A Lombok experience, a day of learning and exchanges

Our day-trip in Lombok that led to a sharing of personal memories, local folklores and cultural learnings. Read on to find out more!

A cultural trip around Lombok

After hearing all the stories shared by Mr Irwan, we were quite excited to explore the island and understand a little more about the culture of the Sasak people. The married girl and I had a quick “English” breakfast of poached eggs and toast before heading out to meet Arun, the guesthouse staff who was also our guide for the day. Our driver was silent throughout the trip, probably due  our language barrier. Nevertheless, he was friendly and got us some snacks which Sophia gladly ate along the way back.

Photo taking over Tanjung Ann Beach
Arun our guide and friend, with Sophia, posing over Tanjung Ann cliff.

Practical usage of the land

Arun was exceptionally sociable and quickly started introducing us to Lombok. Pointing to the vast padi fields that decorated the land, Arun shared that the yields were mainly harvested for domestic consumption, rarely exported (which we were informed again later at the traditional (Indra) village of the Sasak people). As we passed by some hills, Arun turned and asked, “What do you think people who live on the hilly area of the mountains, where the soil is often dry, do with their land?” I randomly looked at the hills which was now covered with vegetation that looked like shrubs or wild plants. “Erm…I’m not sure, maybe used for cattle grazing?” A feeble attempt at the question, even though I was quite sure that was definitely not what the land was used for. “There are two types of rice crops in Lombok, one that requires the water-logged fields to grow, and the other dry-seeded rice that could survive on dry land, which was often planted in the hills. This was to help increase the rice yield during the dry season and to maximize the land use in Lombok”. Another new piece of information for a tourist like me.

Paid-fields in Lombok
Water-logged padi-fields, ready for harvesting, decorated the landscape.

Stories of love, tradition and marriage

Along the way, we were stopped by a massive traffic jam with people streaming on both side of the car. “This is a wedding ceremony!” Arun exclaimed. We managed to catch a glimpse of the bride and the groom whom were both dressed in white traditional Sasak costumes, with a Sarong wrapped across their top. The groom was also carrying a huge Kris (dagger), which Arun explained was a symbol of protection that grooms provided for their brides. It was also a tradition that served a function in the past, as long distances between villages meant that the grooms had to carry their own weapons in case of enemy’s attacks.

Arun then explained to us that in Lombok, people can get married by “being stolen”, if the parents were not agreeable to the union between a couple. Similar to the idea of “elope”,  young couples will get married in the middle of the night outside the village with the support of their close friends. After that, the “newly weds” will return to their villages to inform and seek their parents’ consent to proceed with the marriage. A formal ritual will then occur once the consents have been given. In the culture of the Sasak people, it was difficult for parents to reject the marriage due to the stigma associated with women who had been “stolen”. Arun shared that his wife and himself went through a stolen marriage to get together, as their parents were not very supportive of their union. Though relationships with his parents-in-law used to be tensed, the birth of his daughter has helped reconciled the relationships. It was an interesting cultural exchange from Arun, given that Sophia and I were also planning for our wedding back then. The idea of “being stolen” tickled me for a moment.

Banyemulek, a small village in the global world

Not long after, we reached our first destination, Banyamulek. Arun pointed out that Banyamulek used to be a pottery village in the past, where every household made potteries for living. Today, there are a few pottery factories in the village still engaged in the trade. He led us into a building where we found ourselves standing  in a room filled with handmade pottery products, from vase, to ornaments, to coasters, to teapots and all. Most of the potteries are shipped to the Middle-east for sale, said a lady who walked into the store to greet us. It was amazing to imagine how the pottery seated in the store in this little village might be ending up in some mega-malls in the Middle-east shopping districts.

Banyemullek pottery collection
The shop lady informed that Turkish buyers ordered in large quantity and exports them overseas.

A shop lady brought us to a counter and presented to us what looked like a “teapot”. There was no opening at the top, but a large hole at the bottom of the pot. With the teapot inverted, she took some water and started pouring into the hole. Then, like a confident magician, she flipped the teapot around and started pouring water from the stout. No water spilled out from the bottom of the vase, despite the big gaping hole at the base. Grinning, she knew her trick worked as I was immediately attracted to the teapot (which I ultimately got from her in the end). Arun explained that the ‘teapot’ was called Kendil Maling, which also meant burglar, as water entered from the back, like a burglar entering a house through the backdoor.

We were then led to the back of the store where a few women sat on stools. “Go ahead and make one” Arun encouraged. We sat down and got started on our own little pottery. Throughout the 15 mins, I was busy trying to talk to the ladies with my limited knowledge of Bahasa Melayu, instead of making the pottery. We laughed trying to help each other comprehend each other, and of course, I learnt that my Melayu was nowhere near understandable.

Pottery making at Banyemullek
Learning to make pottery, and reliving my younger days when I was actively doing arts and craft work.

Sukarara Village – The weaving village

We reached our second destination, also known as the Sukarara Village. A local guide brought us around the village, which was a very short and simple tour. Nevertheless, it was interesting to look at how weaving made up the entire economy of the village. Noticing that only the women were busy weaving in the village, while the males sat around in groups and chit-chatted, I asked the guide politely about the gender segregation of roles. The guide explained that only women were allowed to weave, and in the culture of the Sukarara, women who could not weave will have difficulty finding partners. It seems to be quite a tedious job as the women wove each thread manually to form the traditional batik. Sophia got her hands on it, and I’m glad she managed to weave a few threads. “Better learn how to weave, if not no marriage for you next year!” I gave my boldest threat to her in a light-hearted way.

Weaving at Sakurara village
Every household, you’ll see someone weaving. But it is all women doing the work.

Weaving at Sakurara village
Children start from young, selling their woven piece to the traders who come and order in bulk from the villagers.

Learning weaving at Sakurara village
Sophia getting her hands at weaving. But wonder what’s the little girl thinking at the back.

The cultural heritage of the Sasak people

The last cultural trip was to visit a traditional village of the Sasak people. We visited a traditional house that was made with cow “dung” and mud. It was a simple house with no rooms or any partition. The door was low and the ceiling was made of straw grass. An old benevolent looking grandma sat on the porch right in-front of the house, and some photos of the granny decorated the entrance to the place, giving the place a warm and homely feel. Remembering what the guide said about giving respect to the owner before entering, I turned and gave my widest smile to the granny, greeting her “Selamat Tengah Hari Macik!” (Good afternoon auntie!). She looked happy at my greeting and smiled, revealing the few teeth that she had left. Despite looking like an old and frail granny, she was a hipster at heart. The granny beckoned for me to take a photograph with her while at the same time assessing whether I fitted into her definition of healthy young man by squeezing my arm and shoulders. I must have passed her assessment because she kept giving me the thumbs up sign. I was shock when she raised her “lets rock” hand gesture.

Taking photo with old Sasak Granny
Young at heart, she is really a delightful old lady.

We took some photos with her, and took a tour around her place. It was clean and neat and everything was nicely hung in place on the walls, including utensils such as ladle and spoons. Sacks and sacks of rice was piled up at a corner of the room. Despite the dung used in the construction, there was no smell. I was impressed how little they needed and how tidy everything was kept in place. We also found out that couples in the Sasak did not sleep together except for times when they wanted to be intimate (which the guide said was not often). The husband slept outside the house at the porch, while the women slept in the huts. Children will usually sleep together with their mother in the huts, and once the couple had children, it got even harder for intimacy. This was a totally different culture from us, and made me wonder how love is defined in the traditional villages of Lombok. We walked through the village and identified the traditional houses of the Sasak people. The tall “horse-shoe” shaped roofs stored rice crops, and also provided resting areas for the people. It must have been an important symbol as many of the modern buildings in Lombok replicated its design.

A traditional sasak storage
A traditional storage space. The crops are kept under the huge roof of the structure.

A traditional Sasak house from the outside, made of clay and cow “dung:

Rice stacked neatly in the house
Stacks of rice, only additional are sold

An overview of the neat and simple home

One of Lombok Fantastic 4 – Tanjung Ann

“Walk barefoot on distant sands, amid the brightly painted boats at rest”
Connor Reade (1932 – 99)

The trip was scheduled to end with a beach visit. “You must definitely visit Lombok’s Fantastic 4, Selong Belanak, Mawun, Kuta and Tanjung Aan beach. It is like our Lombok’s 4 treasure!”  proclaimed Arun as we asked him where will we be heading to. “It is not like Kuta Bali, so many people and so much drugs”. Indeed, Kuta Lombok still offers sandy white beach with deep blue water. The beach was also relatively quiet, just a couple of tourists who biked their way over.  I noticed that unlike Senggigi or Gili, there were no guesthouses, shops or restaurants around the beaches. In fact, Arun informed us that the government has cordoned off and pull-down guesthouses that used to stretched along some of these beaches, so as to conserve the natural landscape for the locals.

We drove on for another 15 minutes to Tanjung Ann, through some badly paved roads, alongside tourists who slung their surf boards at the side of their bikes. Arun pointed to a pond along the way, and shared that buffalo races are conducted here every year and men who owned buffaloes will take part. I was a little surprised due to the depth of the water. Arun must have caught it as he quickly explained that the water will be shallower during the dry season when the competitions were held.

Suddenly, the path opened to a lagoon guarded by two green hills to its left and right.  The water was turquoise blue and the sand… Arun grabbed a handful of the sand, and showed it to us. “Pepper-grain.” He said. Each grain was round that looked like pepper. But under the feet, it still felt soft and smooth.

Pepper grained sand in Tanjung Ann beach
Sand in the form of pepper-grains.

We walked down the white sandy beach and I jumped into the turquoise blue water for a swim. The water was deep. Just as we were relaxing by the beach, Arun walked over with two coconuts in his hands. I felt bad having him serve us our drinks, and thanked him repeatedly. It was a good way to end the trip. After an hour or so, we decided to make our way back. We took out our Polaroid camera and took two photos with Arun, one which we gave to him. I’ve never seen anyone who appreciated the photo so much as he repeated thanked us and claimed that this will really cheer his daughter up. It moved me to see him appreciate such a simple gift and his constant thoughts about his family, especially his daughter.

Tanjung Ann beach
Mesmerizing Tanjung Ann beach. It felt like we had the whole beach to ourselves.

A tale of a princess and a cliff.

Arun insisted that we stopped one last destination before heading back. It was just 10 minutes’ drive from Tanjung Aan. He stopped at a beach outside a resort. The beach looked as equally magnificent as Tanjung Aan. “This,” he said, “is Mandalika beach”. According to legend, Princess Mandalika was a beautiful princess of Lombok. She was so astoundingly beautiful that it attracted princes from different kingdoms. Kingdoms threatened war in order to ask for her hand. Facing the brink of a war occurring between kingdoms, her father asked Mandalika to choose amongst her suitor. Mandalika knew she was left with no options. The burden of her decision was heavy and will ultimately lead to the war amongst kingdoms.

To announce her decision, Mandalika invited all the princes and kings to the cliff that now overlooked the Indian Ocean. On that fateful day, she turned to the crowd and jumped off the cliff  without making any decision. Her body was never found despite the King’s effort to search for her remains. Rumours was that her body had turned into sea worms that was a source of food for the people. To commemorate Mandlika’s sacrifice, a ceremony was held every year at the Mandlika beach, where villagers will gather to look for sea worms and make offering to the princess. Arun pointed to what was left of the cliff after years of erosion, and showed me the place where Princess Mandalika was said to have jumped. It was strange to me when I first heard that her body turned to sea worms but I guessed sea worms must have been useful for the people in the past. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating story to me.

Mandlika beach
Arun sharing the story about the Mandalika princess, and what is left of the cliff today.

Mandalika cliff
Taking a photo on the remnants of the Mandalika cliffs. People will gather around to celebrate and commemorate the Mandlika princess here each year.

We made it back by nightfall, exhausted. It was a long day, but a good way to end our trip in Lombok, having at least seen something different from the beaches and the mountains, and learning about the stories and traditions of the local people

Stories about Lombok waiting to be retold

Stories about Lombok, from legendary princess to mystical caves. Waiting to be retold.

From surviving a grueling Rinjani to walking by the beautiful beaches of the Gilis, we finally arrived in Senggigi, the last destination of our trip. Our journey from Gili Air to the town of Senggigi was not entirely hassle-free, with the agent from Persona not wanting to drop us at our hotel, and subsequently trying to sell us an over-priced airport shuttle service. But I guess we kind of got used to such situations by now.

We arrived at Jo Je Bungalow in the morning, with the sun shining brightly and the flowers outside the resort still moist with the morning dew. Almost immediately, we heard someone greeting us merrily, “Selemat Pagi! Jepun?” We were amused by the comment as we had been repeatedly mistaken as Japanese throughout the trip, perhaps due to our charcoal-burnt skin and Sophia’s hair, styled in a bun. We looked towards the direction of the voice, only to see a short, hardy looking man peering at us through a small window, which seems to be the kitchen. We smiled and I replied in my broken Bahasa Melayu, “Selemat pagi! Saya Singaporean” while the man hurried out of the kitchen to welcome us. “Hi! I’m Mr Iwan, the manager here, aaah, Singaporean!” exclaimed Mr Iwan, signaling to us that he should have second guessed that we were from Singapore instead. Very quickly, we introduced ourselves and chatted in the waiting area while we waited for our room to be ready.

Jo Je Boutique and Bungalow
Arriving at Jo-Je Bungalow

Mr Iwan was a small size, but sturdy looking man who spoke slowly and patiently. It was obvious that he was a man who was proud and passionate about his country. We shared about our experiences in Rinjani while he excitedly shared his, having climbed the mountain himself four times.

“There are so many beautiful and magical places in Rinjani. Like the Payung cave, a cave with a very small entrance between two rocks, which locals believe that only people who lived their lives with good intention and morals can pass through those rocks, unharmed.” he spoke slowly, with his eyes shifting slightly to look at us, trying to assess if he had gotten our attention. “You see, I’ve witness this. I saw my friend, bigger than you, going through the gap with no problem. Easy. But this white tourist, smaller than me, had to struggle and squeeze through the rocks. He was small, but we don’t know why he couldn’t pass. After that, inside the cave, he stopped and we saw cuts across his chest and bruises on his elbows. This is the working of the spirits guarding the caves.”

Mr Iwan continued with a couple more stories, relating to us his experiences of the milk caves (Susu Caves) where locals will sometime visit and stay overnight to enjoy the hot baths and sauna. “Only those with strong self-confidence will rest at ease in the caves, while others who often doubted themselves or had evil intentions will have restless nights, visited by snakes, scorpion, centipedes and even shadows of the other world”. We were intrigued by the stories that Mr Iwan shared, and can’t help, but be amazed by the cultural richness of the people in Lombok.

People fishing by the coast ofSenggigi
Fisherman gathering by the beach in front of Jo-Je to collect the net. Passerby helped out too.

I asked Mr Irwan what to do while we were in Lombok. So many people have skipped the mainland during their trip from Rinjani to the Gili. He suggested that we visit the different cultural activities of Lombok while we were here, and to understand the local Sasak people’s way of life. Since we had nothing in mind, we signed up for a trip with the hotel, and quickly identified some of the cultural places that interest us.

We went for the trip the next day with Arun, but that is another story, waiting to be told another time. After returning from the trip, I spoke to Mr Iwan about our experiences, and things we had learnt about the Sasak people. To our disappointment, there were so many other places that we could have visited if we had more time in Lombok.

Mr Irwan talked about the biggest fish market in Lombok, Tanjung Luar that one can visit. “Tanjung Luar supplies fishes to the regional restaurants and markets. Fishes like sharks, manta rays, and sometimes even dolphins are on sale.” I was dismayed by the fact that sharks and dolphins were hunted, and asked Mr Iwan who bought these fishes. “Chinese restaurants in Bali, Java or Jakarta demand these fishes. Many people feel that it is wrong, but it is the way of life for the local people”. Feeling perturbed, yet intrigued, I felt compelled to visit this early market if I ever come back again.

“Tanjung Ringgit, the Grand Canyon of Lombok,” he added “is a very beautiful area that overlooked the ocean. You can take your wedding photo there!” he laughed (thinking back, it totally slipped our mind during our wedding). “You can also visit Bangkang caves, the house to many bats. Not far from Senggigi”. Bat hunting, which he proclaimed was legal, can also be done on the Eastern part of Lombok. “There are so many things to do that you can’t find in Lonely Planet or Tripadvisor”. Indeed, Mr Iwan`s introduction of Lombok, the things to do and to see, definitely sounds more exciting than what was recommended by Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor. Too bad, we only gave this island three days, after hearing from friends that there was nothing much to do, and finding nothing from online travel guides.

Seaview of Senggigi, with Mount Batur from afar
Beautiful view in front of the resort, with the view of Mount Batur in Bali from afar.

For the remaining of our trip, we spent our time mostly in the resort, reminiscing our first trekking experience together. Jo Je Bungalow was a beautiful place and our room faced the ocean. The sand in front of the resort was brownish black. Though it looked muddy, it nevertheless felt soft and smooth as you walked along the beach. Every evening, we’ll sit by the beach chairs and enjoy the gentle warmth of the setting sun. If it was raining, we’ll watch the rain drops softly on the sand from the comfort of our room. Other times, we’ll just sit by the beach, hearing the sound of the waves crashing against the sand. It was a good way to end the trip, and hopefully this story too.

Black sand beach in front of the resort
Beach with black sand right in front of the resort

Sunset at Jo Je bungalow
Enjoying the sunset every evening in Jo Je Bungalow.