Bali is a world-renowned tourist destination whereas Lombok’s tourism is in its infancy. Apart from the main tourist are of Senggigi on the west coast there are currently no other tourist areas. This is bound to change as Lombok has a new international airport in the south and the enchanting golden sandy beaches in this area are already attracting tourist development, especially in the Kuta area.
Although it’s only a 30-minute flight east of Bali it felt as though I was in another country. Whereas the majority of the population of Bali is Hindu, Lombok’s population of 3.1 million is 85% Muslim who are Sasak. Little is known about Sasak history except that Lombok was placed under direct rule of the Majapahit Prime Minister, Patih Gajah Mada. The Sasak converted to Islam between the late 16th century to early 17th century under the influence of Sunan Giri and the Muslim Makassarese, frequently mixing basic Islamic beliefs alongside Hindu-Buddhist beliefs, thus creating the Wektu Telu religion. Lombok was conquered by the Gelgel Balinese kingdom in the early 18th century, thus bringing a large population of Balinese to Lombok. The Balinese population of Lombok today is about 300,000 and they have also strongly influenced the Wektu Telu religion of Lombok.
Most of the Sasak today are adherents of the Wektu Lima version of Islam. Wektu Lima or Five Times signifies the five daily prayers, which Muslims are required to do. The term Wektu Lima is used to distinguish them from the Sasak who are practitioners of Wektu Telu or Three Times who only pray three times a day. Orthodox Islamic teachers generally instruct adherents to pray five times a day. Large numbers of people adhering to the Wektu Telu faith can be still found throughout the island, especially in the village of Bayan, where the religion originated.
A small minority of Sasak, about 8,000, called the Bodha are mainly found in the village of Bentek and on the slopes of Gunung Rinjani, 3,726 metres. They are totally untouched by Islamic influence and worship animistic gods, incorporating some Hindu
and Buddhist influences in their rituals and religious vocabulary. This group of Sasak, due in part to the name of their tribe, are recognized as Buddhists by the Indonesian government. The Bodha recognize the existence of five main gods, the highest of which is Batara Guru, followed by Batara Sakti and Batara Jeneng with their wives Idadari Sakti and Idadari Jeneng, though they also believe in spirits and ghosts. The Bodha religion is also to some extent influenced by both Hindu and Buddhist concepts. Of late, they have come under the influence of mainstream Buddhism from Buddhist missionaries.
Driving around the island the first feature that struck me, was the greenery, the large plains are covered with padi, the major towns all have tree-lined streets and there are no industrial areas polluting the environment. Apart from the padi fields Indian temples, multi-designed mosques and empty pristine beaches appeared around every corner as we drove around the island.
Don’t expect to drive around the island in one day, whilst it is possible it is a long journey, over 400 kilometres and there are quite often natural hazards blocking the way; such as fallen trees in the windy season and extremely bad potted roads in the wet season. There are over 650 kilometres of roads on the island, traffic moves slowly, about 30kph, and there is plenty to see and do.
Traditional villages, ancient palaces, forest reserves, trekking on Mount Rijani, Lombok’s famous volcano, surfing or just relaxing on the beach while absorbing the quietness and charm of Lombok.
If you are considering going to Lombok, now is the time before the developers move in. Enjoy the friendliness of the locals, visit a traditional village where you can purchase traditional Sasak sarongs and other weavings, and of course there are the Lombok pearls, regarded as one of the hardest in the world. It’s charming, relaxing and relatively inexpensive – so pack your bags and head to Lombok.