When an Island Goes Dark
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Nyepi Day in Bali is a Day of Silence.
Intrigued by the way the Balinese celebrate their new year with a day devoted to silent reflection, I booked my flight to Denpasar and made the trek to the town of Ubud, arriving two days before Nyepi – and two days before the airport would close completely for 24 hours.
Visit here for a nuts and bolts description of what to expect on Nyepi Day. For my personal story of healing on Nyepi Day, read on.
And it isn’t just the airport that shuts down. Radio and Internet providers shut down services, lights remain off across the island, ATMs are turned off, nobody drives, nobody works, in fact, nobody leaves their village compound. Tourists are asked to stay within the grounds of their hotels and they are escorted home by community police if they venture onto the streets or the beaches.
It is truly a day of silence.
Before the quiet, though, as is true for nearly all New Year celebrations that I’ve witnessed, there is, naturally, a huge party. And, as my yoga instructor told our class on Nyepi Eve, Bali is the only place in the world where you can party with spirits.
Did you say party with spirits?
For weeks leading up to the big day, villagers work together to create ogoh-ogoh, which are large monsters made out of paper, bamboo, and wood. The towering creatures are made to be light for carrying in the traditional Ngurupuk Parade – and made to be scary for attracting evil spirits.
The ogoh-ogoh are fixed to large bamboo holsters on Nyepi Eve and, as the sun sets, it is time to make noise. I mean a lot of noise. Evil spirits are chased from homes with the banging of pots and pans. Bamboo cannons are deployed, and the sound of drums reverberates across the island.
With the evil spirits chased out, and presumably housed within the ogoh-ogoh, villagers now carry their monsters throughout their towns.
In Ubud, there are 13 distinct villages, and each held a procession, creating a loud, chaotic, and absolutely delightful feast for the eyes. Embracing the cacophony and the chaos was part of the fun.
After the processions, the weeks of hard work go up in a fiery exorcism of evil spirits as the ogoh-ogoh are burned, leaving the island cleansed of evil for the Day of Silence and the beginning of the new year.
The merriment throughout Ubud feels much like a New Year’s Eve celebration anywhere, even on Monkey Forest Road where Westerners tend to stay. With the mandated-by-law nothingness of the next day looming, the bars are jamming, and arak – a Balinese moonshine – is thrown back at little pockets of parties found on stoops and street corners throughout the city.
And then there is silence
Starting at 6 in the morning, all is quiet for a complete 24 hours. It is a time for silent reflection and for contemplating the year to come.
Bali is the only place in the world that celebrates Nyepi – a Hindu holiday – this way. While the day is a public holiday for all of Indonesia, Bali is the only place in the country where Hindus are the majority and, therefore, where the Day of Silence is strictly enforced.
I fully embraced a day of enforced resting. I felt no guilt about staying in bed for the entire day, emerging only for food. I did feel a little guilty about the staff at my compound that had to work to prepare that food.
And, perhaps most refreshing for me, was the idea of allowing the earth to re-set for a day. With no lights, traffic, travel, or activity, the planet enjoyed a much-deserved day of rest in this little corner of the world.
I made a Balinese New Year’s resolution to stop using plastic water bottles for good. When I explained this to my hotel the day after Nyepi, they immediately brought me a reusable water-cooler jug.
Nyepi Day was the start of my month-long stay in Ubud where I came to heal while on a yearlong solo trip around the world after the death of my fiancé. I highly recommend a trip to Ubud for healing purposes and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be there for Nyepi Day when an island goes dark and the Earth resets.
About the Author
Hi! I’m Jen!
I’m a freelance writer and travel blogger who quit my nine-to-five after my fiancé, Jeff, died of cancer at the age of 40. When he died, I realized that life is just too short to delay our dreams. Since my dream was to travel and write, I now travel and write full-time. Today I wear hiking boots instead of heels and collect experiences instead of things.
Thanks for this blog. I loved all of the details and the pictures and video. It was hard to imagine what you were experiencing from our brief conversations but this is so descriptive and interesting and I think that the whole idea of a day of silence is wonderful for everyone! Glad you have given up plastic water bottles. Franny and Franny influenced us this summer and we’ve been VERY strict! Keep these beautifully crafted accounts of your travels coming. We love them all!!