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To the east of Bali, across a deep strait seething with whirlpools and swimming with dolphins lies Lombok, an island whose history and culture are intimately intertwined with those of her illustrious neighbour. Yet in many important ways, Lombok is quite different from Bali. It's climate is drier and land more rugged. And with 1.6 million inhabitants, a majority of whom are Muslim Sasaks, Lombok is only about half as densely populated.

Like Bali, Lombok is dominated by a towering northern volcanic range, with 3,800-metre (12,300-foot) Mt. Rinjani, the second highest peak in Indonesia, at its centre. Another non-volcanic range traverses the barren southern side of the island (corresponding to Bali's southern Bukit Peninsula), and most of Lombok's arable land and the majority of her population occupy a narrow 25-km (16-mile) wide strip of land in between.

The western third of this plain, similar in many ways to east Bali, which it faces across the strait, is well fed by mountain streams and artesian springs. Here, Balinese and Sasaks have sculpted handsome rice terraces into the fertile, sloping alluvial fan at the foot of Mt. Punikan. The island's two large towns, Mataram and Ampenan, are located here, within close proximity of the stately old court centre of Cakranegara, and the port, the secluded mountain resorts, and Lombok's spectacular southern beaches are only an hour away.

For some of the world's best scuba diving, surfing and beach-lounging, visitors from every continent head for the eastern coast of Lombok. The idyllic white sand beaches and colorful coral reefs of Senggigi and the Gili Islands draw thousands of tourists each year.

On Lombok's southeastern peninsula, the weather is dependably gorgeous and the beaches are pristine. On the land, coffee farms, coconut groves, and red palm sugar plants make for interesting tours. In the sea, divers can find rare species of giant clams, sharks, turtles, manta rays, and blue spotted stingrays gracing the warm coastal.

The Gill Islands are located just off the East Coast of Lombok. This small, beach-circumference islands provide an excellent vacation destination for adventure-hungry tourists. The mostly young crowds spend their days on the beach and their nights in the disco clubs. Because of the small number of hotels on the islands, many visitors simply sleep on the beaches.

Early native chronicles confirm that Lombok was colonized from East Java, and the Sasak people perhaps take their name from a type of bamboo raft (sesek) used to cross the straits. According to a 14th-Century Old Javanese lontar-leaf text found here in 1894 (the famous Negarakertagama, which incidentally is the main source of information concerning the ancient empires of East Java), the island was brought under direct Javanese control by Patih Gajah Mada powerful prime minister of the great Majapahit empire, before his death in 1365. No trace of this conquest remains, with the possible exception of an isolated group of peoples living near Sembalun, high on Rinjani's slopes, who claim to be descended from Hindu-Javanese settlers and who guard the grave of a brother of Majapahit's king.

In the 17th Century, Lombok was invaded and colonized from two directions. The western plain was annexed by the Balinese ruler of Karangasem, who was to exert a controlling influence over this part of the island up until the Dutch Conquest of 1894. The East Coast, meanwhile, which was at this time the political centre of the native Sasak inhabitants, was conquered by groups of Muslim Makassarese traders operating from Sumbawa, and the Sasak aristocracy was thereafter converted to Islam.

Noted for its fine handicrafts, especially basketware and plaited mats, as well as intricate jewelry vases, caskets and other decorative objects. Its name was invented when the Sasak kingdom of Langko located in Kopang, Central Lombok fell to the Balinese invaders. The royal family fled to Loyok, a village south to Kotaraja, and after the royal compound was also destroyed, two sons of the ruler of Langko went to live in Kotaraja, which means "The City of Kings".

In the mountain tribal villages (of the Waktu-telu), such as Pujung and Sengkol in southern-central Lombok, one finds still another type of village traditional hyperbolic-shaped thatched huts supported by roughly sown wooden beams, with wide strips of bamboo and tree branches interwoven to form walls and partitions.

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Information provided by Department of Tourism. Government of Indonesia.


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