Bali’s Hindu New Year celebration is vastly different from most others around the world. This celebration is called Nyepi and involves an island-wide day of silence to trick evil spirits into believing Bali is deserted and to keep them away in the new year. Everyone on the island must stay inside their residence, no electricity is used by the Balinese, and the airport is completely shut down each year on this day. While being confined to your hotel or guesthouse room may not sound like the most awe-inspiring adventure, visiting Bali during Nyepi is an incredibly special time to be on the island and to practice inner reflection as many Balinese do. Nyepi may be just the experience travellers need in a year where digital detoxing is an ever-growing travel trend. So pack your backpack, here’s what goes on during the celebration, why you should visit during this time, and how to be a responsible traveller while you’re there.
What is Nyepi?
Nyepi, the day of silence, marks the dawn of a new year in the Balinese caka calendar. This date changes each year, but in 2018 it falls from March 17 at 6am until March 18 at 6am. Nyepi follows colourful and raucous celebrations in the days leading up to it. Large papier-mache representations of evil spirits called ogoh-ogoh are crafted, paraded through the streets and later symbolically burned. Gamelan music (here’s a great video sample of this amazing ensemble of instruments) is heard throughout the streets. As 6am on the day of Nyepi arrives however, a blanket of silence falls over the island. For Balinese Hindus, a 24 hour ritual takes place involving four prohibitions: no fire (or lights), no travel, no activity (or working) and no entertainment. Nyepi is a day of inner reflection, to think about the past year, to meditate and for some, to fast. The belief is that any evil spirits will pass over Bali believing it to be deserted.
Why visit Bali during this time?
Plenty of blog posts suggest visiting surrounding Indonesian islands during Nyepi to avoid being stuck in your hotel room for the day. Yet being in Bali during Nyepi offers a completely unique experience that has been one of our favourite ones while travelling. The days leading up to Nyepi are vibrant and offer an opportunity to absorb Bali’s incredibly unique culture. The day of Nyepi itself offers a unique opportunity for us as travellers to do some inner contemplation of our own. As the world becomes ever more connected through technology, one of the emerging travel trends is that of digital detoxing. Tour operators are offering gadget free trips, “forest bathing” is becoming increasingly popular, and quotes encouraging us to “wander where the wifi is weak” are blowing up on Instagram. While discussions surrounding blocking wifi across the island during Nyepi may not come to fruition this year, the day offers a challenge to travellers to take a self-imposed digital and distraction detox and think about our own years, do some inner reflection, and maybe catch up on some journaling.
How do I travel responsibly during Nyepi?
Remember to respect the sanctity of this celebration for Balinese Hindus by not attempting to leave your hotel. If you do, you will be ushered back by community security guards who patrol the streets. Although it may feel stifling for you, it’s an important ritual for many. Even if you decide not to challenge yourself to observe complete silence, remember to speak quietly. And finally, try to be patient with slower travel in the days following Nyepi. It can be chaotic as normal island life resumes, but that’s part of the fun!