The revered Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia’s second-highest mountain, dominates the north of Lombok. From mountain to coast is farmland, dotted with mosques and villages, home to the island’s three million people, most of whom are indigenous Sasak. Although it is only about 80 kilometers from one side of the island to the other, when driving the island seems larger, with the quality and chaos of the roads keeping the average speed down. Nevertheless, from Salaparang airport near the capital, Mataram, on the west coast, you can get anywhere in Lombok within a couple of hours: north to the resort strip of Senggigi and the legendary Gili islands; northeast to Rinjani and the rural retreat of Tetebatu; or south through the city of Praya to the beaches.
The drive is a picturesque tour of an agrarian lifestyle, through villages and towns and past people working the fields: rice, tobacco, coffee, corn. Lombok is the westernmost island of West Nusa Tenggara, officially the nation’s leastdeveloped province, which gets by on agriculture, tourism and overseas remittances from tens of thousands of migrant workers. If Lombok is going to be the “next Bali”, as some hype would have it, it has a good 25 years to catch up on.
But its secret to closing some of that gap lies on an empty expanse near Praya, where ant lines of trucks kick up dust and a small roadside sign hints that here is the future of Lombok – here, PT Angkasa Pura II is building an international airport. The airport has been talked about for eons, but with construction finally underway, it could be operational in a couple of years. This airport, designed to handle three times as many passengers as the current one, will also help ease the burden on Denpasar, landing tourists here and shuttling them across the strait.
Complementing the development is a new road: a highway to the capital, northwestern tourist attractions and the fast boat to Bali. It is an even shorter trip to the beaches and future resorts down south.