South of Flores, between Sumbawa and Timor there is an island where the traditional customs are among the best preserved in Nusa Tenggara. This is Sumba, a relatively large island, 11.153 sq. km. with a population that reaches about 600.000, the name of the capital is Waingapu. Much of the island consists of a flat, elevated plateau about 600m above sea level, where the coast is mostly steep and rocky. The island is divided in two regions, west and east, along ethnical and cultural borders.
When I worked in Indonesia some years ago some of my time was spent operating survey instruments onboard a helicopter. My best memories from that time are from flights we did in the more remote areas. We saw some fascinating scenery and flew by these small remote villages where people always came out waving to us. Well, not everyone was waving, we also saw people taking cover, not knowing what to expect. Luckily for them we were quite harmless, just surveying their land.
One of these remote places was the island of Sawu west of Timor in the province of East Nusa Tenggara. Flying by these, for us, primitive buildings or huts with apparently happy people cheering at us makes me wonder how diverse human life still is on this small planet, even in the 21st century.
Well, enough of that, the rest is some facts about Sawu;
The fertile area south of the mighty Rinjani mountain has several interesting villages, beautiful landscapes and green rice fields. Most of the villages here are populated by Sasak, one often visited village is Tetebatu at the foot of Gunung Rinjani, from here the view to this mountain and the southern part of the island is great.
A few km from Tetebatu you will find the Taman Wisata Tetebatu monkey forest with it’s black monkeys and waterfalls, among them the popular Air Terjun Jukut waterfall. According to the locals the water from Air Terjun Jukut will give increased hair growth.
Lombok is known for it’s natural beauty and a large variety of landscapes, from tropical beaches to high mountains, dry plains and deep forests. The island is considered to be more “unspoiled” than Bali, tourism is still limited to just a few areas. The size of the island is 5.435 square km, which is relatively small, about 80 times 70 kilometer. Lombok has one of the highest mountains in Indonesia, Gunung Rinjani at 3.726 meters.
Due to it’s strategic location and size Bintan has a rich history. Riau has for centuries been the home of Malay and the Orang Laut people (sea nomads). Later migrants came from south China and Indochina, today people from a large region of Asia has settled here. Bintan was located aside the China-India maritime trading route, and was early in the 14th century, together with Temasek (Singapore), recorded in Chinese maritime records as one of the islands of the Riau archipelago that was inhabited by Malay pirates.
A visit to a traditional Sasak village is a necessary part of your trip to Lombok. There are two villages like this a few kilometers north of Kuta, called Rembitan and Sade. Even if some of these traditional villages today may have become tourist traps a visit can be an interesting experience.
All the guides, souvenir sellers and donations to the village is something you will have to tolerate, this is an important income and maybe you help preserve a culture which otherwise would have disappeared?
North Lombok is dominated by the massive Gunung Rinjani volcano, and most of the villages here sits on the slopes of the mountain or along the narrow coastline. Many travelers come here on their way to the Gili islands or to climb Gunung Rinjani, and will therefore miss the rest of the beautiful landscape with waterfalls, the great view over the ocean and the mountain and the traditional villages.
Gunung Rinjani is one of the highest mountains in Indonesia with an altitude of 3.726 m. At the bottom of the crater there is a large lake called Segara Anakan, about 8 km long and 6 km wide. The lake is surrounded by steep walls and is located about 600 meter below the rim of the crater. Between the lake and Rinjani sits the new crater of Gunung Baru which is only a couple of hundred years old. Rinjani’s latest eruption took place in 1994, when the shape of the crater changed and ash was spread all over Lombok.
Driving far south on Lombok you will eventually reach the small village of Kuta, about 54 km south of Mataram. This is the only area on the south coast which has some tourism of any significance, but must not be compared to Kuta on Bali. This place is much more quiet with only a fraction of the tourists and facilities, but there are some plans to continue to develop the southern coast with some large luxury hotels.
Kuta is great as a base for exploration of the southern parts of Lombok, here you find traditional Sasak villages (like Sade), remote and beautiful beaches, mountains and cliffs.
The Nusa Tenggara islands are mostly poor and sparsely populated. Especially on the eastern islands the climate is dry and the landscape mountainous. Nusa Tenggara is different from the rest of Indonesia both geographically, ethnically and culturally. The main reason for this is the deep waters dividing Nusa Tenggara and the western parts of Indonesia (Sumatra, Java and Borneo).
The islands have therefore effectively been separated from the rest of Indonesia and the Asian mainland, even in the ice age there were no connection between this area and other parts of Asia.
Nusa Tenggara became a transition zone between Asia, Australia and Micronesia. The largest islands in the Nusa Tenggara archipelago is Lombok and Sumbawa, in between there are hundreds of other smaller islands. East Nusa Tenggara consists of 566 islands, the largest are Flores, Sumba and Timor.