that flank the entrance to the Mandalika Tourism Zone at Kute Beach, Lombok’s answer to Nusa Dua, but infinitely nicer.
Architeck Lek Bunnaq and landscape artist Bill Bensley collaborated on the Sasak-village inspired Novotel, Kute Beach.

The exquisite gardens of the Novotel, Kute Beach designed by Bill Bensley.

“Lord of the Flies” meets “Endless Summer”: an Ozzie senior-surfie greets the beach vendors before breakfast, Kute Beach.
Every morning, armed street-gangs of pre-teen coconut vendors would pick-off cashed-up Australian surfies on the way to the reef break off Risky Beach — sort of ‘Endless Summer’ meets ‘Lord of the Rings’.
One day Amir took me to his village a mile down the coast form the Novotel. It is a survivor from the Mandalika Bay Tourism Development Companies’ extensive ‘re-zoning’.
There, in perfect harmony (give or take a few late night machete murders), live 122 Sasak families in an idyllic Fiji-an village like settlement without walls or fences.

A typical Sasak village nestled in a coconut grove near Kute,
Central Lombok.
Sasak homes are simple but comfortable: family life unfolds
in the open pavilion.
Young Sasak girl at home.
Families gather in open buré-like pavilions as miniature cows wallow in shit in picturesque pens nearby (the Sasak  are whizz-bang pen and bamboo hut builders). Everyone is handsome and happy: everyone else sits there and bears it, with a grandchild on top of their lap.
My party were served a beef balung curry and baby squid as the wind picked through the coconut trees: it was like Kuta in Bali in the 1960s, without the drugs.
One hopes that the villagers win the battle with the Jakartan developers and are allowed to keep their village and dreamy lifestyle.
Just west of Kute Beach is the secluded, gem-like Selonblanak Beach which has a great restaurant, the Laut Biru.
Further inland is Sada village, once famous as a gem of traditional Sasak village architecture, now a bit of a tourist trap.
In Sasak-land one now needs to explore to get the original flavour.
Near Sada one can visit the kramat grave of the Sasak’s great common ancestor, for example, but only on Wednesdays, or the neighbouring village rises in arms.

An athletic Sasak maiden and cart at the Sengkol market, Central Lombok.
One can visit the market at Sengkol, the biggest village around, and marvel at the somber-hued fashion sense of the local hombres and the colourful batiks of the tough women folk, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Sasaks make Bataks look meek and mild!
For this reason alone I don’t think Kute, Lombok will ever rival Kuta, Bali — where the little woman falls for the cab ‘drivers’ charms on the way to the hotel — but scenically it has a lot more to offer.

Syed Ayam Jago shows off his fighting beasts at Rooster Corner, Sengkol Market, Central Lombok.

Ibu Sri Fatima, the Madame Defarge of the Sengkol market guards Rooster Corner from her shop (See video “Rooster Corner at the Sengkol Market”: ………
There are cultural treats too, in nearby West Lombok: In the 18th century, the royal family of Karangasem (East Bali) established a vassal princedom to manage the burgeoning Hindu Balinese population. There the princes gave vent to the royal hobby of the time — creating water gardens and exquisite pleasure parks.
The Lombok royals created two: Taman Mayura, once the centre of the capitol Cakranegara, and the nearby Narmada, a vast park and temple complex designed along Bali-European lines.

A painting at the entrance to Taman Mayura ‘water palace’ in Cakranegara, West Lombok.
The gardens and pavilions are still worth the detour, but be quick: the hand of Municipal-decoration-mania is creeping in.
It’s a pity that the government can’t better  preserve these treasures.
At Suranadi, the old colonial plantation home and spring-fed baths five miles from Narmada, we had better luck.
There the delapidated splendor of a former era is intact, down to the bohemian-style poolside café serving ‘Suranadi’ fried chicken and chips. It was Sunday when we visited so the baths were full of young things posing like Paris Hilton in wet jilbab.
My group stripped off and jumped into the ice-cold water.
Lombok-Balinese chubs made a bee-line for the floating Daddy.
“Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie?” said a slightly girlish teenager from the edge of the pool.
Had I said “Oi, Oi, Oi” I fear that a hand may have gone shopping under water, so I didn’t.
Driving back to Kute from West Lombok we passed many giant mosques built in the now popular Egyptian-Turkish modern style. Traditionally Lombok Muslims prayed in small, picturesque white mosques located on the edge of the rice fields or at water’s edge. While one still spots large domes rising above the coconut palms in many rural areas, it’s now the super-size, full gloss mosques at village centres that are a big part of the new fundamentalist movement.
Remarkably the Islam Waktu-Telu — Muslims who pray three times a day, not five (along with their Hindu brothers) — still survives in Lingsar village, near Suranadi.
I was reluctant to revisit  the Pura Lingsar Temple this trip, for fear that its exquisite late Majapahit red brick walls and gates would have succumbed to andesite face-lifts.
It’s not a good decade for architectural conservation — so perhaps go soon. 
The roads are in good shape in West and Central Lombok and the routes quite scenic — very like the Java and Bali of old.
One is left with the impression of a prosperous society which respects traditional values, and the environment.
See Video Director's cut : MY LOMBOK: