Primarily a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents as well as tourists are expected to adhere to the cultural restrictions.   The lights are out and no one is on the streets so you should think of it as "Bali's Earth Day".  You can do as you want inside your accommodation (within reason - lights low and no noise) and there will be no one to check you in if you are arriving at accommodation on this date.  No one is allowed on the beaches or streets and the Denpasar Airport and seaports are closed. Exemption is granted for emergencies only. 

If you happen to fly into Bali in the wee hours before Nyepi, you will be stuck at the airport for the full 24 hours, as the roads will already be closed.

Nyepi - Balinese New Year - The Wise Traveller

The Balinese Calender and Nyepi

Nyepi is based on the Balinese Calendar and represents the New Year "Caka", which is celebrated over the course of 6 days.  The timing is always marked by the new "dark" moon, which brings in the spring equinox.  The famous ogoh-ogoh parades (huge grotesque papier mache effigies with bulging eyes or 6-breasted witches with devil babies) marching the streets to the beat of drums and gamelan bands happen after sunset on day 2 and the "day of silence" falls on day 3.  It is the time when the gods are honoured and maligned spirits are appeased restoring cosmic and spiritual harmony. 

Nyepi is based on the myth that after the first 2 raucous days of celebrations the island has to go into hiding to protect itself from the evil spirits. The day of silence is to fool the mythical creatures into believing that Bali is a deserted island.  It is during this period of silence, prayer, fasting and meditation that the Hindu Balinese connect more deeply with the God, Hyang Widi Wasa.  Personal values of truth, patience, kindness, love and generosity are re-evaluated. 

The day after Nyepi, Ngembak Geni, is when families and friends gather together to ask forgiveness from one another and to perform religious rituals.

Nyepi - Balinese New Year - The Wise Traveller

Nyepi celebrations are not just held on the island of Bali, but also on Lombok by its Hindu residents, despite the fact that it is business as usual for everyone else.  In East and Central Java, Hindus have their own versions of the celebration, but they do include an ogah-ogoh parade.

Nyepi is celebrated from 6am on the 17th March to 6am on the 18th March and the main restrictions include:

  • No fire or light, including no electricity
  • No working
  • No travelling
  • No revelry or entertainment
  • For some, it also means no talking or eating

Nyepi - Balinese New Year - The Wise TravellerBali's bustling streets are empty, the only people outdoors are the Pecalang - security men - patrolling the streets to ensure that the prohibitions are being met, so if you attempt to walk out your front door you will be politely told to go back inside or face paying a fine.  This is for your own good, as you are at risk of being diabolically possessed, apart from incurring plenty of bad luck for the coming year.

Derived from the word "sepi" in Indonesian-Balinese, Nyepi means "quiet".  It is the time to contemplate your toes, listen to the grass grow and maybe think of the year you have just experienced or do a bit of self-evaluation.

For the tourist it can be heaven or hell on the island of Bali at this time of the year.  If you are stuck in a box of a hotel room with no food and no view, you may be ready to slit your wrists by lunchtime.  The "wise traveller" would have a load of nibbles and maybe a stash of alcohol to get them through it, plus a good book, as there is no dashing out to the shops to replenish your goodies.

It is the time to let the demons soar over this beautiful island believing that there is no one home.

Nyepi and how to manage it

  • Heaven or Hell, its up to you.
  • A time to respect the Hindu beliefs.
  • This is when Bali shuts down for 24 hours to trick the demons into believing it is an empty island.
  • Do not arrive at the airport just prior to the shut down, as you will be stuck at the airport.
  • Ensure that you are staying somewhere comfy - as you can't go out the doors.
  • Stock up on food and beverages, plus have a good book to read.
  • Be with a friend, if you don't like your own company.
  • Do not go outside as you will be politely told to go back to your accommodation or get fined, depending on the mood of the Pecalang (security guards) also you are tempting diabolical forces and bad luck.
  • You have 24 hours to reflect, contemplate your navel or listen to the deathly silence.

Thing To Know About Bali & Nyepi

Nyepi - Balinese New Year - The Wise Traveller

All images: Laura Burbaite; flickr

Gail Palethorpe, a self proclaimed Australian gypsy, is a freelance writer, photographer and eternal traveller. Check out her website Gail Palethorpe Photography and her Shutterstock profile.