by Abu Hanifah
MATARAM, Indonesia, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- As projects to recover tourism infrastructure and facilities in the north side of the island that severely devastated by the August's powerful earthquake, the not-affected eastern and southern part of exotic Lombok Island offer compelling spots for tourists to spend their vacation in the Indonesia's increasingly popular destination.
Besides pristine pink sand beaches, these parts of Lombok also offered cultural and traditional tourism spots, enabling tourists to explore more about unique cultures of indigenous Lombok tribe of Sasak which remained unchanged for generations.
Unlike the popular bustling beach of Senggigi in the north side, beaches in the eastern and southern part offer more qualified private moment with pinky sands in the coastline.
Lombok's pink beaches were found in small islands, locally called Gili, that can be reached with outrigger boats within minutes from the ports in the mainland.
Many gilis were available in these areas for tourists to experience the beauties of Indonesian islands which most of them have coral reef and pinky sand beaches.
One of them was Gili Pasir located off Tanjung Luar port in East Lombok regency. It has an exceptionally surreal view from pinky sand on thin protrusion in the middle of the sea with two hills at the backdrop, offering an unforgettable experience for the tourists.
The spot located one-hour drive away from Lombok airport only appears during low tide in the day time. Tourists may get the sensation like standing in the fairytale ground, surrounded by mild breaking sea waves in the pinky shore as they see the other gilis from afar.
The Gili Pasir may serve as the appetizer for those visiting east Lombok before they go to further gilis that offer different kinds of experiences besides their remarkable pinky beaches.
Going farther from Gili Pasir, the Gili Petelu and Gili Gambir offer beautiful undersea views with their vast coral reefs, completed with their whole pristine ecosystem with exotic colorful coral fishes swim across the reefs.
In Gili Gambir, tourists may explore the beauty of undersea garden by snorkeling at shallow depth. They can touch the colorful fishes and coral reefs. If they were lucky, turtles may also pass by that they can cuddle with.
Cold seawater around Gili Gambir makes it more comfortable for the tourists to snorkel around longer, enjoying their being at the surface while watching undersea garden to the max.
Outrigger operators said cold seawater above the coral reefs was resulted from perfect symbiosis of biological mechanism among living coral reefs and all creatures inhabiting the area.
Attraction offered by the east Lombok gilis doesn't stop there, tourists can also climb up to the top of the gilis to witness the beauty of coastlines around the small island covered by pinky sands.
The pink sands in east Lombok's gilis came up from a kind of algae brought by the waves to the shores. Pieces of the algae littered on the shore eventually mixed with white sands that makes the beaches in the gilis look magical.
Apart from marine attractions, elsewhere in east Lombok tourists can also witnesses daily life of Lombok indigenous tribe of Sasak in Sade village that offer cultural and traditional attractions that they practiced in generations.
Some 150 houses in the village were built in typical Sasak traditional style with wooden pillars, woven-bamboo walls and roofs crafted from weaved dry straws.
About 700 people living in Sasak Sade village strive together to keep their traditional culture alive amid the temptation from modern life around.
The villagers gleefully put their music, comedy, combat performances and crafts up for show for tourist visiting the village.
The Paresean combat and Gendang Beleq (big long drum troupe) may likely be the ones that attracting the tourists the most with energetic and dynamic moves throughout their performances.
The Paresean combat performance used to be staged prior to Sasak's paddy planting season. In the actual combat, performers would attack each other with bamboo baton, using shields that made of animal skin to defend their bodies from their opponent's attacks.
Sasaks believed that the more blood spilled on the ground the heavier the rain would fall during the season.
The Pakembar, or the duo referees, would assure that Peresean fighters remain safe by stopping the fight should one of them already conceded their defeat. Handshake between performers would conclude the Paresean combat show.
The Gendang Beleq that played by elder Sasak villagers gives different touch to the Sasak's traditional Balinese-like orchestra.
The big long drum troupe players move around, accentuating the music by beating their big drums which was not found in Balinese traditional orchestra.
With its distinctive performance, Gendang Beleq has been used as Lombok cultural identity in official occasions.
Performance of Amaq Tempengus, the Sasak clown figure, ends set of cultural show for tourists visiting the traditional village.
The elder man with garish makeup in the face who plays the Amaq Tempengus character prances around the village square with foolish dancing that eventually gave souvenirs for the tourists.
Besides those cultural attractions, tourists can also witness the making of Sasak traditional weaved fabric since they spindles the yarn to make the whole fabric.
In South Lombok regency, tourists may visit spots around the Mandalika tourism zone that offers beauties of Lombok land and beach contours.
Tourists may spend their vacation time in the beaches flanked by gorges from the hills. They may also see the beauty of natural beach sceneries from the hills, seeing the reefs below the clear seawater from top of the hill while waiting for incredible sunset view from that place.
The Merese hill near Tanjung Aan was one of the many hills in the regency's coastlines that offer such a beautiful view.
Mandalika zone in South Lombok regency was built by government as a new destination to tap more foreign tourists. Besides compound of luxury hotels, an international racing circuit were now being built in the zone.
Government has also projected to build a terminal to accommodate cruise ships mooring in Mandalika zone.
Apart from the fascinating spots in the east and south parts, tourists can still visit spots in the north side as tourism accommodations and facilities have been partly fixed around the popular Senggigi beach.
A provincial tourism office official said that foreign tourists have started to come again in Lombok with arrival recovery rate has reached up to 30 percent at present from zero in August after the 7.0 quake rocked north Lombok area.
Besides the east and south parts, foreign tourists visited the highly-favored three gilis off the Senggigi beach.
"Boat service to cross tourists from Senggigi to the three gilis of Trawangan, Meno and Air was normal. Homestays and restaurants in Senggigi have mostly been opened, while large part of hotels have started to receive guests as renovation works are underway," Alfiyah Iskandar, infrastructure deputy of West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province tourism office told Xinhua in her office here recently.
She added that the earthquake has partly damaged coral reefs around those three gilis and trekking paths in the popular Mount Rinjani.
She added that it may take years to recover the damages in the two popular spots.
As projects to recover the trekking path in Mount Rinjani were underway at present, provincial government has closed down the globally popular mount to assure safety of the trekkers.
"Many trekking paths in Mount Rinjani were totally blocked by big stones that fell down due to the earthquake. Besides that, several popular grounds in Mount Rinjani became unstable that may risk the trekkers," she said to explain current condition of Lombok's popular mount with a height of more than 3,700 meters above sea level that offers picturesque natural sceneries from higher ground.
To assure preparedness of those running business in tourism industry in the destination island, provincial government has obliged them to regularly brief and train their employees in emergency situation so as to address tourists safety, she added.
For foreign tourists, the devastating earthquake in north Lombok did not much affected their desire to visit Lombok which recently named world's third best island after Java and Bali by a prominent traveling publication.
A tourist from London told Xinhua that Lombok's gilis are compulsory places to be visited during her trip to Indonesia.
"I came here first after landed in Bali. I am curious about Lombok exotic islands as I researched through the internet before I came here. So far I haven't saw significant damages from the earthquake. Everything is just like what I see in the internet," 35 year-old Rachelle who spent her annual leave from her office said while wasting her time in white sand beach of Gili Trawangan over the weekend.
She added that she would continue her vacation to Bali after exploring Lombok beaches.
"This could be my eye-opening place that tempts me to go further around exotic Lombok's gilis," she said, adding that she had planned her trip to Lombok and Bali months before. The earthquake did not make her canceled her plans after she learned Indonesian authorities' mitigation handling over the event.
"So there is nothing to worry about," she said.
Indonesian authorities evacuated thousands of foreign tourists from Gili Trawangan and two other gilis nearby by boats shortly after the earthquake hit Lombok in early August.
As tourism has been set as part of leading industries in the country, government has set top priority in addressing safety of tourists during natural disaster and emergency situation.