Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lombok unspoiled paradise

Cheapflights.comTravel Green and Keep the Earth Clean

WHAT TO DO in LOMBOK: Climbing Mount Rinjani is a highlight for many Lombok visitors. Arrange for a guide. A one-night trek, including guide, food, and camping on the volcano's crater rim. Enjoy the breath taking view on top the crater, A smaller volcanic cone emerges from the crater lake within Mount Rinjani, an active volcano and one of Indonesia's tallest.

Taking a two-day trek to the 12,224-foot-high summit of Rinjani is the perfect way to crown a visit to Lombok. Starting off under the jungle canopy at its base, travelers are likely to see wild pigs and black-leaf monkeys along the way, before arriving for the night at the rim of the mountain's lake-filled volcanic crater.

The steep push for the summit begins before daybreak the next morning. As dawn approaches, the circular contours of Lombok become visible below. And to the west, across the Lombok Strait, a faint outline of Bali's Mount Agung becomes visible through the morning mist.


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Lombok island adventure hiking up to the crater of mount Rinjani

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Indonesia's Lombok island lies just across a narrow strait to the east from Bali.
But unlike its sister island -- a travel Mecca that has become even more popular and ever overcrowded, Lombok has remained largely in quiet, save for a trickle of foreign travelers who have discovered its charms.

Now the bucolic island is gaining a following among tourists turned off by the over commercialization of Bali. A number of posh boutique resorts have recently sprung up along Lombok's western coast lf Senggigi bay to cater to this crowd. They serve capiroscas and other fancy cocktails on the beach at sundown, but are just a stone's throw away from rural, unspoiled countryside, much as Bali was four decades ago.
The resort also has a top-notch spa offering lulur, a traditional Indonesian body scrub that uses a paste made from sandalwood, tumeric and rice flower. Be pampered as a royalty.

And just off the west coast, on the largest of three tiny islands known as the Gilis, divers and swimmers explore the coral see underwater world.
living easy lifestyle and spartan bungalows with saltwater showers and catered to scuba divers and backpackers who arrived by traditional fishing craft. Still, the little islands retain their rugged feel, with horse and carriage the only mode of public transport.

Lombok's shabby-chic image and stunning natural beauty (Mount Rinjani, Indonesia's second-highest peak, is a popular destination for trekkers) is also attracting big outside investors.

 Those selling Lombok as the "unspoiled Bali" have many historical connections to draw upon. 
In the 18th century, a Hindu Balinese king conquered much of the island, and his progeny ruled until the Dutch pushed them out at the turn of the 20th century. 
Today, 10% of Lombok's population, mainly in the western part of the island, are of Balinese origin, and the island is dotted with Hindu shrines. In the town of Narmada, the same king built a temple on a hill as a replica of Mount Rinjani, an ancient pilgrimage site. On days leading up to a full moon, the temple in the palace is festooned with garlands of flowers and baskets of fruit offerings.

Yet Lombok's culture is also distinct from Bali's, and is the product of a complex cultural mixing. 
Islam arrived here in the 16th century and over time the dominant ethnic group -- the Sasaks, who today make up 85% of the population -- became Muslim.
 But as in many parts of Indonesia, orthodox teachings were only partially embraced. The mountain village of Bayan, in the northern part of the island, is the center of Wetu Telu, a religion that blends elements of Muslim, Hindu and animist beliefs. Followers pray three times a day, instead of Islam's standard five.

Mount Rinjani is the spiritual heart of Lombok's animist traditions. It is also the place where Alfred Russel Wallace, the noted Victorian explorer and naturalist, observed the differences between bird species on Bali and on Lombok. He later identified the Wallace Line, which runs between the islands and divides Indonesia into two distinct parts: one where the birds and animals are more closely related to those found in Asia and the other to those in Australasia.

Lombok's potential has been touted before and never come to much. Some people in the travel business here fear the global economic recession could thwart the island's latest ambitions once again. Every time Lombok is ready to take off, something happened

The area did well for a while but the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, followed by the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings and another attack on a Bali beach in 2005, had a devastating effect on Lombok's tourism industry.

Lombok's new wave of resorts marks the latest attempt by the island to become a serious tourist draw. Like travel destinations throughout the region, Lombok has battled to overcome a series of setbacks, including the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s and terrorist attacks in Bali a few years ago. Despite new challenges on the horizon, including a global recession, locals here are hoping that a major investment from a Middle Eastern developer, combined with Westerners' desires for less expensive resort alternatives in the area, will finally put Lombok on the tourist map.

Earlier this year, the U.S. lifted its travel warnings on the country, and travelers and expats here say they feel perfectly safe.

But the difficulty of getting to Lombok has continued to stunt its growth. While many international airlines fly direct to Bali, Lombok has only a few flights a week from Singapore. The usual route to the island is a short hop from Bali in a twin-prop plane, but since mid-2007, the European Union has banned EU-based tour operators from selling Indonesian domestic flights, after a series of deadly crashes in the archipelago in recent years.

None of those incidents involved the private operators who run flights between Bali and Lombok, however. And Indonesia has taken serious steps to improve its overall air-safety record in the past year, raising hopes that the EU ban soon will be lifted. In the meantime, many tourists buy tickets directly from Indonesian travel agents to work around the EU ban.

The Indonesian government also constructing a new modern airport only 20 minutes from the planned tourist resort development. Roads are being upgraded across the island as well.

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Eco-Friendly Destinations
  just off the west coast Lombok, on the largest of three tiny islands known as the Gilis, divers and swimmers explore the coral see underwater world.

  What could be better than breathing in the fresh air while the sun warms your back? A vacation to one of the country's mountain side or shorelines will leave you with a new appreciation for nature and a checklist of where to visit next year.

The southern coast of the island, at Kuta beach, with unspoilt natural beauty, has world-class surfing. Ask the locals to arrange for a boat out to the best breaks.