Lombok Unveiled

A tropical paradise to soothe the mind, body and soul. A perfect de stressor to just unwind, relax and put your feet up. Picture perfect, surreal, untouched by civilization – that’s Lombok – an undiscovered Shangri-La.

On a mission to just laze, wine and dine, wiggle my toes on the beach I was headed for Lombok. A virgin island with spell binding views of the ocean as you wind up the smooth road to resorts that dot the shore line. Rice fields, a temple or two, pottery and weaving hamlets, authentic Sasak culture and hospitality, a good rub down at a massage spa is what you will encounter on Lombok’s platter.

The best way to relax is to check into a good resort (I would recommend the Lombok Holiday Resort or Sheraton Senggigi) as most of them line the shore of the Senggigi beach and provide you with one minute access to the beach, a spa facility, a lazuline swimming pool where the water sparkles in the afternoon sun, a bar with a live band and a restaurant or two. An ocean front accommodation needless to say would be the zenith. An island which seems to guise as a village at times and as a town at others has little to offer other than a picturesque landscape and a serene atmosphere to soothe those nerves.

The sound of waves crashing on the shore, an ice cold Bintang, some finger food as you watch the sun set in the ocean is one option. The second alternative is to just uncurl by the pool side, open the page of your book and let the sun tan you a nice bronze. Or you could head to a massage parlor and spend two languorous hours treating yourself to a nice rub down by an adept masseuse. This followed by some live music and sumptuous food in one of the cafes (Papaya to Café and Happy Café are two good places) is a perfect way to end the evening. And if you cannot resist local arts and crafts then make sure you head to one of the pottery villages (Banyumulek is recommended) where you can find some resplendent works of terracotta at cheap prices and also try your hand at the wheel. A visit to the weaving hamlet and Sasak village gives you a glimpse of rural life of the locals. Lombok has a rich tradition of weaving and the womenfolk weave Songets in many beautiful colors and designs in the humid afternoons. Kuta beach enthralls with its turquoise waters and white sand with the mountains of Bali as its backdrop.

The Sasaks have a unique culture and are by large hospitable, save the hawkers who harass you every moment of your time to buy their wares. It can be quite a harrowing experience and tests your patience. The island has a sleepy, languid and tranquil feel to it and you can’t help but laze. So while Bali is boogieing the night away, Lombok is steeped in darkness and the drone of dragon flies whirring through the warm sultry night is the last thing you hear as you drift into a deep slumber.


Beguiling Bali

When you want to take a vacation, you are often confronted with what kind of a spot to choose. Should you opt for beaches or mountains, lakes or something steeped in culture and tradition or perhaps some place happening and alive or just a place to unwind?….

Too many choices?

Ah well!… What if I told you that you could sample a piece of all this (and I mean ALL this) in just one heavenly abode? And which one might that be you ask?…It’s one of the many provinces of the Indonesian archipelago – Bali.

A one and a half hour flight out of the noisy, polluted and traffic ridden Jakarta takes you to the heart of serenity. The destination you have always dreamed of, the pictures of tropical island getaways which you used to flick through in the glossy, slick travel magazine now lies before your eyes.

Research on the region will tell you that Denpasar is the main city area with government offices and the airport in tow. The small, unassuming airport is buzzing with activity as tourists hop off the many economic flights (Garuda, Lion Air, and Air Asia – if you are taking a flight from Jakarta) even at mid night. Jumping into a taxi at the airport you can ask to be driven to many many places in Bali. It depends on where you are headed to. The beach side or the villas or the art hub or the night pubs. Hence I suggest you do plenty of research on the places in Bali and then decide on your accommodation in these regions.Sticking to the most popular tourist region of Bali, I was headed to a small, budget friendly cluster of cottages in Kuta. Kuta is like the mecca of Bali, famed for its sunset on the horizon , night life and shopping streets. There is plenty to choose from for your accommodation. www.balihotels.com will list out numerous options from 15 USD a night to 45 USD a night. So if you happen to be a trailing backpacker or a traveler with a penchant for plush extravagance, you are sure to discover a room, a cottage or a villa of your choice.

Night life in Kuta is truly buzzing, humming and seething. Streets lined with pubs, bars and discos are often pulsating with rock beats, many a swaggering tourist under the heady influence of intoxication, casual picking up of “working girls” for a one night stand – its all a part and parcel of Kuta. Sometimes it almost seems that the seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, pride can all be found here. However, a harmless drink in the midst of great music by a live band, in a casual atmosphere, at one of the pubs isn’t a bad deal. Most of the joints are open until four am, so the nights at Kuta are young and alive.

The transition from night to day is quite a transformation where the streets are more of a shoppers haven. Street lined shops beckon you with beautiful, aesthetic wares. It could be coir and bamboo bags, rattan furniture, delicate silver jewellery, trendy bags, Balinese paintings, colorful sarongs, exquisite artifacts, serene Buddha statues, wooden abstracts, tribal masks or traditional wood carvings depicting everyday Balinese life. The art savvy would be driven to dizzying heights by the sights of such resplendent works. There is plenty you can buy as a souvenir but make sure to bargain. You can try your luck by going almost 50% of what the sellers quote and can be sure to get your buy at at least 20%-30% lesser that the price originally quoted to you.

Another place to head out to for a good bargain is Sukawati market. At a glance it may seem like a cheesy place, but never judge a book by its cover. A lil bit of rummaging and walking through the overcrowded, overpowering aisles can get you some stuff which translates into good value for money. A word of caution though- make sure to check the distance between places in Bali as most of them are two hours away from each other. It’s best to hire a bike and move around on your own. There are plenty of places you can rent them from. The other alternative is to hire a taxi or even better to ask the hotel you are staying at to arrange for a car to take you around the whole day. Personally, the bike works best- you are independent and it’s a cheap and easy means of getting around.

If you prefer a bit of peace and quiet and just wish to unwind, put your feet up and relax then its just best to stay a beach front hotel which doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket, and yet isn’t the backpackers rudimentary room. There are plenty of resorts facing the less crowded and less populated Legian beach. You can just sunbathe under the shade of coconut palms, look over to the waves lapping the shore, sip on a cold beer in the afternoon, rejuvenate your senses with a soothing massage or get those tired feet kneaded with some reflexology. Most resorts offer the massage/foot reflexology and there are plenty of centers that offer these services for a whopping 6USD.

If you are looking for some action and adventure, water sports may be an interesting activity. Nusa Dua is the centre of action, with jet skiing, para sailing, banana boat, flying fish being the popular sports. It again comes down negotiation and for 25 USD you can parachute over the ocean and ride the waves on a Jet Ski bike. Nusa Dua also houses some of the most luxurious hotels, constructed in traditional Balinese style and are quite famous with tourists. The beaches of Nusa Dua have clean and white sand when compared to Legian which is blackish in colour. But be it black or white, its perfect for the surfers who have a go at the waves.

The next destination I was headed to after Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua and Sukawati was the celebrated sea temple at Tanah Lot. I always held the belief that Hinduism was a religion that is specific only to India, but I was intrigued to find a Hindu island alive and thriving when I set foot in Bali. Akin to Indian Hindus are the friendly Balinese Hindus praying to deities and making flower offerings to the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Men and women have Hindu names like Sri, Dewi, Jaya and so on. There are plenty of temples to visit in Bali and the temple at Tanah Lot was by far the most popular.

It is a sea temple perched in the ocean, but close enough to the shore that it’s accessible during low tide. Numerous tourists roll up their trousers and with trepid anticipation wade through the tide, feet trying to get a firm foothold on the slippery rocky floor beneath the waves to pay homage to the sea gods. The sunset at Tanah Lot is renowned for casting a magical spell but unfortunately I missed it, as the sun set behind a cloud. I did manage to savor some of its beauty though. En route to Tanah Lot you will see the rice fields, lush green stepped fields with a peasant or farmer (with a bamboo hat for protection from the intimidating sun) bent over, deftly planting rice. Although rice fields are commonplace in rural India, I must admit that it was a very pretty sight.

Traveling in Bali in the sweltering heat can make you thirsty and can also work up your appetite. The best way to quench your thirst is to relax at a nice beach front restaurant and leisurely drink a Bintang, sample some sea food or try the local mee goring (fried noodles) or nasi goring (fried rice). There is plenty of Australian food available as it’s an island that caters to our cousins down under. Aussie fare like burgers with fries, pancakes, shiraz and merlot on the wine list is not uncommon. Peddlers hawk Aussie newspapers and the locals have even adopted Aussie slang land use words like “mate”. Bali is believed to be the Australian surfers paradise and the island seemed to be like a part of the Australian continent! The locals are extremely friendly (a bit too over friendly for my liking) and be prepared to answer a barrage of questions by shopkeepers, receptionists, waiters, bar tenders, taxi drivers – where are you from, where are you staying, for how long are you in Bali. These are three questions you will be barraged with incessantly. And if you are from India, then exclamations of “You are Indian!” “You are Indian” and “oh so you are in Mumbaai?” “ Bollywood star very beeutifool” n you just become intensely aware that you are Indian and that Bollywood rocks this place.

I must admit that the kind and friendly locals are very very good marketers – persistence personified as they assault you with “deals” and “offers” at a “very cheap” price. Everyone is looking at making a quick buck. Beach umbrellas whether you want it or not will be thrust upon you for a sum of money, masseuses follow you and try to entice you into getting a god rub down, men on bikes try to promote certain places of accommodation. You could just be enjoying a stroll down the street and one after another you will find people running up to you always trying to sell you something. It can be quite infuriating at times but I guess its all part of the game.

There are plenty of other interesting places to visit in Bali and I have recounted but a few. I didn’t manage to see the Balinese dance but have heard it’s a must see. You can check www.bali.com for more information.

On a final note, Bali is definitely a place to visit and the best activity of all is to do nothing. Just chill, unwind, loosen up, de stress and just rejuvenate. Bali has definitely got my thumbs up.


Read, Read, Read!

I‘ve traveled the world twice over,
Met the famous; saints and sinners,
Poets and artists, kings and queens,
Old stars and hopeful beginners,
I’ve been where no-one’s been before,
Learned secrets from writers and cooks
All with one library ticket
To the wonderful world of books.

It was just last night during a bed time conversation about a book that both my husband and I read that I said to him” You know, I always feel a wee bit of sadness when I finish a book. Coz you get so used to the characters and their lives, it’s almost like you’re a part of the story yet you aren’t.”

Books have always held a great place in my life and are invaluable. Some might say why spend so much on a book when all you’re going to do is stash it away once you have read it. Well I think books are priceless because although you may stash it away today, you cold always turn to them several years down the line, when you aren’t so busy anymore or just wish to unwind and relax. My dad was the one who introduced who me the wonderful world of books and insisted that I don’t place a tag on it. “Books will always be your friend when you are alone” is what he used to tell me and today, I find that books are infact my company most of the time. The way I look at it, you have all to gain and nothing to lose by developing the enriching habit of reading.

With the internet, video games and so many other forms of entertainment available I wonder how many children really take to reading today. As a school kid I used to so look forward to the library hour, so that I could lay my hands on a secret seven or famous five and read my way through the week. And of course I still have fond memories of the local neighborhood library – just a stone’s throw away from home, where I used to stroll down in the afternoons and pick up my Archies and Danielle Steels during my teenage years. Of course with the passage of time you get introduced to more matured reading and the range keeps widening. It’s a pity that the National Library in Chennai (India) is a dreaded place to go to. I remember frequenting its portico only during my masters thesis and was not surprised to see why it seemed like an ancient relic. Dusty shelves with outdated books, poor lighting, creaky tables and the slow whirring of the fans could easily send you scurrying out of there like your tail were on fire. However thanks to Easwari and the more recent Eloor libraries, Chennaites have something to look forward to. My National Library experience in Singapore was a refreshing and welcome change. The library actually fosters a healthy and reader friendly environment. Well lit, air conditioned, carpeted, sofas and music lounges, a café, computerized book search system, monthly events, tables and chairs for those who wish to work/write makes you want to frequent the place.

A wonderful thing about a book, in contrast to a computer screen, is that you can take it to bed with you. ~ Daniel J. Boorstin
You know I almost always try and have a book on my bedside table. Many a time when I am courting sleep I use the book to help me get through.

Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore? ~ Henry Ward Beecher ~
I couldn’t agree more. I lose track of time whenever I enter Landmark and I always step out with a lighter wallet in one hand and some faithful friends bagged in the other.

Readers may be divided into four classes:

1.) Sponges, who absorb all that they read and return it in
nearly the same state, only a little dirtied.
2.) Sand-glasses, who retain nothing and are content to get
through a book for the sake of getting through the time.
3.) Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what they read.
4.) Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by
what they read, and enable others to profit by it also.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge ~
Believe me, I have been all of these at some point in time or the other.

Never judge a book by its movie. ~ J. W. Eagan ~

I remember reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake” and then watching the movie. The latter was nowhere close to the experience of reading the book. The written medium gives the reader the creative license to imagine. It’s also a much deeper and heartfelt experience drawing you close to the characters. Whereas the visual medium does nothing but to push you into a passive mode.

Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have left me.~ Anatole France ~When it comes to books, it pays to be selfish. I have personally lost so many expensive and favorite books by lending them to friends and family. You can be sure of them disappearing from your shelf forever or if by some miracle, they do find themselves back onto your shelf they appear different- dog eared, battered, scribbled on and so mutilated that you’d rather have them remain missing.

On a final note:
A great book should leave you with many experiences and slightly exhausted at the end.You should live several lives while reading it. ~ William Styron ~


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