Nyepi is a day to stay indoors, to spend time in meditation and introspection, a prelude to preparing for the new year. The Balinese take their traditions very seriously and the days leading upto the day of silence have their own rituals. Giant, colorful and scary monsters, called ogog-ogoh made of bamboo, wood and Styrofoam were setup on every major street. Monkey Forest Road in Ubud wore a festive look. We sat down at the open café, Cempaka Warung and watched couples on scooters dressed in traditional attire, carrying offerings of fruits and flowers to the local temples. Temples are everywhere, from family temples to village temples to the grand ones built by kings. A heavy downpour that instantly bought down the temperature only to leave a sizzling humidity in its wake did not dampen the enthusiasm of the youngsters who gathered around the ogoh-ogoh ahead of the evening’s festivities.
We had a tough time finding a willing cab driver to take us to Nusa Dua where we planned to spend the rest of our time. The markets were quiet as people prepared for the impending shutdown. The shops that were still open were eager to make a quick sale. Bargaining is standard practice in Bali and if you are not prepared for it, be willing to be ripped off! Natural fabrics with batik prints, summery dresses suitable for the island weather, flip flops, bamboo and soft wood handicrafts, and the usual souvenirs like key chains and magnets all require intense bargaining encounters before you can own them.
The road to Nusa Dua was a breeze, when we finally got on our way. There was no traffic on the streets but congregations of women and children seated on the road at each intersection. Colorful clothes, fresh bright flower offerings and prayers were in progress. Men stood by, guiding traffic. As dusks settled, each community took their ogoh-ogohs around the streets in an exorcism ritual to rid them of evil spirits. Most ogoh-ogohs are burnt at the end of the ceremony.
The day of silence is enforced from 6 a.m. for 24 hours. The only airport in the world that shuts down for one day every year, is Bali’s Denpasar airport. Locals and visitors alike have to follow the rules for the day. No stepping out of the hotel, the hotel staff told us politely but firmly when we checked in. Just like the soil that needs to lie fallow, like the gestation of a seed, one day is given to silent meditation. We walked to the hotel’s private beach at sunrise but had to stay off the sand as a mark of respect to nature. The clear water into which we had stepped into the previous evening had receded almost a mile away. The clouds dreamily parted and the sun rose in its omnipresent glory. I was inspired to do a few suryanamaskars to salute the sun. On either side, two land masses were visible in the distance.
It was indeed a quiet day. No news channels on TV, no shops were open, no vehicles on the streets. No talking, no transaction, no traffic. The hotel of course buzzed with activity on the inside, children crowded in the shallow pool, youngsters flocked around the pool table and gym, perhaps the spa was busy as well. We ate a late lunch in the beachside restaurant. And lazed on the thoughtfully provided private beds facing the ocean. For awhile I read a book. The sun played hide and seek in the silvery clouds. Squirrels boldly scampered down from trees to nibble at fruit offered by indulgent tourists. A bird perched on the armrest. We feasted on a delicious banana split. HH dozed off. I wandered around taking pictures.
The weather was prefect for sightseeing that day. But we obeyed the rules. On any other day we would have visited a crowded tourist spot, shopped, polluted the environment with our presence, consumption and conversation. Following the local custom meant an entire day of lethargy, relaxation, idleness. Seemed wrong to be told that we couldn’t do anything else. We didn’t just slow down or do something different from our regular routine as on any vacation, we stopped. Completely. In retrospect, it was the best thing to do when on a holiday.
Sit back, observe, smile.
I went back and reclined besides HH. A pregnant woman waddled by. A child picked up fallen leaves with great concentration. I held HH’s hand and dozed on his shoulder.