Mataram is the capital city of Lombok and the West Nusa Tenggara province. It is a mix of three different towns and many different cultures. Often tourists come to Lombok expecting it to be another Bali – however, those that venture down from the Gilis or Senggigi will soon realise that Lombok is a very different place.
There is a common saying here that goes, “you can see Bali in Lombok, but you can’t see Lombok in Bali.” The many temples around Mataram are a reminder that it was once a seat of the Balinese Kingdom. The Water Palace at Taman Mayora is a reminder of three cultures brutally clashing: the Balinese; the native Sasak people; and the Dutch colonialists. The site became a bloody battle ground as the Sasak people joined forces with the Dutch in order to fight off the Balinese. Today the Sasak majority and the Balinese minority live together in relative peace. They respect each other’s culture and traditions. Hindu ceremonies take place in the temples along-side the Sasak’s mosques. There are even a few churches around the place.
The strongest Dutch influence is found in Ampenan – the port city to the West of Mataram. Here you will find rows of beautiful old buildings in the Dutch style. It is old, dirty and falling apart – but somehow that just adds to the charm. There has been a lot of talk about ‘doing up’ Ampenan. Some of the streets leading to the harbour would make great little spots for cafés or restaurants, and opening up the harbour to cruise ships could help to draw in tourists from Bali.
Mataram itself is the ‘official’ part of town. Most government offices – such as the Governor’s office and my workplace – can be found on either Jalan Udayana or Jalan Pejanggik. It is close to the university so every now and then there is a demonstration (demo). Passionate students take to the streets with signs and loudspeakers – often protesting about nothing in particular – no one in the government offices really takes any notice. On Sundays Jalan Udayana becomes a ‘car-free zone’ and many people will ride their push-bikes around and enjoy the day with their family.
The Eastern most part of Mataram is the town of Cakranegara or Cakra for short. This is the commercial part of town where you will find Mataram Mall and numerous other shops and markets. A large population of Balinese and Chinese people live in Cakra – and this is where you can find Taman Mayura and Pura Meru. This is the Bali you can see in Lombok – albeit with its own unique flavour.
Horse and carts (known as cidomos) are overloaded with goods as they bring people home from the traditional market. Balinese families all dressed up for a ceremony speed around on motorbikes – carrying offerings of fruit, flowers and incense. The Adhan is called out by the many muezzins around the city – time for the Muslims to pray. Teenagers hang out (nongkrong) around the fountain at Taman Sangkareang; while an old man pushes a cart slowly down the road. He taps a pot as he goes along and the clanging sound lets everyone know that he’s selling bakso. Just another day in Mataram.