Yes, today is New Year’s Day here in Bali, the start of 1936 to be precise. Strangely, this is our fourth New Year celebration (Hmong, Western, Chinese, and now Balinese) since November.The Balinese New Year celebration – called Nyepi – is quite unlike anything we’ve experienced anywhere. The day itself is a day of “complete and utter inactivity and silence,” as the description in our hotel puts it. We are, in fact, banned from leaving the hotel. Seriously. Again, back to the instructions from the hotel: “No one (including foreigners and visitors to Bali) is allowed to go outside on Nyepi Day.” Apparently this has something to do with gods floating around today (or maybe evil spirits, I’m not entirely clear on my Nyepi cosmology) and if they see anyone not honoring the requirements of inactivity the whole village is in for a rotten year. There is even a traditional security force that enforces the rule, leaving exception only for emergency vehicles carrying people with genuinely life threatening conditions.
Fortunately, though, “outside” seems to be defined as “outside the hotel compound,” since we are allowed to roam the grounds, go to the swimming pool, and so on. Still, it’s all pretty strange. The restaurant, for instance, closes at 6:00 PM; after that – and we don’t eat dinner before 6:00 PM – we can only get room service.
Perhaps even more strange than the day of “complete and utter inactivity and silence” is the ogoh-ogoh parade the night before. Ogoh-ogoh are huge paper maché monster dolls, Hindu agents that are meant to purify nature from spiritual pollutants emitted by humans. As you can guess, they have quite a big job. And as you can see here, they are pretty scary.