10 CULTURAL THINGS TO DO IN LOMBOK
Lombok, located in the island archipelago of Indonesian, forms one of some 18,000 islands and is habituated by around three million people. It is located on the east of the more well-known island of Balikpapan (Bali). In comparison to Bali, Lombok is a quiet, peaceful haven with incredible stretches of deserted beaches and with some of the world’s best surf.
For me, Lombok is an island with perfect rural scenes against a palm fringed back-drop, steeped in cultural practices followed by the Sasak people who inhabited the land and friendly and welcoming nature. On that note, I’ve put together a few of my cultural and some not so cultural things to do and see in Lombok.
THE CAPITAL CITY MATARAM
Mataram is the capital of Lombok, it’s the largest town on the island and is most definitely worth a visit and a huge contrast from the sleep beachside location where we were staying. Open markets, bustling street stores, small open green spaces and locals taking street food breaks at the side of the road, it’s definitely a colourful and cultural site of the island’s business capital. Visit the many temples, mosques, shopping districts and food outlets but be aware of the scooters!!
PURA LINGSAR TEMPLE
10 Km northeast of the capital city of Mataram, lies the single most important Hindu temple in Lombok, Pura Lingsar. It represents a blending of the Hindu tradition with Wektu Telu, a religion practiced by the Sasak people, Lombok’s natives. Wektu Telu’s adherents consider themselves Muslims, but do not follow many of the religious commandments that more orthodox Muslims do.
Pura Lingsar was built in 1714 by the Balinese King Anak Agung Ngurah who had a Hindu and a Muslim wife. It is considered a symbol of harmony and unity between the Balinese Hindus and the Islamic Sasak. If you visit the temple, a donation is expected.
We had a thread tied around our wrist by the priest for good wishes and we also bathed in the holy spring water at Lingsar.
We visited many markets on Lombok but the market in the old city of Ampenan is definitely one not to be missed. Think fruit, veg, the freshest fish and meats.
It’s lively, full of colour and there’s not a tourist in sight as you walk along bargaining with the market traders and take in the smell of spices and numerous dried fish stalls. Dry fish plays a huge part in cooking in Indonesia and you can buy it in many different varieties from the local markets.
In 1727, King Anuk Agung Ngrah built Narmada Park as a summer resting place for the Royal Family, when they visited Lombok in the summer months, essentially it was the king summer residence.
The park is located about 10 km from the capital city of Mataram and also features a waterpark and beautiful lush gardens featuring lakes and pagodas. It’s a great family space with areas for picnics and swimming scattered throughout. There is also one of the six oldest temples in Lombok here called the Pura Narmada. Unfortunately it was closed on our visit but we were able to admire the views from here.
PURA BATU BOLONG TEMPLE
Situated above the black rock on Seggigi beach, Pura Batu Bolong is known as the temple on the rocks. It’s a sacred site of Hindu worship and also makes for a beautiful backdrop. It’s a very peaceful place of worship with the sea lapping against the rocks in the background and definitely worth a visit to observe how this site is used.
WOMENS POTTERY & WEAVING CO-OPERATIVES
I’m a great supporter of local arts and crafts and to learn of opportunities of how I can support the local economy. I was therefore keen to visit some local pottery and weaving co-operatives that I had heard of during the planning of my visit. They are situated just outside of Mataram city however there are many of these located all around Lombok. It’s really important for the women to earn a living also if their partners or the males in the house are farming or supporting the small tourist industry on the island or neighbouring islands.
The pottery co-operative allowed a group of women to make a variety of pots, some quite ornate as well as ceramics required for daily use with certain designs being sold abroad.
They had a small workshop in the back, which allows visitors to have a go at making their own ceramic creation for a donation of your choice. I tried my hand at making a small bowl on a potters wheel with some guidance from one of the ladies in the co-operative. The pottery isn’t fired like back home so you can take it back almost straight away and air dry it.
The Women’s Group is a weaving co-operative where girls from the age of 14 are taught the intricate art of weaving. It is said that a girl is not ready to marry until she has mastered the art of weaving. There are many different scarves throws and house weaves that you can purchase should you wish to support the co-operative.
TIU KELEP WATERFALL & SENDANG GILE WATERFALL
We booked a trekking tour of North Lombok and hiked the Rinjani Geo Park to scope out both of these waterfalls, which are located in the town of Senaru. In Lombok, I’d say these are two of the must-see waterfalls, especially Tiu Kelep and to make things easier you can reach them via the same hike.
This trek is not a difficult one however since the earthquake, the route had got somewhat more trickier to navigate but also it rained quite heavily when we visited and we ended up walking through fast-flowing knee-deep rivers, slippery boulders and blocked routes.
I’d advise dressing accordingly. However, once you arrive, both are stunning and you can cross the river to get right under them for a swim. The waterfall drop is around 30 metres with a lot of spray so be prepared with your waterproof essentials!
On our drive to North Lombok, the road passes through an area named Monkey Forest. If you’re driving North, there’s a big chance you’ll be driving through. If you’re particularly into monkeys you may want to stop as there is also a lovely viewpoint up at this elevation but be aware if you have nuts they will not stay in your hand for long. Some of the males are quite aggressive and will grab them off you! It’s a nice spot to take in the lush Northern views though and the baby monkeys are pretty cute!
Culturally, for me it was quite important to see how the native Sasak people live in Lombok and with the help of the government, who help with overheads, it is now possible to go and visit a small traditional Sasak village, based in Senaru.
Learn about the local life of a Sasak community, see the local’s meeting house, how they farm, their houses and the roles of males and females in a family. As Senary is located close to the foot of Mount Rinjani, you can see how the Sasak community make a living by farming around this area, as well as collecting coffee beans. Most Sasak do attend School but go on to work in the family trade. This is a must-do to get a real taste of local traditional life, which is still present in Lombok to this day.
THE GILI ISLANDS
This group of three islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno) are located near the north-west coast of Lombok, characterised by their sandy beaches fringed with palms but it’s their coral reefs, which make them a draw to visit especially for diving enthusiasts.
We spent the day exploring all three islands from Lombok in a local fishing boat. We reached the first island in around 30 minutes from the shoreline near our hotel, Jeeva Santai Villas.
The Gili islands are vehicle free and instead operate a horse and cart system of transportation.
GILI TRAWAGAN (AKA GILI T)
This is the biggest of the islands and is also the busiest. The outer part of the island is surrounded by a ferry port, and a lot of bars and cafes. It most definitely is very touristy filled with all sorts of accommodation, resorts, surf, dive shops and night clubs.
If you venture a little bit more inland, this is where you will see daily local life. The local inhabitants live in the centre of the island and life here is a big contrast from the outer fringes of Gili T. If you’re a party animal Gili T is for you as nights become quite lively into the early hours of the morning. I’d recommend hiring a bike and cycling around the island to get a real feel for it. Oh and Gili T hosts a huge variety of street art if you’re into it like yours truly!
Gili Air is much smaller in comparison to Gili T with some lovely cafes and spas dotted around the island. It’s quieter and a little calmer and I’d say a great place to grab some lunch if you’re exploring the Gili islands like us for a day. If you are into your diving and snorkelling there are many dive schools as well as places to hire snorkel equipment if you fancy exploring the reefs. There are also some lovely resorts on the island if you are staying overnight.
Probably my most favourite island of all three, Gili Meno is just what I’d call paradise. Powdery white sand against a never-ending horizon of blue! The island is just stretches of secluded beach with the odd romantic resort, café, dive school. This is the place to come and relax. If you fancy a swim in the sea at Turtle Point you can snorkel with wild turtles, which gather around the reef or you can simply sit back with a book and cocktail and relax.
BE-LAVIE’S TOP TIPS
Here are a few tips that may be useful if you’re planning to visit the island of Lombok…
Just bear in mind Lombok is 85% Muslim and it’s important to observe modest dress in public areas. Bikinis, shorts and low cut attire is not appropriate when visiting other places apart from the beach.
When visiting Temples, there will be a sign at the entrance saying ladies who are menstruating cannot enter. This is the culture in Indonesia and should be respected. Be prepared to be asked a couple of times by the temple attendants at the entrance. If you’re going on an organised tour, it may be a good idea to find out if you’ll be visiting many temples as you’ll just have to sit them out if you can’t go in.
Prior to entering a temple, a Selendang will be tied around your waist, knotted to the left for women and to the right for men. A Selendang is a long narrow cloth, a bit like belt or sash. It is a Symbol of controlling the emotions and the five senses. It is believed to act as a reminder of the difference between the upper world and the lower world by acting as a barrier between the upper and lower body. This is to ensure that people will have a pure, clear mind before entering any temple or engaging in holy work.
Tipping is not really expecting on Lombok but as salaries are low and if you think you received great service, it’s a nice gesture, which will be received gratefully.
The people of Lombok are very welcoming, hospitable and friendly. If you go into a shop, office or house, remember to take your shoes off outside before you enter as a sign of respect to their culture.
Finally, we booked our experiences on Lombok through our hotel, Jeeva Santai Villas as we knew they worked with small local communities and we were keen to support the community with our business and gain a real personalised authentic experience. You can also get more ideas at Tourism Indonesia
You can read all about our stay at the sustainable conscious Jeeva Santai Villas below:
Lombok was a truly magical side of Indonesia and Indonesian heritage, culture and hospitality I have never seen previously. It’s a great place to visit and team that with a relaxing, more laid-back kind of holiday and I’d totally recommend any trip to the area of Indonesia, should squeeze in exploring Lombok!
Have you been to Lombok before? What would you say your highlights were? I’d love to know in the comments below.