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... and welcome to the first issue of The Lombok Guide – Lombok's new tourism paper and your guide to the best that the island has to offer. The Lombok Guide is published on Lombok every fortnight and contains valuable information for all visitors to our magical island.

Use the Guide to explore Lombok and check out the best hotels, restaurants and sight-seeing options, to make your Lombok holiday special. Inside you'll find useful maps to make touring easier, important information about Lombok, plus great discount vouchers for restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

The island of Lombok is almost as large as Bali and, like her famous sister, has a wide range of attractions and activities for all types of travellers – whether you're looking for action and adventure, discovering different cultures and traditions, or lazing on perfect beaches in the sun.

The Sasak people of Lombok are quite different from their Hindu neighbours to the west, with intricate customs and traditions that span hundreds of years. Visit the small villages and towns for a look at authentic lifestyles, unchanged by tourism; shop for traditional handicrafts, weaving and pottery; or witness fascinating dance and musical performances unique to Lombok. Wherever you go, you'll be greeted with smiles and friendly Sasak hospitality.

With many kilometres of pristine coastline, the ocean is never far away, with unpolluted waters bordered by lovely beaches fringed with coconut palms. Drive almost anywhere and you can be assured of your own personal deserted beach. Or visit the famous “Gili Islands” for world-class diving and fantastic snorkelling, boating and water sports. Swim in turquoise clear waters and at night, dine at some of the best restaurants in Lombok.

You'll find a wide variety of accommodation to suit your personal tastes and budgets – from opulent luxury, such as the Oberoi Resort, to a quaint thatched bungalow on the beach. Enjoy sumptuous fine dining at Square Restaurant in Senggigi, or eat grilled fish on the beach at Gili Meno. Climb the world-famous volcano, Mt Rinjani, or have a massage at the Mandara Spa. Challenge the huge waves of Bangko-Bangko, or have a pedicure on Senggigi Beach. The options are endless.

Come and discover the magic of Lombok – like thousands of others, you'll be enchanted!

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santaWith so many places offering special Christmas menus and parties, Lombok is the place to be during the festive season. In this issue we give you the scoop on what's happening for Christmas at the island's top hotels and restaurants, to help you choose the best way to have yourself a merry little Christmas in Lombok!

The Holiday Resort in Mangsit has an International Buffet Dinner by the pool on Christmas Eve and a Christmas Day BBQ Buffet Dinner on 25 December, with loads of traditional fare and live entertainment. At just Rp 125 000++ per person, this is great value!

The Senggigi Beach Hotel has two deluxe festive season events, starting with a Christmas Eve Party on Sunset Beach with cocktails, buffet dinner and a visit from Santa Claus for Rp 275 000 ++. Celebrate Christmas Day in style with a deluxe 5 course Candle Light Dinner at the luxurious Beachcombers, in the Pool Villa Club for Rp 250 000 ++.

The Sheraton Senggigi Resort has a special buffet dinner on Christmas Eve, serving all the traditional Christmas delicacies, accompanied by a live choir, for Rp 300 000 ++.

Puri Mas Boutique Resorts, on the beachfront in Mangsit, has a 3 course Traditional Christmas Dinner on 25 December, with live music and entertainment.

Around town, there are great deals at all the major restaurants. Senggigi's top garden restaurant, Restaurant Taman, is offering Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch and dinner at the special price of Rp 100 000++. Good value for a three course set menu with choices, including seafood cocktail, smoked salmon, roast turkey with cranberry sauce and roast lamb with gravy and mint sauce, with all the traditional trimmings.

The fabulous Square Restaurant in Senggigi Square plans a deluxe menu created by Executive Chef, Eka. Expect delicious upmarket offerings for Christmas from the special set menu, accompanied by a wide choice of the best wines in town.

Popular Senggigi venue, Asmara Restaurant, has a great selection of festive dishes available for the entire week, starting on Christmas Eve through to New Year's Eve. Choose from mouth-watering German-style Roast Duck, Crab-stuffed Jumbo Prawns and Home-made Mango Ice cream.

Gili Trawangan also turns on the magic during the festive season. Villa Ombak, the island's largest resort, is offering a Christmas Eve Festive Buffet on 24 December, with special creations from their award-winning Executive Chefs.

Fun times and good food are what The Beach House is all about, and celebrating the festive season at this beachside restaurant is always a great choice. Traditional Australian Christmas fare is on offer for Christmas Day with freshly-shucked Sydney rock oysters, Norwegian smoked salmon and the ubiquitous “shrimp on the barbie”. Followed by honey-glazed ham and roast turkey with all the yummy trimmings, this is a feast not to be missed!  As with all things Aussie, there'll be plenty of champers, wine and ice cold beer to go along with it all. Afterwards, recover by floating in their newly-completed beachfront swimming pool.

This is just a selection of the fabulous festive menus on offer in Lombok and there's sure to be many more in the week before Christmas.

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The future of Lombok is set to change, if plans to build a new international airport on the island go ahead as planned. Tourism sector businesses, investors and government agencies have been pushing for around ten years to have an international airport built on the island and, at last, it appears the dream will become a reality.

Development on the long-awaited Lombok International Airport (Bandara Internasional Lombok) was finally started in November 2005. The airport will be located in Tanak Awu, Central Lombok, and will replace the existing Selaparang airport in Mataram. The new airport is being constructed by Indonesian company, PT Angkasa Pura I (the managers of Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport) and is expected to be operational by 2010.

When we inspected the Tanak Awu site this November, it was encouraging to see that construction is indeed going ahead, albeit slowly. The site itself is an obvious good choice for an airport, on approximately 538.8 Ha of open land with no hills or mountains nearby. There is a large deposit of limestone on the east boundary which is being quarried and used in construction. Earthworks are well under way, with roads and runway construction commenced. There's even a lake at the entrance which will provide attractive landscaping in the future.

airport2On 30 November 2005, Minister of Transport, Mr. M. Hatta Radjasa, together with the Managing Director of PT Angkasa Pura, Bambang Darwoto and Governor of Nusa Tenggara Barat, Lalu Serinata, officially declared commencement of the development with a ground-breaking ceremony at the Tanak Awu site. Governor Serinata explained that the new airport is urgently needed because the region has important tourism potential, but can not be developed further if the airport can't handle wide body planes.

The new Lombok International Airport will have a length of 2.750km and a width of 45m, making the airport suitable for landing Airbus 310's and Boeing 747's, and is within flight range of Australia, Japan, Timor, Taiwan and Korea. The airport3estimated budget for the development is IDR 665 billion (approximately US$72.3 million), not including land purchase.

During a meeting in May 2007 at Grand Legi Hotel, the Minister for Transport, Hatta Rajasa, stated that the airport development was still continuing and that the project must be completed, to support the development of tourism in Lombok.

Governor Serinata visited the new airport project for the third time on 27 November 2007 to show his support and interest in its progress. It is hoped that construction will continue according to schedule and Lombok will be on the international flight path by 2010.

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Newly-elected Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has held talks with Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, during his visit to Bali this week for a UN conference on climate change.

Mr Rudd arrived in Bali for the United Nations' climate change conference last Tuesday (11/12/07) and went straight into a meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The two leaders discussed national security, counter-terrorism measures and climate change during the half-hour meeting at Bali's luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. Mr Rudd said Indonesia was showing leadership on climate change by hosting the meeting of 180 nations, and that Australia and Indonesia will work together on combating global warming. He also said that Australia's decision to ratify the Kyoto Protocol put Australia in a position to also take a leadership role.

"As a consequence of that I proposed to the President that Australia and Indonesia work in partnership globally, regionally and bilaterally to advance a decisive and effective outcome on climate change over this period ahead – that is the next two critical years,'' Mr Rudd told reporters.

Dr Yudhoyono thanked Mr Rudd for personally attending the conference. "We hope that his attendance here will progress efforts to find a solution to climate change,'' the President said through an interpreter.

Australia says it will play a positive and constructive role at UN climate change talks in Bali but will not be pressured into adopting an early interim target to slash emissions.

Australia's new Prime Minister handed over documents ratifying the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations in Bali on Wednesday and said his own country was already suffering from global warming.

Kevin Rudd handed the documents to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of climate talks in Bali, where 190 nations are trying to initiate two-year talks on a global pact to fight a warming planet. Mr Rudd signed the pact as his first official act as Prime Minister, leaving the United States as the only major developed nation outside the pact to fight climate change.

"For Australians, climate change is no longer a distant threat," Mr Rudd told delegates at the opening of the conference's main session. "Our rivers are dying, bushfires are more ferocious and more frequent and our natural wonders – the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu, our rainforests – are now at risk."

Mr Rudd, who was sworn in on December 3 after a landslide victory against long-term conservative Prime Minister John Howard in elections last month, said he wanted to build relations with Australia's giant neighbour on his first trip abroad. "I place the highest priority on Australia's relationship with Indonesia," Rudd told reporters. "We are not just neighbours, we are partners in so many common challenges, not least of which is the common challenge of regional terrorism."

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TraditionalDancersEvery year at Lingsar temple, a very special war takes place. This isn't a riot between warring groups and it isn't a real war, although the name “Perang Topat” means war of the “topat”. Topat are small parcels of rice, which are wrapped in woven coconut leaves and boiled – a delicious local alternative to boiled rice. In this friendly and fun war, the communities involved with the temple make a mock war, hurling the topat at each other amidst much fun and laughter.

Lingsar, located about 10 kms from Mataram, is renowned for its unique temple complexes, especially the ancient Hindu temple called Pura Gaduh and the nearby Kedaliq, considered sacred to local Sasaks. Lingsar temple is the only temple where most of the religions represented on Lombok gather to worship and pray together. The temple is associated with fertility, irrigation and rice, and the annual ceremony features a ritualised war with rice cakes, Perang Topat, which also serves as an offering.

Built around 1714, Pura Lingsar was originally based on the prevailing animist beliefs of the time, and some of the original animist statues remain today. While the main courtyards of Pura Suranadi and Pura Lingsar symbolically unite the deities of Bali and Lombok, the second courtyards, called Kemaliq, contain sacred pools and unique altars of rocks reminiscent of ancient megalithic worship. These rocks, brought down from the top of the volcano and dressed in ceremonial cloths, are believed to contain the spirits of the ancestors of the land and are venerated in the temple. 

sesajiThe ritual of Perang Topat has been performed at Lingsar Temple for as long as anyone can remember; every year at the seventh full moon of the Sasak calendar. This year the event took place on Saturday, 24 November. The ceremony commences with several days of preparation beforehand by local communities, both Hindu and Muslim. On the day of the full moon, late in the afternoon, everyone gathers at the temple complex to participate in the ritual known as Pujawali, a ceremony which represents the belief that everything in the universe is God's creation and will come back to Him eventually.

The ceremony starts with an elaborate parade of the offerings that have been prepared by the community – flowers, fruits, rice cakes of all colours and varieties, and other offerings are carried in colourful towers on the heads of the women, who are dressed in beautiful coloured kebaya (lace blouses) and fine sarongs. The ritual includes prayers and chanting, traditional music and dancing, before the offerings are carried in a circle three times around the area of the temple and Kemaliq and then blessed by temple priests. Thus the people pray for fertility and prosperity, for good rains and a bountiful harvest, both physically and spiritually.

throwingriceThe event concludes with the rice war, Perang Topat. Tall bamboo poles with the woven rice parcels tied to them are shaken and the topat gleefully grabbed by the crowd. Offerings are raided and others pull hidden topat from their clothes. Two sides are drawn as everyone, adults and children alike, starts throwing the topat at each other. It's a hilarious sight, seeing everyone throwing the topat as far as they can into the opposing crowd and then scrabbling on the ground to grab at fallen topat, before someone else can grab it. The air is filled with good-natured yells and laughter and, after the solemnity of the holy ritual, it's a good way to release the tension and bring the community together in a fun way, before they return to their homes to eat the left over topat and food from the offerings.

If you have a chance to join in the ceremony at Lingsar, it's a great way to witness a fun, authentic Lombok event. The atmosphere at the temple is awesome and the display of offerings and traditional performances is well worth the visit. The local community is used to having foreigners visit their ceremonies and the crowd will make you feel welcome. Just watch out for flying topat – they pack a punch and are surprisingly indestructible!

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Next year Indonesia will host “Visit Indonesia Year 2008”.  Much in the vein of previous “Visit Thailand Year” and “Visit Malaysia Year” events, which have been so successful for those countries, this is a marketing tool to both highlight Indonesia as a destination and to encourage tourism to the country.

According to official records, 4.87 million tourists visited Indonesia in 2006 and it's estimated that Indonesia will have had 5.5 million tourists by the end of this year, a number far short of the targeted 6 million visitors set by Indonesia's Minister of Culture and Tourism, Jero Wacik. Although it is an increase of +13.5% on the previous year, a shortfall of half a million tourists translates into lost foreign exchange earnings worth US $465.5 million.

With the launch of Visit Indonesia Year, the Indonesian Department of Culture and Tourism is targeting 7 million foreign visitors for 2008. If Indonesia manages to achieve this target, it will represent something on the order of a 27% increase in arrivals for a single year and earn around US$6.4 billion in foreign exchange.

In order to help achieve the ambitious target, the Ministry has established a calendar of more than 100 official events to be hosted across Indonesia throughout 2008. In preparation for the important year ahead, the government has also pledged to improve key infrastructure, such as road and telecommunications networks.

A promotional campaign to raise public awareness of the event will also be launched and, according to Culture and Tourism Minister, Jero Wacik, the success of the program will hinge on the friendliness of ordinary Indonesians. The national campaign aims to improve the awareness of the public and stakeholders about the importance of properly welcoming foreign tourists and ensuring their safety, he said. To guarantee the safety of tourists, the government will establish tourist police units in major tourism spots, in cooperation with the National Police, he said.

On the business side, he said local administrations needed to help encourage investors by simplifying licensing procedures for the establishment of tourist facilities, such as hotels and resorts.

The administrators of airports and tourist attractions should also pay special attention to ensuring every possible convenience for visitors, he added.

The Visit Indonesia Year 2008 campaign will be inaugurated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on 1 January 2008.

So far, the ministry has produced tourism kits, including tourist maps, calendars of events, stickers and pins that would be made available at hotels, travel agents, airline offices and tourist destinations so as to promote next year's campaign.

Hopefully the government has budgeted for a reasonable amount of television advertising to promote the campaign. Televised tourism advertisements, which worked so successfully for Malaysia and Thailand, are vital to promote Indonesia overseas.

For a sneak preview of the government's TV commercial for the upcoming Visit Indonesia Year, visit the You Tube website or enter this link on your web browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RVO4Wvt_Xk

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