If you are heading to Bali in the next few days, you better read on to find out about Nyepi, the day of silence!
Thinking of going back to Bali conjured up memories of great food, peaceful monkey-filled streets and of course, rowdy middle aged Aussies having the time of their lives in Kuta’s bars and clubs.
What I didn’t consider, and what you definitely should – is that the Island of Bali celebrates Nyepi, the Balinese new year and Hindu celebration, by shutting down and having a DAY OF SILENCE.
The Balinese new year is celebrated over six days. On the third day, there is Nyepi, the day of silence. The island comes to a halt. There are no flights scheduled, no one can leave or enter Bali at this time. Everything is closed and no light is meant to be lit. Hotels have leeway on this, due to the tourists, but they cover their windows and there are a minimal number of staff working.
No one is allowed to drive or walk around, and everyone is meant to stay indoors. There are even watchmen who patrol the streets to make sure no one is outside.
Nyepi falls on the day after the spring equinox (see below for the dates of the next few Nyepi’s) and is a day of silence, self-reflection, meditation and in some cases, fasting. The Balinese who aren’t Hindu also observe these rules out of respect for their fellow Balinese people.
Nyepi is a national holiday in Indonesia, and Hindu areas perform the same rituals, but Bali is where the biggest Nyepi celebrations take place.
One fun part of the Balinese new year is the Ogoh-Ogoh parades on ‘Nyepi Eve,’ for the Bhuta Yajna ritual. Large, scary-looking statues are carried through the streets with lots of music and noise. They are brought to the beach in a torch-lit procession while people bang pots and beep horns to make as much noise as they can, to scare away evil. This is called mabuu-buu. The statues are of demons, representing negative elements. (See the end of this post for more information.)
Of course, being the smart, prepared travellers that we are, we had no idea about any of this.
So when we arrived in Kuta and entered our beautiful hotel room, we were distracted from the beauty by the fact that we had quite the big issue to contend with. The fact that we had one day before we would essentially be prisoners, with no supplies.
When we were checking in, the had staff acted like we were insane to be checking out the next day. They kept repeating, ‘You’re only staying for one night??’
I assumed they were just encouraging us to book another night, but we got to our room, we learned, thanks to the lovely brochures that the Kuta Seaview hotel had made up for their guests, that Nyepi really was as extreme as the staff were implying.
You cannot go outside.
Every single thing is shut down.
You have to be quiet. Not entirely silent, as we are tourists, but there is to be no loud music or television, no fun.
No lights should be visible from outside.
This threw quite the spanner in our works. Sean had splashed out and booked us a fancy-priced hotel to celebrate the start of our travels, and the plan was to check out in the morning and hit up one of the more familiar accommodation Poppies Lanes, where the streets were tight and the beds were sunken with pancake-like pillows. Basically, the familiar backpacker lifestyle I had been longing for!
The lovely hotel we were staying in had a programme of events set up for their guests. The brochure said that the spa would be open, there would be food served at set times, and there was even to be a movie room.
It became apparent that if we were to survive this Nyepi, we would have to blow our already tight budget to stay in another ‘nice’ place, with facilities. We needed somewhere with a restaurant, or a fridge to stock up on drinks at the very least, and preferably somewhere with air-con too.
We scrambled on our phones to search for accommodation that wasn’t booked up, and that wasn’t crazy expensive.
We booked the Green Garden, which was $50 per night, for two nights. Ouch.
‘ Nyepi Eve’
After checking out of the Kuta Seaview Boutique Resort the next day, we headed to the Green Garden Hotel.
We were greeted by friendly staff and a lovely pool. Our room had a fridge, air con and a balcony. It was the perfect place to spend our day of imprisonment.
We were pretty tired but conscious of our upcoming internment, so we headed out for supplies.
While we were out, we spotted a group gathered around a large statue of what looked like a monster. There were men playing music and everyone was really excited.
In the lead up to Nyepi, the people create large sculptures of demons, and on the night before Nyepi, there is a large procession down to the beach.
This is a really cool tradition to see, so if you are in Bali make sure you get out to see this.
After stocking up, we went back to our hotel for a while. A member of staff came to our room to put newspaper over the small windows above our balcony door, so there would be no light coming through during Nyepi.
Then, we headed back outside when it was getting dark, to witness the ogoh-ogoh procession.
The streets were packed with people and noise. We followed a torch-lit procession of big statues down to the pitch dark beach. We all shuffled together in the darkness, with trees dripping in vines above our heads and the sand beneath our feet. We walked down to the beach. Then we walked back, and back down again.
Afterwards, we went for food near out hotel. Everything was dying down, despite the fact that it was still early. After dinner, we went back to our hotel, and waited for our first Nyepi to fall.
Nyepi – The Day of Silence
So, on the day of Nyepi, we woke early and went downstairs. There were large canvas sheets covering the entrance to the hotel, so we couldn’t see outside. We were pleasantly surprised to see a full buffet. I had an omelette, toast, beans, a croissant and some delicious fruit. And a coffee.
There were a minimal number of staff members present, and it was quiet.
We went back upstairs and lounged around the room, reading and being nice and quiet. We were able to use the pool, quietly.
The staff told us that the restaurant would be closing early, and then there would be no more food. We were encouraged to order our food in advance, so that they could have everything ready.
When it got dark, it got even quieter.
After Nyepi – Ngembak Geni
The next day, everything was back to normal, and we enjoyed another breakfast, this time, looking out to the street, which was still quiet.
We went out after breakfast and everything was closed. The New Year flea market was on at the beach. It was so colourful, and there were two big clusters of balloons that added to the carnival atmosphere.
The statues were all displayed in rows. The crowd was all locals, taking photos and pointing at the different statues, and wandering through the stalls selling food. After wandering around for a while, we walked back to the street.
Our plan had been to find out how to get to Gili, but nothing was open, so we went back to the Green Garden. It was too late to get boat over, so we had to stay another night in Kuta. Budgets well and truly blown, we quickly consulted the Lonely Planet and found cheaper options!
Nyepi – The Good and the Bad
Our Nyepi experience was a pretty good one. It would have been a million times better to have known about it in advance, so we could have saved our swanky hotel stay for Nyepi, and so we could have known that we wouldn’t be leaving Bali after two nights, as planned.
The two extra nights in the Green Garden were an unexpected expense that came as a shock so early into our trip, but it was a really nice place to stay, and after our stressful last few days in Australia, having no choice but to relax and swim during Nyepi was exactly what we needed.
Seeing the ogoh-ogoh statues and processions, and the flea market made up for our surprise Nyepi!
If you are in Bali this week, book your accommodation in advance, make sure the place you are staying at has food facilities, and that you have enough to amuse yourself for the day.
You will be able to travel to and from Bali the day before Nyepi, and the day after, but if possible, you should book your boat tickets etc in advance, so you can leave the day after Nyepi if you wish.
Stock up on snacks and a few beers, and you will be fine!
Nyepi: What You Need to Know
Nyepi falls on March 28st this year.
It is a six-day celebration that ends with New Year’s Day, Ngembak Geni.
A purifying ritual in temples near the sea. People bring offerings to the sea, and items to be purified.
Bhuta Yajna Ritual / ‘Nyepi Eve’
This ritual gets rid of negative elements. In some areas, sacrifices are made, as the spilling of blood is said to be purifying, and an offering, along with other food items.
The procession of the ogoh-ogoh statues takes place, amidst lots of noise to scare away negative elements. In some cases, the statues are burnt afterwards. Make sure you go out and see the procession to the beach, it’s not to be missed.
March 28 – Nyepi, Day of Silence
No light, electricity, no working or entertainment, fasting. Silence and self-reflection.
March 29 – Ngembak Geni
Everything is back to normal. You can go outside. All shops and restaurants may not open, and those that do will open later in the day. There is a flea market at the beach, and the statues can be viewed there.
Balinese ask each other for forgiveness, and there are other rituals carried out. The statues may be burned, and the Omed-Omedan ritual takes place. Unmarried people between the ages of 17 and 30 gather, pray and then stand men opposite women. They kiss and people throw water over them. I didn’t get to see this, but it sounds like something you should check out.
Fun Fact: According to the Balinese calendar, this new year will be 1939.
Future Nyepi’s :
Nyepi 2017: 28th March
Nyepi 2018: 17th March
Nyepi 2019: 7th March
Nyepi 2020: 14th March