Threads of life
Nusa Tenggara is made up of the string of volcanic islands east of Bali: Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, Flores, Timor, Sumba, Sawu and Roti. Most of the islands are thinly populated and compared to their western neighbors relatively dry and agriculture is less productive. However arid though the vegetation may seem however, the islands have a sparse beauty of their own. The diverse culture is one that is still very authentic and related to this is the presence of relatively many traditional houses and structures as well as the still very common ikat weaving customs. The ikat technique consists of a process of decoration by which the thread is partly dyed before it is woven into cloth. The parts to remain undyed are ‘reserved’ by binding them with material which is impermeable to the dye. The eventual design of the fabric thus will be tied into either systems of threads, warp or weft, or into both.
Being near to Bali and therefore easily accessible, Lombok has received a relatively large amount of foreigners compared to the other islands of the Lesser Sundas. Most of them stay at the west coast near the village of Senggigi. Here a string of luxurious hotels is built along a white sandy beach offering all the comfort one needs. Travelers looking for more traditional Lombok just have to leave this coastline behind to find small typical Sasak villages [the Sasak are the original inhabitants of Lombok] throughout the rest of Lombok.
Tetebatu, a village nestled against the southern slopes of the dominating 3,726 m high Rinjani volcano, is an excellent place to explore some of Lombok’ s natural beauty and originality. Scenic walks can be made through rice terraces and tobacco fields with the Rinjani as background décor or hiking through rainforest to some well-hidden waterfalls. Several villages specialized in handicraft, including weaving and earthenware pottery can be found in its surroundings.
North and northwest of the Rinjani is perhaps Lombok’ s most traditional area where still many religious customs can be experienced. Here you find two villages, Sembalun and Senaru who are the perfect base to explore the surroundings or climb the Rinjani mountain. The climb up to the top of the volcano and to its lake takes around 3 to 4 days. However easier walks are also possible and will take you via a gorgeous landscape through small Sasak villages. The South of Lombok is a relatively dry area and offers beaches as well as some traditional Sasak architecture. West of Lombok near the harbour to Sumbawa offers some nice white sandy beach islands with very good coral reefs, accommodation is very limited here but you can explore the islands from
several other villages or towns nearby. Relaxing is perfect on one of the beach fringed Gili’s or small islands found at the west side of Lombok. Snorkeling and diving is also possible here.
See our example tours for inspiration on your Nusa Tenggara adventure:
Sumbawa is remarkably drier than its neighbors Lombok and Flores and the island is agriculturally less productive. However by the use of irrigation
systems and dams it is possible to grow rice, garlic and onions in the lower plains. Other means of income are the production of sea salt, fishing and cattle rising. Quite distinctive from its eastern neighbors is the religion of its inhabitants which is Islamic, whereas on Flores, Sumba & Timor missionaries where able to convert the majority of the population to Christianity.
Sumbawa Besar is the main city in the western part. Here are some pleasant beaches and great snorkeling opportunities. The island of Moyo to the north east of Sumbawa Besar was declared a national reserve and offers the visitors an open deciduous forest and a magnificent sea garden. In the surrounding of Sumbawa Besar several traditional villages can be found with wooden houses on stilts. In the sawas adjoining the villages famous buffalo races are held on special occasions.
Crossing the island in a west-east direction via a mountainous interior and through fishing villages near the coastline one finally ends up in Bima. The district of Bima once was an influential sultanate with its power reaching as far as the islands of Flores, Sumba and
Timor. The palace of the sultans is still in good condition and interesting for a visit. The people of the surrounding mountains still live their lives according to local traditions. Their A-shaped traditional houses are remarkable and are still partly inhabited. There are some nice hiking possibilities in this area guaranteeing beautiful views. The coastal people strictly follow the rules of the Islamic faith; women cover their heads with colorful Muslim headscarves, which are locally called rimpu.
Following the main road further eastwards you will pass a scenic landscape with onion and garlic fields that are irrigated by hand using twin buckets, which are carried slung over the shoulder on a pole. Last town to stop is Sape from where boats leave for Komodo and Flores.
Between Sumbawa and Flores lies the national park of Komodo, consisting of tens of small islands fringed by beautiful reefs. It is within the borders of this park that the world-known Komodo dragon has found its habitat. On the dry and sparsely grown islands this
bloodthirsty reptile finds its prey like rats, deers and pigs. The two largest islands are Komodo and Rinca and both islands provide facilities for visitors. Accompanied by trained rangers one can make several walks in search of the Komodo dragon. The open and dry forests found on these island also easily reveal other wildlife like deers, pigs, horses and monkeys as well as an interesting avifauna with squawking kakatuas and parrots.
Amazing dive- and snorkel spots are numerous throughout the national park.
Revering to natural beauty, the island of Flores is without any doubt the most beautiful island of the Lesser Sundas. Many parts of the island are still covered with tropical green forests and not less than fourteen impressive and mostly active volcanoes dominate the interior.
Ikat weaving is still very commonly practiced inland, while in the coastal areas other techniques are used. Motifs and the use of (natural) dyes, differ widely between villages.
For most travelers coming from Sumbawa and Komodo, Labuhan Bajo in the west is the first town to visit on Flores. This small Islamic
fishing town offers some interesting sightseeing in its surroundings and is the place from which to explore the islands of Komodo National Park.Following the main road to the east Ruteng is the next village on route. This town situated at an altitude of around 1400 meter is the center of the Manggarai people who are among other things known for the spectacular caci ritual. This whip fight where the attacker uses a stout bullwhip and the defender holds a shield and a bamboo baton, used to be an essential proof of manhood in days of warfare, but nowadays it is a ritual only carried out at (wedding) ceremonies. Traditionally the Manggarai lay out their rice fields in a spider web form, with each part belonging to a member of the same clan. Nowadays this remarkable shape is less common, although still found occasionally. Hidden within the Manggarai area however there are still some villages that have the original traditional Manggarai houses.
From Ruteng eastwards lies the town of Bajawa on an altitude of 1200 meter. Bajawa is the center of the Ngada people. Having lived isolated for centuries they have maintained a great deal of their conventional habits as well as a remarkable architecture. Walking through this mountainous area dominated by the Inerie volcano and visiting the small friendly traditional villages is a wonderful experience.Leaving the main road behind and turning to the north coast you will reach the small town of Riung within several hours. Here the National Park Kepuluan Tujuhbelas, or the ‘ Seventeen Islands National Park’ is situated. This park protects reefs, mangrove forests and monitor lizards that are related to
the Komodo dragon. Next destination is the 1600-meter high Kelimutu volcano in the interior, frequently visited because of its three crater lakes that change colors every now and then. Most visitors stay in the nearby villages Moni or Detusoko.
Besides this volcano this fertile area is also worth a visit for its culture. There is a lot of ikat weaving done here and its traditional houses characterized by a high peaked palm thatched roofs are still found.
Maumere at the north coast is for many the last town to visit before they leave the island to their next destinations. Also Maumere offers some
interesting cultural and architectural sightseeing in its surroundings. The reefs are definitely worth some exploring, although a part was destroyed in 1993 when a tidal wave caused by an earthquake hit the coastal line and destroyed villages and reefs.
Known for its astonishing culture of megaliths, its marapu (spiritual forces) religion and world famous ikats, visiting Sumba is one great adventure. The island is divided in two area’s: Western Sumba with Waikabubak as capital and Eastern Sumba with Waingapu as capital town. The western part is known for its beautiful white sandy beaches as well as for its traditional villages and houses with their huge thatched roofs. The architecture of the houses is closely related with the marapu religion, still very much practised here. Spiritual forces, including gods, spirits and ancestors are worshipped and asked for help if needed. In the loft of the house, seen as the dwelling place for the spiritual forces, offerings are placed. Eastern Sumba dispels less traditional houses but is known for its megalithic stones (erected during huge funeral ceremonies) and its ikat weaving. Months or even year can pass before a cloth is finished. Traditional patrons are used and with natural dyes the clothes are being colored.