The following "facts" are mostly picked up from a free tourist pamphlet we picked up at a travel agency. Reader discretion is advised…
Before coming here we had read somewhere that Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country. Hence our surprise was great as we stumbled into Bali's Kuta and found all of the stores to have little offerings on the street in front of them. There seemed to be a lot of shrines too, and a distinct lack of minarets calling out the prayer times. They are not Muslims over there. They're Hindus.
After arriving in Indonesia on the 14th of March we started a six day surfing course on the 15th (read about it in the previous entry). In the beginning of that we heard something about an oncoming festivity, a Balinese Hindu holiday, on the 21st. All of Bali, with its partying, beach life, surfing and magic mushrooming would be at a total halt for 24 hours. The Lock in Day. The Silent Day. The Nyepi Day. The annual event is actually a celebration of New Year according to Balinese calendar, but unlike the western and even more so the Chinese New Year, this one is not celebrated with large and noisy festivities. Instead, they live the day following four main restrictions, the Catur Brata Penyepian. "Amati geni", no lighting fires; "amati karya", no working; "amati lelanguan", no entertainment; and "amati lelungan", no travelling. Even tourists on the island are expected to keep it down during this time, there may be no moving outside of the hotel premises, there should be as little light in the room as possible and one should avoid entertainment and noise. The Balinese are also supposed to fast for the duration of the day. According to beliefs the island should stay dark and quiet to fool demons into thinking it uninhabited. As a result the beginning year should be free from their dark powers. It is also a day to sit down and reflect on the happenings of the year that has passed.
However, as with many festivities requiring restrictions on everyday life, there is also the lighter side, or at least the noisier one. On the eve of Nyepi Day the people of each village gather to the main crossroads, where demons meet, to hold the Ogoh-ogoh festival. There they wave and carry around large statues of demons (though I'm pretty sure one of them was the elephant headed god Ganesh) supported on bamboo structures to make evil spirits leave the place before Nyepi Day. At the end the statues are burned to exorcise evil once and for all.
Nyepi Day falls on the day following the dark moon of the spring equinox (whatever that means). In 2015 the date was March 21st. From 6.00 a.m. that day to 6.00 a.m. on the following no stores would be open, no traffic was allowed (even on foot), restaurants would stay closed, even the international airport would be at a halt. Only emergency vehicles would run normally, and those probably in just dire situations. So what is there for a regular tourist to do? Before the festivities we were on the surfing course, so we couldn't ask our hotel managers if they would have power or if their restaurant would remain open. We could have made reservations for a cheap guesthouse and just bought enough snacks and water to make it through the day, but that seemed a little difficult and unsure way of doing things. So instead we chose to do what the guys at Mojosurf were suggesting: checking in at the Frii Hotel near Echo beach and enjoying all of their included goodies. It was the pricier thing to do, and maybe not the most respectful considering the idea of the festival, but it was so easy and comfortable! We haven't had that much of those on this trip. And besides, as we were following the parade of demonic statues we heard some local people talking about spending Nyepi Day doing mushrooms…
So we did go and see the statues and followed them around for almost two hours. We didn't see them burning them though, and later as we were driving back to the airport on the 22nd we saw quite a few statues still lurking around. Some big baby demons had been put on a field to serve as scarecrows… Anyway, that was as far as we celebrated or appreciated the festival. We had all of our meals paid for. Buffet meals. I stuffed myself on breakfast so badly that I could hardly eat any of the lunch, which was served already from 12.00 to 14.00. Before the breakfast we did yoga between the double swimming pools, which were also in use during the day. The management had made some preparations for the festival, mainly by covering the windows of the rooms with torn up garbage bags to make them impervious to light shining from the inside. Also, when the sun set, there were no lights in the common areas of the complex. That meant that dinner was also served already at 17.00. When not eating we spent our time watching movies from the many available channels, like HBO, and the hotel's own channel, which was showing movies according to a schedule handed out to the rooms. Sadly the schedule didn't hold true with the times nor with the movies shown, we waited most of the day to see Fifty Shades of Grey, but it never showed. According to Wikipedia the movie should be banned in Indonesia anyway… And yes, we had wifi too.
So what to do if you find yourself in Bali on Nyepi Day? Probably not what we did, in hindsight it wasn't really that respectful for the people there, even though we didn't really disturb anyone. Secondly, we paid a total of 1'900'000 IDR for the two nights and the meals, so it certainly wasn't the budget thing to do. Lastly, we might have gotten a little more out of the festival had we done it properly. In our defense, we didn't really know what the day was about before we found the pamphlet later in Flores island. That was also where we talked to a German traveler who had spent Nyepi Day with a local family. Rather than Transformers; the Age of Extinction etc. the day had included sacrificing ducks etc. I really don't know where people find these locals to hang out with. Maybe it's a perk of traveling solo?
But whatever you decide to do on Nyepi Day in Bali, the most important thing is that you come prepared. We had no idea that it was coming when we got there. Had we arrived on the 20th and woken up to find everything closed, we would have been in real trouble. In any case prepare for the day with a stash of water and snacks and don't go outside. I hear they arrest you for that…