The Dutch first visited Lombok in 1674 and settled the eastern most part of the island, leaving the western half to be ruled by a Hindu dynasty from Bali. The Sasaks chafed under Balinese rule, and a revolt in 1891 ended in 1894 with the annexation of the entire island to the Netherlands East Indies.
Geography and demographics
The Lombok Strait marks the passage of the biogeographical division between the fauna of the Indomalayan ecozone and the distinctly different fauna of Australasia that is known as the Wallace Line, for Alfred Russel Wallace, who first remarked upon the distinction between these two major biomes.
The island’s topography is dominated by the centrally-located stratovolcano Mount Rinjani, which rises to 3,726 m (12,224 ft), making it the third-highest in Indonesia. The most recent eruption of Rinjani was in May-June, 2009, which was a small oozing eruption of ‘Gunung Baru’ (New Mountain). The volcano, and its crater lake, ‘Segara Anak’ (child of the sea), are protected by the Gunung Rinjani National Park established in 1997. The southern part of the island is a fertile plain where corn, rice, coffee, tobacco, and cotton are grown.
The island’s inhabitants are 85% Sasak whose origins are thought to have migrated from Java in the first millennium BC. Other residents include 10-15% Balinese, with the small remainder being Chinese, Arab, Javanese, and Sumbawanese. Since the Sasak population typically practice Islam, the landscape is punctuated with mosques and minarets. Islamic traditions and holidays influence the Island’s daily activities.
Economy and politics
Proximity to Bali is Lombok’s blessing, and its curse. While only 25 miles separate the two islands, they are in fact worlds apart. “Indeed, overzealous tourism officials notwithstanding, Lombok is not “an unspoiled Bali,” or “Bali’s sister island.” Lombok is not Bali at all, and that is precisely its charm.” Lombok has retained a more natural, uncrowded and undeveloped environment, which attract travelers who come to enjoy its relaxed pace and the opportunity to explore the island’s unspoiled but spectacular natural beauty.
The most-developed center of tourism is Senggigi, spread in a 30-kilometer strip along the coastal road north of Mataram, while backpackers congregate in the Gili Islands off the west coast. Other popular tourist destinations include Kuta (distinctly different from Kuta, Bali) where surfing is considered some of the best in the world by leading surfing magazines. The Kuta area is also famous for its beautiful, untouched beaches.
While the area may be considered economically depressed by First World standards, the island is fertile, has sufficient rainfall in most areas for agriculture, and possesses a variety of climate zones. Consequently, food in abundant quantity and variety is available inexpensively at local farmer’s markets, though locals still suffer from famine due to drought and subsistence farming. A family of 4 can eat rice, vegetables, and fruit for as little as US$0.50. Even though a family’s income may be as small as US$1.00 per day from fishing or farming, many families are able to live a happy and productive life on such astonishingly small incomes.
Following the fall of Suharto regime in 1998, Indonesia experienced a period of domestic unrest. At the same time terrorism in Indonesia further aggravated domestic unrest across the archipelago. In early 2000, religious and ethnic violence (ostensibly provoked by Jemaah Islamiyah Islamist agitators) flared up in the Ampenan area of Mataram and the southern area of Senggigi. Many foreign embassies issued Travel Warnings advising of the potential danger of traveling to Indonesia.
This period of unrest dramatically impacted tourism to Lombok. Tourism has been slow to return to Lombok, provoked in part by a worldwide reluctance to travel because of global tensions. Only since 2008, when most countries lifted their Travel Warnings has tourism recovered to the pre-2000 levels.
Both the local government and many residents recognize that tourism and services related to tourism can potentially be a major source of income to the Island. The island’s natural beauty and the customary hospitality of its residents make it an obvious tourist destination.
Emaar, Emirati property company planned to build a new town sprawled in 1,200 hectares in Central Lombok. It costs estimated at US$600 million. It will have a 7 km natural waterfront, which will support a marina, apart from luxury residences and five-star resorts by Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton will also have a world class golf course and retail amenities. The homes will employ tropical designs and low-rise architecture in tune with the surroundings.
Lombok now appears to be on the verge of a tourist boom. With the commercialization of Bali over the past few years, and with it the accompanying traffic and reduction in open, natural spaces, many tourists are discovering the charm of ‘Undiscovered’ Lombok. With this new interest comes the development of a number of posh boutique resorts on the island serving quality food and drinks, but just a stones throw away from rural, unspoiled countryside — much as Bali was decades ago.