The domestic terminal at Bali’s tastefully done up Ngurah Rai Airport looked chaotic and we were a bit apprehensive since our flight number to Lombok had been changed. Turned out that our connecting flight from Bali to Lombok had been delayed by an hour and a half. When we finally boarded our flight, it filled up with a raucous group of young people, in no time.
“This is the last flight to Lombok – that’s why the crowd. First time to Lombok ?” Asked the Australian gentleman occupying the seat beside us.
“First time to Indonesia.”, I quipped.
He turned out to be ex-military. Having retired quite some time ago, he now spent time between Perth and Indonesia, involving himself in various community development projects in and around Bali and Lombok. He told us about the rampant poverty in Indonesia and how their efforts had helped raise funds to secure the future for a girl who lived out of a cardboard box (her ‘home’) in Lombok. Another project he was currently working on, involved turning sea water into potable water that the locals could use in Lombok. Coincidentally, he had visited India while in the armed forces, and had been in and around Delhi, Rajasthan and Punjab. I asked for his opinion on the absolute must-dos while in Bali and Lombok and he mentioned the delicious, albeit cheap local cuisine and the dances that are a part of Balinese culture and folklore. He opined that a trek to Rinjani might be tiresome and wouldn’t be advisable for the short duration we were spending in Lombok. He also warned us to stay away from any beverage or drink “that’s not already bottled or opened in front of you”. Finally, he urged us to explore the Gili islands of which, Gili Meno was his favorite. “The sand there, is like white powder”, he remarked wistfully.
It didn’t take long for the flight to land at around 5 pm at Lombok’s Mataram airport and we disembarked to find our driver patiently waiting for us. For close to 2 hours, as our cab sped along roads that lay alongside alternating dry and green paddy fields, my first impression of Lombok was that it resembled India except for the roads.
The populace in Lombok constitutes a majority of Sasak, they are related to the Balinese people but are Islamic by religion. This was the reason we saw a fair bit of mosques on the way. By the time we reached the western coast of the island, the sun had already set and sky displayed the last vestiges of a fiery red tinge.
After indulging in a fair bit of relaxation throughout the morning, we hired a cab to show us around Senggigi and Malimbu hill. Turns out, India is fairly well known to the Sasaks. For the cab driver’s first question to us was, “Are you from India ?”
“What is your name ?”
“My name is Rahul..”
“Why, what happened ?”
“That is Shah Rukh Khan’s name in the movies.” Little did I know I was to going to get a lot of this in the days to come.
Our cab driver was against the temple’s custom of accepting donations from tourists. He asked us whether temples in India accepted money from pilgrims and was both surprised and disappointed when we replied in the affirmative.
On the day of our departure from Lombok, we made our way to the southern part of the island. Since we had a few hours to kill before we caught our flight to Bali, our cab driver suggested that we spend the afternoon at Lombok’s Kuta beach. Lombok’s Kuta, which is more than 2 hours from Senggigi is slowly but surely gaining the popularity that its namesake in Bali has mustered for decades. Quite a few tourist stays have already been in existence for some time and a lot more are being constructed on the hills in the vicinity.
“The sand (grain) there, is this big”, our cab driver said, making a pea-sized gap between his fingers.
Kuta turned out to be extremely beautiful, and had a relatively larger number of locals than tourists. It didn’t take even a moment’s thinking to realize that Lombok had turned out to be everything that people had raved about. It will only be a few years till it gets as crowded as its neighbor across the strait. That makes it a very good reason to go visit Lombok. Now.