After much deliberation and changes in plan, Parul and I headed to Indonesia for our yearly break. Both of us tend to travel a lot but this is the only the only break when we do not work, or at least try not to! Last year’s vacation in Burma had been exceptionally amazing and this year we were headed to Indonesia.
No Itinerary, No Problem!
There had been a whole lot of confusion around this week’s destination. We had considered Iceland, Morocco, Albania, Peru and what not. Even when we finally decided on Indonesia, we were considering Flores, an island to the far east of the country. A couple of weeks before the trip, we changed our minds again and decided to do Bali and Lombok instead. Consequently, we found ourselves commuting to the Mumbai airport with just our flight tickets booked and nothing planned for the three weeks in between!
Having heard that Bali was very touristy, we had initially thought of spending the majority of our time in Indonesia exploring Lombok. But failure to do the relevant research had us at a loss about even the simplest things like how we would travel between the islands. So I suggested that we stay in Kuta to figure these basic things out and to get a sense of Indonesia and its ways. Since Kuta was infamous for being “overdeveloped”, we booked a room in Legian, an area slightly north of Kuta.
The cab ride to our guesthouse was a primer to what we would encounter for the next three weeks. Andreas, our cabbie, was extremely happy that we were Indians. It gave him a chance to express how much he liked Indian movies and actors, specially Amitabh Bacchan and Mithun (who he thought was beautiful!). He was a happy and friendly man, much like what we would encounter elsewhere in Indonesia.
In the two days that we spent in Legian, it was easy to see what attracted such a throng of tourists to Bali. The unsurpassed warmth and friendliness of the locals was probably the most endearing factor. Everyone was ready to talk at length about where you were from and how you were liking their country so far. The beach was beautiful and the waves massive, attracting beach bums and surfers alike. There were plenty of bars and clubs to serve everyone’s taste of nightlife. The food was amazing! We had hunted down a local warung for our first meal and were treated to Nasi Campur there, an Indonesian version of daily buffet like food. The pocket friendly cuisine instantly became our favourite in Bali. And while the tourist infrastructure is (over)developed, the local culture has hardly taken a back seat. There are temples everywhere! We were to later realise that these were household temples, one for every family. Women wearing sarongs could be seen offering canang sari to their gods if one walked through the bylanes of the town. These offerings sat nonchalantly on the roads and pavements and added a spectacular and colourful touch to the scenery.
Nasi Campur 💓
The two days in Kuta went by in a breeze. We were still trying to get in the vacation mood and trying to stay away from the official emails and messages. We slept long hours, walked the streets, ate Nasi Campur and Mie Goreng, chilled out on the beach, had a few arack drinks, got a couple of sim-cards for connectivity and figured out our next leg of travel.
The two days in Kuta were enough to let us know that we needed to get out. We usually look for less touristy places and more immersive experiences. One of the things that we did know we had to do during the vacation was to trek Gurung Rinjani. Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia and trekking it is one of the more popular tourist activities to do if you are into outdoors. So we planned to go to Senaru, a small village to the north of Rinjani and arrange a guided service from there.
Getting to Senaru, however, was not very straight forward. In general, getting around in Indonesia was a bit of a mind-bender. In the lack of a public transportation system and depleting number of bemos, there is a plethora of tour operators to choose from. Throughout our trip, we found Perama Travels to be a budget friendly service and convenient enough for us to go looking for options with them before considering alternatives. So we booked ourselves a journey to Mataram, the main city in Lombok and thought we would figure it out from there.
The journey to Mataram started early in the morning with a bus ride to Padangbai. From Padangbai we took a slow ferry to Lembar and from there, another bus took us to Mataram. The ferry was a very pleasant experience. It was big and spacious and there was a heavy local flavour to it. A handful of tourists were being shipped along with quite a few locals and lots of cargo.
Big Wide Blue
Since it was well past noon by the time we reached Mataram, we decided to halt for the day there itself and get to Senaru the next morning. We put the evening to the most use by walking around and hunting for some local cuisines.
While Bali had been primarily Hindu, Lombok, like the rest of Indonesia, was mostly Muslim. However, Hindu influence was still aplenty in Mataram. We walked across a famous temple, Pura Meru, which was closed for the day. We crossed another smaller neighbourhood temple where some kids were practicing the typical Indonesian Hindu music. It was a hauntingly beautiful sound and we sat for a while to listen.
We found a locally recommended restaurant and decided to have some food there. It was delicious! I had a full plate of spicy roasted chicken and Parul had some tofu. All this was served with complimentary rice and sauces and, as is typical of local food, costed us far less than we were expecting.
Kevin is a glutton!
The next morning we continued our journey towards Senaru. While looking for a bus at the station, we ran into a tout selling the Rinjani trek. He told us about the trek over his breakfast and offered a price within our budget. So we took him up on the offer and found ourselves travelling to Senaru comfortably in a cab with a night’s accommodation arranged in a very beautiful guesthouse. The deal was quite a bargain!
We spent the evening in Senaru enjoying the beautiful hill town with it’s cozy weather and beautiful sunset. There were a few things to do in Senaru as well but we decided to leave them for later. We were definitely going to come back and spend some more time in this small town.
Rinjani from the guesthouse
We were picked by at the guesthouse the next morning. We travelled in a pick-up truck to Sembalun Lawang, a village to the east of the mountain and the usual starting point of the trek. In the truck we met the rest of the group and got to know each other. There was an Australian couple, two German men and their Thai girlfriends, Ahmet - our guide and some porters. This was to be our constant company for the next three days.
The one with Everyone
I had not trekked in a long while and was craving for one really bad. For Parul, this was to be her first. As always, I had not done my homework about the trek. Parul had been the most enthusiastic about it, reading blogs and what not. However, given how popular the trek was, I was assuming it to be an easy one. It turned out to be quite daunting! There were a few tricky climbs and the loose gravel added to the complexity. Parul’s determination stumbled towards the beginning of the trek but once that curve passed, she showed a surprising amount of grit and completed the trek on her own.
Marlboros of course!
The first day we went all the way up to the crater rim. Once the sky cleared, we could see the spectacular crater lake on one side, the peak on another and the sea on the third. It was a beautiful place to be in.
End of Day One
The next morning a few people went to climb all the way to the peak (3700m). We decided to sit this one out and instead saw the sunrise from the crater rim.
Crater Lake at Sunrise
It was late in the morning by the time everyone had returned and then we started the day’s walk down towards the lake.
Gurung Baru (New Volcano)
The lake lost a major portion of it’s charm up close. There were a lot of people all around it and a lot of thrash. I had been constantly baffled by the number of people on the trek and Ahmet finally explained that the month immediately following Ramadan saw a lot of local population climbing Rinjani. Although we did see some clean up work being performed, the garbage generated by the number of people was just too much.
People and Thrash
Next to the lake, we halted for a short while at the hot water spring. The warm water was refreshing after the tiring walk of almost two days.
Hot Water Springs
Our day had not ended, however. We were supposed to climb back up the other side of the crater rim. While it was not as difficult as the gravel climb of the first day, it was still an exhausting climb, mostly because of the lack of any wind. This side also afforded some beautiful views of the new volcano.
The day’s delay saw a small part of the trek stretch beyond sunset and we crawled to our campsite after dark. Exhausted, we ate dinner and called it a night.
The third day was a tough decline through slippery gravel followed by an easy walk through a forest and exiting at Senaru.
Steep and Slippery
Rinjani, by no means, was an easy trek. It was just grossly oversold. Back in Senaru, we said goodbye to the group and tipped the porters and Ahmet. We then went around looking for accommodation. The guesthouse we had stayed in earlier, Pondok Achita Bayan, was booked for the day but Nemo, the guy who managed the place, went out of his way to arrange a place for us and we returned to Achita Bayan the next day.
We spent two days in Senaru recuperating from the trek, walking around the beautiful town and checking out waterfalls.
Walking about Senaru
We even paid a short visit to Ahmet and saw the village of Senaru.
Ahmet and Sama
Torres, Human and Batman
And of course, there was the amazing food to be had.
Thus, before we knew it, a week in Indonesia had come to an end.
Chilling at Senggigi
From Senaru we went to Senggigi, the main tourist area of Lombok. Indonesia is full of people, but even its “main tourist areas” do not come close to what we are used to as Indians. Senggigi was about as crowded as an obscure beach on the Konkan! We were sharing the ride to Senggigi with two English guys who amused us with their accent and dry humour all the way. These two were on their way to the Gili islands. This seemed quite a popular choice for tourists leaving Senaru. We dropped them at the Bangsal pier and went onwards to Senggigi. Once we were by ourselves, the driver put on Hindi songs for our benefit. Of course he did it with good intent, but listening to ‘Jai Mata Di’ was not really our thing and we burst out laughing.
Our homestay at Senggigi was a place called Mia Casa. It was run by French people and even the guests were mostly French. We happened to interact with a few and they were rather amusing. The owner had never been to India but there was another guy, advanced in ages, who had been to India ten times and did not speak a word of English! I have come to respect the French travellers a lot in the recent past.
The two days in Senggigi were spent in similar ways. We used to hit the town center and chill at the beachside shacks, drinking cocktails, talking and taking photographs. We would walk along the beach or the adjoining market area and then take a cab back to the homestay.
The art of Chillin'
Senggigi was followed by Gili Trawangan. While we had initially planned to hop the three Gili islands and spend a long time doing so, recommendations for better diving destinations from various travellers had heavily altered this plan. So now the Gilis were just another short stop before we headed to our diving destination. So we dropped the quieter Gili Air and Menos from the list and headed to the more happening Trawangan.
A short ferry ride from the Bangsal pier got us to Gili T. On the way we saw the towering Mount Agung in at a distance on the island of Bali. This was where our infatuation with the mountain began, which would swell into an obsession soon after.
Gili Trawangan was crowded when we landed on it. The entire pier area sees a lot of boat activity and a throng of tourists waiting to get in or out of the island. There is an adjoining market area and consequently, this is the hub of the island with a confusing amount of people, horse carts, vendors, bicycles and what not. But the island gets more sorted once you move inwards. We walked up to our guesthouse Pondok Sunrise 2 and settled in. We went out later to walk around the island and enquire for a snorkelling trip. Nishant and Aditi were reaching Trawangan on the same day and we had planned to meet up later.
The Streets of Trawangan
We walked along the island’s eastern side towards the north. The activity fizzled out once the market area ended but there were easy looking shacks which offered options to snorkel along the coast or paddle boat. We crossed over the northern tip to the western side. This side of the island was peppered with more lavish and higher end resorts and much less people than the opposite side. We settled down to watch the sunset from one of the shacks.
I had been planning to get into the sea but a rocky shore coupled with low tide frustrated the intention. But it was here that we discovered Bintang Radler, absolutely the best shandy that I have ever had!
WTF is Radler!
We saw the sun set right before crossing back over to the eastern side. It was amazing despite the slightly cloudy sky.
We had heard so much about Gili Trawangan on the road that we were not too sure what we would find here. I was pleasantly surprised to find a bit of everything. There is a plethora of activity to choose from; snorkelling, diving, paddle boat, etc. The beachside shacks are nice and quiet. There are beautiful white sand beaches and amazing sunsets. There was the local market and warungs (our favourite was Warung Dewi for its awesome Nasi Campur). There are nightclubs and bars which offer entertainment for as long in the night as you want to. To top it off, there are no motor vehicles on the road. You can easily get anywhere on foot but in case you want it, there is always the bicycle or the horse cart.
That night we met up with Nishant and Aditi and hit a nightclub (Jiggy Bar). We registered a team in the ongoing beer pong tournament because it sounded like fun. We happened to win the first round, then the second, then the semi-finals and even reached the finals! We lost the final round against a very well practiced team but it was quite an achievement for a team that did not know half the rules of the game. 😛
The next morning we met up again after breakfast and headed out for a snorkelling trip around the three islands. We had booked a personal boat that would provide some exclusivity and split between the four of us, it fit the budget as well. However, exclusivity was quite elusive since the snorkelling spots around the island were limited and the group boats hit the same spots. Each site was crowded with people.
Despite all that, the snorkelling was a fun experience. The water was clear and although we had to fight a barrage of lifejackets and flippers, we did manage to see some marine life. More importantly, everyone had personal agendas to solve. Nishant was unable to navigate himself and kept struggling with his mask. Parul was afraid that if she went too far from the boat she would drift away into the sea. The lifejacket offered her little solace. Aditi was probably the only one in the group who was comfortable with swimming. She got over her initial inhibition of snorkelling without a lifejacket and eventually was learning how to deep dive from the guide! I was fighting my own demons. It was my first time snorkelling since Philippines. I was hellbent to do it without the lifejacket but the first spot drained me since I was thrashing around a lot and was still uncomfortable with the entire concept. I sat out the second one and on the third, I tried experimenting with a few tricks, eventually got comfortable and started enjoying! This was a trip of significance.
That evening, Parul and I decided to roam around the island again, this time tripping on magic mushrooms.
Gili islands are famous for these hallucinogens and it is heavily and openly publicised on the streets of Trawangan. We decided to take one “medium” shake each from a very legit looking shop and sat down to enjoy the sunset. The shrooms kicked in slowly and the world grew high definition. I was observing details that I had never paid much attention to normally. Parul started tripping shortly enough but it took me another “strong” shake to get started. And then we walked all around the island. The beach’s corals were moon’s surface and far away a man on Mars (Bali) was mining for water. The resorts turned into civilizations as we walked through time and space effortlessly. Ancient Egypt, Venice, British Raj, Japan, Bangkok and what not! We still regret not having bought some popcorn from a very aptly placed stall! The entire trip was hilariously entertaining. There were some intense moments and then there were calm and soothing ones. We passed along the north side onto the west to see a spectacular moon rise with Gili Menos below and it seemed much like what I would have imagined Gotham like. We settled down on the beach for a while to absorb and relive the experience. It had been an amazing four hour long trip.
End of the Trip
We had something to eat and returned to the guesthouse. The next morning, we took another boat and said goodbye to Trawangan.
Exiting Gili T
We could have easily stayed another few days there, walking, partying and tripping on more shrooms. But then there is always a next time. 😄 We were headed back to Bali for the remainder of our vacation.
Here is the complete album of the Lombok leg of the vacation.