From the airport to the Ciputra Hotel, on the fringes of the city, is a half-an-hour drive at night. Jakarta, or rather the build-up to the Indonesian capital, is somewhat underwhelming –a feeling that stays with me through the next morning. Jakarta, by day, is crowded (Indonesia is world’s fourth most populated country, and the capital is obviously more than just the tip of the iceberg) and crazy (the traffic jams are in a league of their own); the muggy weather plays its climatic version of spoilsport.
But there are parts of the city – especially the older side – that are beautiful. Cutting through the crowded clutter, you spy colonial (read Dutch) architecture, tree-fringed avenues and interesting eateries. You can grab the lunch at a seafood restaurant called Raja Kuring, a typical Indonesian cuisine is far more unfettered than sya mainland Chinese or Korean (the mix in plate comes from the varied historical and cultural influences – including Indian – the country has absorbed).
Pressed for time, so alongside a traffic-deadened tour of Jakarta – with a mandatory stop at the 137-metre-tall National Monument – a visit to the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah. This is supposed to be like a thoughtfully-dressed-up window display of the diversity of Indonesia’s 27 provinces.
The Jakarta fling over, and headed to the airport to catch a flight to the hidden gem: the island of Lombok. Lombok has the potential to be another Bali and locals regard it to be an unspoilt avatar of the eastern world’s Great Tourism Factory. It is easy to say why. Crystal clear waters – one can see the coral formation through and through – and white sands frame the tropical paradise. The drive through Lombok is wondrously rural: there are lush green pastures and rolling hills.
The hotel room overhangs the sea. The waters were lapping gently through the day, but, as the night gets darker, it gets choppier. Sitting out on the porch outside ground-floor room, one can hear the crashing of the waves reverberating in the surrounding stillness. It is magical.
The next day, head off to a gili – that is island in local parlance. There are many gilis lying a short distance away from the main island of Lombok, and it is an exhilarating 10-minute journey on a bumpy, open-air speed-boat. The tropical sun beats down mercilessly, and the humidity continues to soak it.
The gili whose shores are washed up on is called Trawangan. The villa at the gili hotel has an open-air bathroom and, because all the water on the island is from the sea, there is an urn of treated water left on the side of the shower area. Adventurous people can head for snorkelling and deep-sea diving. There are bonsai stagecoaches that would take you on an island trot. At night, you can hit an alley that looks straight out of a western European small town (there is a reason why it looks like this – tourism from the Occident): bistros, live-cooking cafes, lounge bars…..and music.
Even the weather seems to be behaving itself. In the morning, it is back to being hot and grimy and you would board the speedboat back to Lombok. You will be taken to this consortium of local houses, like a quick-fix hemlet: locals live here, make a living selling their ethnic wares. It is a labyrinth of levels, little huts magically appearing at every nook and corner. One can buy sarongs from them. Next you will fall in line with the rest of the group to catch a flight to Bali.
Bali turns out to be a somewhat of a downer. That is probably because of a displacement theory. The hotel – Discovery Kartika Plaza – is utterly gorgeous. Cottage comes with a plunge pool, there is Balinese piped music playing, the bedroom has a four-poster bed, complete with a flimsy, diaphanous curtain all around it. The downtown area is quaint and touristy with a certain faded old-world charm. The younger and wilder lot of visitors hang out near the beaches.
The next day, last in Indonesia, the group happily passes up the chance to watch a Balinese dance recital in favour of retail therapy. Consumerism always aces culture.
There is a shopping mart called Krishna (most of the Balinese population is Hindu, and Krishna appears to be the most popular god: the main square has a wonderful depiction of Krishna and Arjun from the Mahabharat), a slice of shopping heaven: from Balinese souvenirs to Indonesia artifacts to silver jewellery to spa treatment lines to clothes and shoes and what-have-you.
One last meal at a lovely mom-and-pop dinner and you are off the airport. A new airport is allegedly in the works. Which is good news – the present airport, that greets huge traffic, is in a bit of mess.
Indonesia is the archipelago of 17000-odd islands. One dollar is equals 9600-odd Indonesian rupiahs. With just over 100 dollars, one can feel monetarily and momentarily empowered.