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Looking for paradise, Southern Lombok

Late morning at Selong Belanak

Sipping at a young coconut in the shade of a pohon waru, a gnarled tree with spade-shaped leaves, I squeezed the cool white sand between my toes. The smell of grilled fish, freshly caught from the sea, wafted over from the beachside warung – a small trio of shacks in bamboo and alang-alang – while a row of brightly painted outrigger canoes lay lined up on the shore.

At roughly half past ten on a Thursday morning, Bama and I pulled into the unpaved car park at Selong Belanak. From Kuta it had been a westward journey of almost 19 kilometres, taking the winding high road along lush hillsides and villages where uniformed schoolchildren waved and shouted “hello”. It was our driver from Senggigi, dressed in a cheery rose-coloured batik shirt, who suggested it the day before. “Go to Selong Belanak,” he told us, “There’s only one villa there so far.”

It was a name that seemed both distant and exotic, rolling off the tongue with surprising ease. Selong Belarak. Benalak. Belanak. Bama grinned as I struggled to get it right the first few times. In Bahasa Indonesia it is a subtle change that marks the difference between a soybean and a donkey, a head and a coconut, or a carrot and a telephone booth.

The sea folded into a ribbon of jade green before tumbling, with a loud roar, onto the sand. From our vantage point in the shade, we watched the surfers paddle out into the bay, beneath a dramatic line of ridges that marched off into the hazy horizon. Selong Belanak was a refreshing change from the beaches we had already seen – unlike Kuta and Tanjung Aan, no one was trying to push us a hard sell.

Selong Belanak

Selong Belanak

Outrigger boats

Outrigger boats

Life's a beach

Life’s a beach

Gone fishing

Gone fishing

People-watchers

People-watchers

Paddies and palms

Paddies and palms

At eight o’clock the next morning, Bama and I piled into a minivan headed to Tanjung Ringgit, a rugged, surf-beaten peninsula in the island’s extreme southeast. For the next two and a half hours we passed through a flat, dry landscape of tobacco fields and gaily-painted primary schools. Village after village seemed to be in an open competition to build the grandest and most beautiful mosque. Nailed onto nearby trees were visions of what was to come: fanciful, multi-storey creations adorned with dreamlike minarets and colourful domes, the main entrance approached by an oversized stairway.

Our navigator in the passenger seat gestured and tapped on the glass. “Pasar tradisional.” We came to a brief stop as the early morning light slanted into the open stalls of a buzzing roadside market. Window rolled down, I breathed in the smells of fresh produce – chillis, squid and fresh fish – while vendors squatted between small heaps of fruit and vegetables.

The final five kilometres reminded us of the conditions we endured in Laos, travelling Route 13 from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. We slowed to a crawl, navigating broken, pot-holed roads more suited to a hardy jeep. A rocky single-track beyond the lighthouse led to a wind-blown cape where brilliant blue waters surged into the cliffs. Tucked away in the bushes stood the rusted hulk of a Japanese artillery gun; when installed in World War II it would have guarded the southern approach to the Alas Strait.

Wartime relic

Wartime relic

Tanjung Ringgit

Tanjung Ringgit

Relentless surf

Relentless surf

Sumbawa silhouette

Sumbawa silhouette

Wear and tear

Wear and tear

"Layer cake"

“Layer cake”

But it was not the raw landscape or the view towards Sumbawa that had prompted us to make this journey. Before the road petered out at Tanjung Ringgit, we noticed garish highlights of pink on several tree trunks, a splash of unexpected colour in a parched, surreal forest devoid of leaves. Here an improvised bamboo gate marked the entryway to a 300-metre-long dirt track. It too, was decorated in a loud, fluorescent pink.

A local man approached as the driver rolled down his window. “You’ll have to park here. Yesterday several cars went down and couldn’t come back up.” We hopped off the minivan and started down the dusty trail. Rutted, half-destroyed and littered with stones, it would lead us to the fabled sands of Lombok’s Pink Beach.

Pantai Pink – or Pantai Tangsi to local residents – was a completely deserted stretch of virgin sand, where the only footprints were our own. Far above us a single villa perched unobtrusively on the hillside, seemingly empty and partially hidden in the foliage. The lone beach keeper pointed to a small boat at anchor in the bay, with an offer to take us snorkelling in the nearby islands. He spoke of a cave the Japanese tunnelled in World War II, and how the beach appeared more pink in the early morning or late afternoon. Our local navigator looked around at the surroundings and frowned. “It’s nothing special.”

“You’re not going to go for a swim?”

He shook his head, retiring to the shade as we excitedly made our way down to the water.

I have never seen – or felt – sand as fine as I did that day at Pantai Tangsi. I could not resist scooping up several handfuls and letting it fall to the ground, dissolving, as in an hourglass, through the gaps between my fingers. In the background the surf washed over the beach, turning it gradual shades of pink from countless pieces of crumbled red coral.

I looked down at the sunlight dancing across the sea floor and wondered if it was all a dream. One and a half hours of absolute bliss ensued, as we immersed ourselves neck-deep in the tropical cerulean and floated without a care in the world. We rose and fell with the incoming waves, laughing like children when the rising tide pushed us to shore.

The same driver who pointed us to Selong Belanak just days earlier had given us two maps of Lombok, packed with twisting roads, childlike illustrations and a bevy of names that filled the page. Running across the top, in bold lettering, was ‘Paradise Island’. Now, as Bama and I swam off a pristine, pink beach with hardly a soul in sight, we realised the truth of those words.

High tide at Pink Beach

High tide at Pink Beach

Leaf-strewn sands

Leaf-strewn sands

Resting at anchor

Resting at anchor

Organ pipe coral

Organ pipe coral

Gift of the sea

Gift of the sea

Pure shores

Pure shores

43 Comments Post a comment
  1. Such a memorable trip we had James! I was totally not expecting us as the only visitors at Pantai Tangsi, but I’m glad we had the whole beach for ourselves for 1.5 hours. It will be long, I believe, to find another beach as pristine and beautiful as Pantai Tangsi.

    August 12, 2013
    • I almost worry about going back in the future… do we keep it as a perfect memory, or make the effort to return someday and risk disappointment? There will no doubt be some development on the horizon, but I hope it remains open for all people to enjoy. Would hate to see this go the way of Tanjung Beloam with its luxury “beach camp”!

      August 12, 2013
      • True. Some places might change, but we have so many places to explore and find other Pantai Tangsi. 🙂 Oh btw, really really love your pictures James!

        August 12, 2013
      • Matur nuwun, Bama! 🙂

        August 12, 2013
      • I’m voting on keeping the memory. I’m presently on Bali, returning after 12 years. I frequently want to cry, it’s so different. I can only imagine another 12 years…

        I also returned to PhiPhi after 10 years away. Again, I was devastated. After the tsunami they rebuilt and destroyed the chill hippie haven it had previously been.

        If it’s in SE Asia and still somehow miraculously untouched, I doubt it will be for long!

        August 13, 2013
      • I guess popular movies have played their part in the mass tourism boom: ‘The Beach’ really put Phi Phi on the map while Ubud is now seeing record visitor numbers thanks to ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.

        That drive for development was one of the main reasons we decided on Lombok – the trip was originally scheduled for 2015, but we realised that parts of the island were being given over to large-scale resorts.

        August 13, 2013
  2. Another great post, James! You’re making me jealous! lol. But you’ve given me yet another location to look forward to, when I start my RTW trip! It looks almost like paradise!

    August 12, 2013
    • Thank you Stephen! It was truly paradise, especially the part when we had Pink Beach all to ourselves. Had I known how beautiful it was going to be, we would have turned up an hour or two earlier!

      August 12, 2013
  3. This is Paradise 😀

    August 12, 2013
    • Indeed it is! I wish I could have spent another day there.

      August 12, 2013
  4. Amazing, James!
    Beautiful pictures and I’m glad you had a great time at that amazing beach :))

    August 12, 2013
    • You would have loved it, Sophie – I’ve never seen such beautiful beaches in my entire life! 😀

      August 12, 2013
  5. Sounds absolutely amazing… It takes a lot for me to be impressed by beaches since I live in the Caribbean but from your photos, I ‘m pretty much blown away!

    August 12, 2013
    • That’s a huge compliment Jodi! I loved the easygoing vibe of the surfer’s beach at Selong Belanak, but Pink Beach was even better… Bama and I couldn’t believe that we were the first ones there!

      August 13, 2013
  6. These photos are a daydream. As always, moreover. Your travels are incredible, really. Compliments! and thank you, always, for to make me dream with these places that I will never see (maybe!).

    August 12, 2013
    • It’s my pleasure – and never say never, you might find yourself on the very same beaches sometime in the future!

      August 13, 2013
  7. KidazzleInk #

    Lovely shots and oh such beautiful landscape. What a lovely place to go.

    August 13, 2013
    • Absolutely – the pink sand was just mesmerising!

      August 13, 2013
  8. You make me feel as if I was there, and at the same time it makes me want to go there! Must put it on the list 🙂
    We only stayed in Bali, and heard that Lombok is like Bali used to be. It sounds and looks like paradise.

    August 13, 2013
    • The area around Pink Beach was truly unspoilt, NGOs and local partners have been working to maintain it as a conservation area so that’s a big step in the right direction. Your posts on Bali have certainly worked their magic – I’m planning a trip there this Christmas, it will be wet season but maybe we’ll luck out on the weather! 🙂

      August 13, 2013
  9. What was I thinking when visiting Tangsi and chose to do light caving inside Japanese tunnel instead of swimming in the crystal clear water? Now I just want to go back and immerse myself deep in the sea..

    Btw nice post, James! 🙂

    August 13, 2013
    • Makasih Badai! The beach keeper offered to take us to the Japanese cave as well… but all we wanted to do was go swimming. 🙂

      August 13, 2013
      • Right decision, indeed! 🙂

        August 13, 2013
  10. I love your writing! Sounds like a fantastic trip.

    August 14, 2013
    • Thanks Joel! It was definitely the best trip I’ve had in a long time.

      August 14, 2013
  11. Gorgeous photos and wonderful prose! 🙂 It makes me dream of the tropics.

    August 15, 2013
    • Glad you enjoyed it – and thank you for the kind comment. 🙂

      August 16, 2013
  12. JoV #

    I too love going to unspoilt beaches and places. I have visited Bali in 2004, Lombok sounds right up my alley. Beautiful pictures James, thanks for sharing.

    August 15, 2013
    • You’re welcome JoV, my advice is to visit Lombok sooner rather than later!

      August 16, 2013
  13. Visitors who only go to Bali and see these photos will be scratching their heads at this neighboring gem they’ve missed. Somehow, I’m wishing Lombok will remain overshadowed by the ever popular Bali so it doesn’t get a blitzkrieg real estate development.

    August 15, 2013
    • I secretly wish for the same Dennis, it would be heartbreaking to see mass tourism swamping the island and spoiling these secluded beaches.

      August 16, 2013
  14. splendid, literally great article, awesome picture,,
    and it must be a very unforgettable holiday ever. Nice post James, keep writing!!

    August 16, 2013
    • Makasih Nur! I was completely blown away by the natural beauty of Lombok – hopefully there will be another trip to Indonesia quite soon!

      August 16, 2013
  15. Oh great – now I have more “must see” beaches on my list! My sister and I went to an island off of Indonesia – Kura Kura – a couple years ago and thought it was a slice of paradise. We also went to Bali and loved the beaches there but it was too touristy overall for us so, Lombok look out!

    August 16, 2013
    • You just had me looking up Kura Kura – turns out it’s in the Karimunjawa Islands, another area I’d love to visit someday! Seems like Bali is a real victim of its own popularity, I would still go but less for the beaches and more for the culture.

      August 16, 2013
  16. This has to be one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in pictures or otherwise. You two keep taking us to the most heartstoppingly beautiful places James! And your evocative prose doubles the pleasure. Thank you 🙂

    August 16, 2013
    • It’s my pleasure, Madhu – I’ve never seen a beach like this in all of my travels, especially not one with pink sand! Fingers crossed you and R will get to Lombok in the near future. 🙂

      August 16, 2013
  17. These Images are amazing. 🙂

    August 20, 2013
    • We really lucked out with the weather – and these were two of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. 🙂

      August 20, 2013
  18. The Pink Beach looks incredible! I can imagine your amazement on seeing it. 🙂

    August 20, 2013
    • And to think that we were the first ones there… it was truly paradise! 🙂

      August 20, 2013
  19. This looks incredible!! Hoping to make my way there soon.

    October 19, 2013

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