Photo: Ricefields in Umalas, South Bali.

Hands up if you stuffed up your new year’s resolutions? Did you try again at lunar new year and still kind of not stay true? Never fear! This Saturday, the day following the dark moon of the spring equinox, is the first day of the Balinese New Year — so you can give it another whirl.

Ogoh ogoh in Sanur, Bali

Ogoh ogoh in Sanur, Bali

Bali’s Nyepi period really begins with Melasti, which occurred on Wednesday of this week, when Balinese Hindus flocked from their temples to the beaches for a purification ritual. Then on Friday evening, competitive parades of ogoh-ogoh, frightening looking papier-mache effigies that represent evil spirits, are set to take place. Lots of noise made by the crowds turning out to see the often spectacularly ugly monsters is supposed to help rid the island of the spirits.

Then Nyepi day itself — Saturday — is supposed to be spent in complete silence and contemplation. All traffic (bar emergency vehicles) is banned from the streets from sunrise on Saturday March 5 (this year) through to Sunday sunrise; TV and radio stations have been asked to cease broadcasts. During this period one is not supposed to turn on any lights, do any work, leave the home or engage in anything pleasurable (presumably that means no post-Nyepi baby boom 9 months down the track).

Traditional Balinese security guards, or pecalang, patrol the streets to make sure everyone behaves, and at night you might have them tapping on your door asking you to turn off any lights they can see from the street. A few years ago I spent Nyepi at a guesthouse in Balian beach with a two-month-old baby and was asked to cover up the clock lights on my DVD player by the patrol. It is amazing how much light a powerpoint or a fridge button can actually cast when everything else is turned off. Last year I remember carefully turning off or covering absolutely everything, only to get into bed and wonder where a very bright flourescent light was coming from. It was our neighbour’s garden light — it was on, and they had gone away. Clearly the pecalang in our area mustn’t be that strict (or it was far away enough from the street), for nothing happened.

Tourists are definitely not permitted to leave their hotels — that includes for swimming on beaches — but some leniency is granted and depending on their location, guests may swim in pools and take part in some outdoor activities. But at night, curtains are drawn and lights are not at full glare.

Travellers beware: if you arrive late at the airport on Thursday night, you may have trouble getting transport to get you to your hotel, so do plan in advance with a transfer if possible. Planes are stopped from landing on the island for the full Nyepi day; I do remember reading somewhere once that Ngurah Rai airport is the only international airport in the world shut for a religious holiday. Airport service staff must remain within the airport compound for the period.

The day after Nyepi? That’s when the Balinese tend to visit their friends and relatives. And non-Balinese vow that we’ll keep this particular new year’s resolutions a little longer. (If you must know, Islamic New Year is in November this year…)

Last updated on 3rd March, 2011.

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