Lombok - Yogyakarta
Trendy French people think that Lombok is the new Bali but really it’s just the old Lombok with a lot more tourist strips.
What a shame that the relevant authorities couldn’t have learned from the mistakes of Kuta and Koh Samui and kept the inevitable aluminum cladding ribbon development a few metres back from the main road.
Lombok still has great unspoiled scenic beauty — the North and South Coast, and Lake Rinjani, for example — and some spoiled but not yet ruined Hindu-Bali era palace pleasure gardens — the Taman Mayura and Taman Narmada built by the Karangasem royal family in the mid-19th century. The real charm of Lombok, however, is the laid back charm of the beach scene at Senggigi now home to some decent beach-side restaurants and boutique hotels.
Getting to Senggigi is not easy. One can drive to Padang Bai and catch one of the many Gili Air and Senggigi-bound fun boats — I lucked out and got the largest of the Srikandi Mania fleet which has astro turf and a beer bar on the sun deck —or take the morning boat from Serangan island harbor, near Sanur. One can also fly to Lombok’s new airport and then taxi two hours from the airport.
I took the Padang Bai option. My boat was full of Balinese spiritual tourists, mostly from Sanur, off to visit Pura Suranadi and Pura Lingsar — the island’s main Hindu drawcards. They sat quietly in the main cabin, offering boxes on their laps, while the well-tattooed young ragers bopped on the roof terrace.
The port authority really needs to do an urgent up-grade to the infrastructure at Padang Bai — it’s a bit of a bun-fight at present.
The imaginatively-attired young things all got off at Gili and the suckers and the sacred went on to Senggigi, which is a gorgeous series of small beaches with verdant hills behind.
I stayed at Batu Bolong beach, just to be different (Senggigi beach has the newer trendier beach hotels), in a pleasant all bungalow hotel called Sunset Beach. The food was grim and the staff noisy (Lombokis are kind of boisterous) but the beach scene divine — limited hawkers and easy mugging-free nocturnal access to the pizzeria plus at the end of the beach.
Couples snogged on beanbags in the moonlight, like in St. Tropez, or Bali, before the outbreak of beanbag-snatching.
Beyond the beach strip expats seem to be building colourless villas with an aim to spend the rest of their lives in the Pleasantville atmosphere of suburban Senggigi, where the billiard halls never close.
A short 30 min drive north from Senggigi, in the Bayan Village area, one can see Lombok’s oldest mosque — a masterpiece of 17th century rustic Islam-Majapahit architecture — and the adjacent traditional village, which is also a living museum of old Lombok village architecture.
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Leaving from Senggigi wharf early in a Sunday morning I was treated to the full scenic charm of the Lombok Strait — Mt. Agung looming across a strait littered with colourful native outriggers.
[ See Video Lombok Adventure Padang Bai to Senggigi: http://youtu.be/8IvhMWWD0gc ]
P.S. There are many other side trips from Senggigi that one can do. The triple treat of West-Lombok Balinese temples — Pura Lingsar, Pura Narmada, and Pura Suranadhi — is just over the hill. Just around the corner — 30 minutes away, in neighbouring Cakranegara (the old Hindu-era capital) — is the enchanting water garden Taman Mayura and, adjacent, the handsome Pura Meru, one of West Lombok’s oldest and most important temples. Two-hours drive South and one can find a string of heavenly white sand beaches and a sprinkling of smart resorts. Or one can head for the hills and visit the pristine Rinjani lake or climb Mt. Rinjani.
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Later in the month I was invited to see some special dance performances in Yogyakarta, at the Bangsal Kepatihan, the famously large pavilion in the old prime minister residence.
I stayed at the heavenly d’Omah Hotel in Tembi village — an oasis of Javanese refinement —8 kilometers south of the city, on the Parang Tritis road.
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At 7 30 p.m.I arrive at the stately complex to find the pavilions packed with local dance aficionados and exchange students (never a shortage in the university town) all neatly dressed and sitting pretty. The regal court gamelan is playing. The seven Bedaya (Bedoyo) dancers are already in formation in the court that forms the pavilion’s western side. They are in deep concentration — preparing themselves for 90 minutes of ultra-refined swaying and mincing.
As living treasures (pusaka) the dancers are dressed in the magnificent costume of Hamengkubuwono Palace brides (see photo below). The dance and gamelan are mesmerizing — all the more so in this magnificent setting.
“Centuries of Graciousness” is a phrase that always comes to mind when I find myself in this situation.
It’s so rare to be with a group of westerners who are really enjoying Javanese classical culture.
After the Bedaya Harjuna Wiwaha the Wayang Wong dancers take the stage present a classical Javanese mask dance rendition of the Ramayana.
[ See video Bedaya Harjuna Wiwaha, Bangsal Kepatihan: http://youtu.be/S2uDmlAOHnI ]
After the show I take my guests to Jalan Malioboro, just adjacent the Kepatihan Palace, where a night market with a hundred food stalls takes over half of the boulevards every night. The atmosphere is not unlike the bazaar in Istanbul.
I take a horse and carriage home and sample the exquisite night air of this ancient town.
Apart from night excursions into Jogjakarta (and don’t try Saturday night) the city has become horribly congested. It’s good to stay south of the city and come in early to see the Hamengkubuwono Palace, the Sasana Budaya Museum and then retreat, before noon, especially in the dry season.
23 October 2014: To Ponorogo for Suro to witness the pre-Hindu (Kejawen) ceremonies and dance performances that accompany the celebration of the first day of the Islamic year
The town of Ponorogo, centre of the fabled Reog dancers, is a 3 hour drive from Jogyakarta. We take the south road through Pacitan and visit the small museum of early man there.
In Ponorogo we stay at the three star Gajah Mada hotel which is near the aloon-aloon where the Reog Festival has been ongoing for over a week. Reog Ponorogo still has the verve and mysticism of the various Barong dances of Bali and most probably share a single ancestor.
More photos and reports next month on this action-packed weekend.