At the time of this writing, we are literally trapped inside our hotel room. The hallway and corridor is pitch black, the workers are not even here leaving only the hotel guests in the building, and the front door is gated shut so no one can go outside even if they tried. We are stranded with nowhere to go!
The island of Bali celebrates their New Year over 6 days of festivities and on the 3rd day (toady) the entire island comes to a complete halt, with absolutely no departing or arriving flights at Ngurah Rai (DPS) airport.
Today is called Nyepi, which translates to “Silent Day”. This day changes every year as they follow the Saka calendar (much like the Lunar calendar) and falls on the day after the dark moon of the Spring equinox when day and night are of the same duration. The silence lasts for a full 24h, from 6am to 6am.
All windows must be covered (this includes homes, hotels, shops), all shops, restaurants, and businesses are closed, no light or fire may be lit, no motors on the road, no people or feet on the streets, no traveling of any sort may occur. There are actually guards on duty (called Pecalang or Nyepi Police) all over the streets to make sure that absolutely nobody peeks outside. The exception to this is hospitals which remain open on this day.
If you are in Bali on Nyepi Day, be sure to not plan any traveling or outdoor activities on this day. Those that find out they have accidentally booked arriving or departing flights on this day will be contacted by your flight carrier about a month prior to your scheduled flight and will be notified about your rebooked flight. However if it’s a few days away and you’re all packed and ready to board your flight on Nyepi day, it’s a good idea to give the airline a call to see what’s up. Ngurah Rai International airport is 100%, completely, and most definitely closed so don’t go thinking your airline somehow got through the cracks.
On 6am the next day, life almost goes back to normal. Temple ceremonies and celebrations will fill the streets and many will be practicing meditation and reflection.
What about tourists?
Tourists are no exception to the rules. All tourists are to abide by the restrictions which means no traveling, no walking outside, no cooking, and no loud music. However, if you stay at a Western/Corporate chain hotel then most things are usually operating as normal and you can have your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in the hotel restaurant as per usual. But any other shops, stores, or restaurants that are not inside a hotel will be closed.
History of Nyepi Silent Day
Nyepi is the most important and sacred Hindu holiday in Bali and is a general public holiday for the rest of Indonesia. The night before Nyepi is “Nyepi Eve” where Ogoh-Ogoh parades fill the major streets. Ogoh-Ogohs are large floats of scary monsters and creatures. Some villages start making Ogoh-Ogohs 2 months before Nyepi. These are giant demonic statues made out of bamboo and paper. They are up to 25ft tall and when Tung and I were watching the parade yesterday, I noticed something I don’t think most others do: each float had people holding extremely long wooden rackets to push the electric wires up higher so the floats could pass through! You can imagine how difficult it is to catch a wire on this 25ft long bamboo and wooden pole and to move it up or aside. I found it hilarious and was paying more attention to the wires being pushed above the floats than I was to the actual floats.
The scary creatures and monsters, or Ogoh-Ogoh, along with loud music and unbearable amounts of noise (think clashing cymbals, LOTS of clashing cymbals!!!) are used to scare away evil spirits surrounding homes and inhabiting the island. After the monsters are paraded through the streets they are burned down to symbolize the removal of any evil influences in life. The myth reads that after the festivities on day 1 and 2, the island goes silent and closes all windows and doors as a way to hide from the evil spirits that may come back after the parade. When and if they do come back, they’ll be fooled in thinking that the island is deserted, so again, they will leave.
The Hindu Balinese connect deeply with God on this day through prayer, fasting, and meditation. There is also reflection and evaluation of personal values such as love, truth, patience, kindness, and generosity. Man is to show control over one’s self, hence the mandatory restrictions:
Amati Geni: No fire or light (including electricity). No satisfying human appetite.
Amati Karya: No physical work other than that which is for spiritual cleansing and renewal.
Amati Lelunganam: No movement or traveling.
Amati Lelanguan: Fasting and no self-entertainment or pleasures.
On the day after Nyepi, social activities pick up again and friends and families ask for forgiveness from each other.
How to survive Nyepi Silent Day
We left Ubud yesterday after a week of exploring and came back to Kuta. By lunchtime, about half the store fronts were closed. After we had something quick to eat, 90% of storefronts had their gates down and the streets were closed off to vehicles. We were able to walk freely where there is usually bumper-to-bumper motors! We knew that after dinner we wouldn’t be able to have anything else to eat until 6am the day after tomorrow, so about 34 hours. We went to Circle K and Mini Mart and stocked up on drinks and snacks. I considered doing a juice fast for the 24 hours of Nyepi but I couldn’t find a place that made cold pressed juices in glass bottles in time, so a day of divulging in sinful snacks it is.
The hotel workers came into our room and boarded up our windows. No lights! No open windows!
It is now 5pm on Nyepi as I write this, so we’re about halfway through. We’re doing just fine (obviously) but tomorrow you can bet the first thing we do is have a nice bowl of cooked food with rice!
How to avoid Nyepi Silent Day
Many tourists who know about this day (most likely because they’ve been caught in it before) will always avoid being in Bali on Nyepi. However, there is also just as many in the opposite group that love experiencing Silent Day on this island. Note: This is not celebrated throughout all of Indonesia, it is strictly only on the island of Bali. Therefore, what some tourists opt to do is to take a ferry to neighbouring islands Nusa Penida, Nusa Ceningan, or Nusa Lembongan on the day before Nyepi and stay overnight and then come back to Bali the day after to avoid the feeling of being trapped and stranded.
Other things you can do are return home from Bali just before Nyepi, or start your holidays in Bali after Nyepi. Personally, if you haven’t experienced Balinese New Years before, why not stay around for it? Its another reason to celebrate life and another way to experience foreign cultures and traditions. Its really cool to see how an entire landmass can co-operate so well with the rules and restrictions in place. I’m sure the shops and businesses will be thriving after the New Year and I am excited to witness it!
If you’re in Bali and reading this, HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Next year (2018) Nyepi will be on Wednesday March 9, 2018.
Have you been in Bali on Nyepi Silent Day before?
What did you do to get through/celebrate the New Year?
Let us know!