Nyepi, some love it, some hate it and for the Balinese it is just another important holiday to celebrate that happens every year. Those that happen to be in Bali during Nyepi can often find the rules and customs surrounding it quite surprising and restrictive although it all happens for a reason.
Nyepi can be relaxing or a lot of fun depending on who you are and where you plan to spend the day. Just make sure that you are respectful and learning a bit more about the history of Nyepi should help you to do just that.
What is Nyepi and why are there signs all over the place saying Happy New Year 1934?
Nyepi occurs one day per year, usually around March and marks the start of the new year according to the Balinese calendar. This year will be the year of 1934 although Balinese still respect the fact that the global year is 2012. Despite it being a one day holiday, like most Balinese holidays, the day before and after get special recognition as well. The day of Nyepi is supposed to be completely silent in Bali and nobody is allowed outside, no flights go in or out and no lights or electricity are to be used.
The Ogoh-Ogoh parade
For months now the different Banjar throughout Bali have been creating Ogoh-Ogoh, paper mache monsters of all shapes and sizes. These statues line the roads in their various stages of completion until the day before Nyepi when the fun begins. On the night before Nyepi, the young men form the Banjar pick up their Ogoh-Ogoh on bamboo poles and march them through their town like a parade. This tradition was started to scare off the evil spirits that haunt Bali away from the island. When they come back the next day and see that the island appears to be deserted, they will leave the island alone for another year.
Modern day Nyepi beliefs
These days Nyepi is carried out more as a tradition than anything else. Young kids still believe in the tale as it is told to them by their parents much like the tale of Santa Claus in the west. Adult Balinese with mystical beliefs may still put some importance behind this aspect of Nyepi but for most the Ogoh-Ogoh parade has become a tradition and the day of Nyepi itself, a time to spend with family and do some introspection. Going outside of the home or using electricity is not allowed on Nyepi. Many Balinese fast or refrain from talking throughout the day of Nyepi as well.
Nyepi Day as a tourist
Depending on how you look at it, Nyepi can be a big inconvenience for tourists or it can be a great excuse to relax. While the Balinese generally refuse from using electricity, it is usually allowed within your hotel. Staff will be there to cook meals for guests and you are allowed outside of your rooms as long as you stay inside the hotel grounds and don’t make too much noise.
Only an emergency situation will allow you out of your hotel grounds. Hospitals will still be open and the rare ambulance will be the only vehicle allowed on the road. Try booking a flight in or out of Bali during Nyepi and you will see no fares available. The airport simply shuts down. This can be quite the inconvenience but it doesn’t always need to be.
Making the most of Nyepi
Some tourists and expats find that they want to get out of their normal spot for the day and rent a luxury hotel or villa. Being stuck in an upscale place all day can be a whole lot better than being stuck in a small, cheap room. Others decide to get out of Bali altogether and take a trip to Java, Lombok or the Gili islands which are incredibly busy during Nyepi. Others decide to go with the flow and use the day to relax and do some introspection of their own lives. If you look out or open your window you will realize that Bali has never seemed so quiet, the sky never been so clear and you have never felt more at peace while on the island.
What happens if I do go outside during Nyepi?
During the day of Nyepi the only people allowed out on the street will be the Pecalang (village police) to patrol their respective areas. They will be dressed for the task, so don’t even think about trying to fool them. If they do catch anyone out during the day (usually a few rowdy tourists in Kuta sneak out every year) you will be detained (not arrested) in a special area until the next day when you will be free to go out again. Nyepi is by far the strictest in the south of Bali. In the north and east coast of Bali, many Balinese leave their homes and have small gatherings on the street which would never be allowed down south. They refrain from using motor vehicles or talking loudly and no one bothers them. As a foreigner, even in those areas you would be wise to just be respectful and stay inside.
The day after Nyepi
The day after Nyepi is usually very slowly paced with most businesses still being closed from the days earlier. Most Balinese will not be working on the day after Nyepi and will spend the day either with their family or catching up with friends. Most tourists are usually eager to get out and experience freedom again while others say they feel so at peace during Nyepi that they end up hanging around in their same hangout spot that they were in the whole day before.
Tips for being respectful while still making Nyepi enjoyable
- Watch your electricity usage – You might not want to follow the rules of no electricity but it is polite not to bother other people with your usage. Keep the volume on your TV down and if using lights, put up heavy blankets or something similar over your windows to keep the light from escaping.
- Make sure you have enough food and water to last all day – You won’t be allowed out from 6AM until 6AM the next day under any circumstance besides an emergency. With many Balinese fasting during Nyepi, not having any food would not be considered an emergency. Stock up the day before or better yet 2 days before while all of the stores are still open.
- Spend the day with a group of good friends – Make sure you do this in a place that is accepting of it but Nyepi with good friends can be a whole lot more fun than a day stuck inside by yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to just SLOW DOWN – Seriously, you aren’t going anywhere for another 24 hours so even if you aren’t a Hindu, you shouldn’t feel rushed to do anything on Nyepi. Take things slow and enjoy the day for what it is, there is no other day like it anywhere in the world.