Back when we were planning our dive trip to Bali, Indonesia, we never anticipated that Nyepi would be right in the middle of it. Having been to Bali several times in my life by now, it was my first time ever hearing about Nyepi.
Nyepi is the Balinese Day of Silence. It also marks the New Year for most of Bali’s Hindu population. Here’s what to expect and how to make the most out of this unique day.
Three days before Nyepi, Balinese Hindus will head out to coastlines to carry out a purification ritual, known as Melasti. Decked out in white kebayas and sarongs, the Balinese would make Melasti pilgrimages with pretty parasols, colourful flags and some toting statues on their shoulders.
The Night Before Nyepi
Before the quiet, comes the party! The Ogoh-ogoh Parade is a cultural experience not to be missed. On the eve of Nyepi, Balinese families would parade through the streets with giant monster sculptures, called Ogoh-Ogoh.
The Ogoh-Ogoh Parade starts from 7pm and goes on till late. You can stand by the roadside with the locals for the parade, OR you can be like us and ask some friendly locals if you can sit on their walls. Balinese are super friendly and they might even help you up the walls of their homes.
The Ogoh-Ogoh Parade
The Ogoh-ogohs were traditionally made out of papier-mache, though these days they are more commonly made with Styrofoam. Some of these massive sculptures looked very artfully-designed and were as realistic as monsters can look. Apparently there was also a competition to see which family has the best Ogoh-Ogoh.
The ogoh-ogohs symbolize evil spirits. Loud music would accompany this parade. At our particular one, they were playing loud heavy metal music infused with Balinese gamelan – it was raucously fun.
The Ogoh-Ogoh were typically carried by a group of men. While carrying the monster, they would frequently charge forward and turn the sculpture anti-clockwise three times. I found out that this was to confuse the evil spirits so they go away. Occasionally, some families would light fires. One even did a fire-breathing schtick.
Some ogoh-ogohs were handled by cute little children. They end up being my faves. From afar, I thought “Oh dear, look at that amateurish… mummy thing? Go home boo!” And then as they came closer, turns out they were these little kids huffing and puffing their way to catch up with the big monsters. Too cute.
A mass of scooters would mark the end of the ogoh-ogoh parade. Or at least, of the first wave of monster procession. The parade goes on for a while, as the ogoh-ogoh would make a couple of rounds down the streets.
Nyepi – A Day of Contemplation
Observed from 6am to 6am the next morning, Nyepi is one of the more important days for the Balinese people. This day is reserved for contemplation and self-reflection. To facilitate this, Bali imposed rules to restrict the use of certain things.
The main restrictions, in accordance to the Balinese ritual, Catur Brata Penyepian, would be: No Fire, No Travel, No Activity, No Entertainment.
Everything Shuts Down; Everyone Stays In
On this day, everyone stays in, and everything shuts down. And I mean everything – Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport totally closes shop for a day; no flights in or out. No vehicles are allowed on the road except for emergencies.
You have to stay indoors and not allowed out at all. The only people allowed out were special security whose job is to catch those violating the rules. So you will get fined if you’re caught – even though you may be a clueless tourist.
You would also need to switch off all lights. We were in a villa-style hotel, and we couldn’t even switch on our bathroom lights without getting a finger-wag from our villa caretaker. You can, however use a flashlight or the phone light function to navigate your way in the hotel. You’ll definitely need to – it gets pitch dark.
This year, the mayor decided to shut off WIFI access too. That was a major surprise, since nobody expected them to really cut off the internet. This one took the most getting used to.
Stock up on Food and Snacks!
Perhaps the most important point in this article. The shops and restaurants will close, which meant your meals are left to your own devices. If you’re in a hotel, this usually would be taken care of. But still, it’s comforting to know you have snacks on hand.
If you’re in a villa and you think you can whip up a feast… unfortunately not. You’re only allowed light cooking – no heavy spices and aromas. Most Balinese families would typically cook a couple of days before to prepare ahead for Nyepi.
Our meal of choice? Instant noodles! The convenience stores stock up a good range of instant noodles: imagine one whole wall of individual instant noodle packs. If you fancy a healthier option, pop by a bigger convenience store which would have fresh produce like eggs and vegetables.
A quick tip: if you do plan to cook, do it while the sun is still out. We got carried away in the pool in the daytime (very un-Nyepi-like of us) that we didn’t realize the sun had set. We needed three people to cook a pasta dish – one to hold the flashlight, one to do actual cooking, one to stand from afar and provide moral support aka me.
On that note, actually do all the important things like showering, refilling water bottles, brushing teeth, doing 10-step Korean skincare routine, right before the sun goes down.
Since the entire island will not have lights on, there will be zero pollution between you and the millions of gorgeous stars. We lied outside by the pool and stared out into the sky full of stars for hours. It was truly epic.
My Indoors Nyepi Experience
When I first heard about Nyepi, I’m ashamed to admit I was excited to be able to squeeze in some work time… in the middle of my holiday. BUT thanks to the no-wifi situation, I couldn’t be that productive anyway.
We ended up making friends with the other people staying in the villa hotel. The hotel had a cute pool, which we fully utilised. We brought some board games, which helped take up a lot of time.
Most surprisingly, I slept early that day. Since everything got dark so soon, and with no lights to mess with your body clock, you get sleepy so easily. I woke up next morning bright and early, all well-rested. I’m a bit obsessed with sleep quality and I value my nightly rest. I realized that although I try to keep things dark in my bedroom at home, it definitely could be darker. Could be quieter.