During Nyepi, the Hindu holiday honoring the new year, stillness and quiet sweep the island. Here’s what it’s like—and what to know if it’s happening when you’re visiting.
For 24 hours each year, the Island of the Gods—as Bali is known—falls silent. Dead silent. The airport closes, halting the constant shuttling of tourists to one of Southeast Asia’s most popular vacation destinations. Cars remain parked; motorbikes sit unused. Walking the streets, hitting the beach, working, lighting fires (even for cooking), and electricity are forbidden, rules that are enforced by local security guards called pecalang. The occasion is called Nyepi. It’s a tradition unique to Balinese Hindus, and it’s absolutely spectacular. This year, the holiday begins at 6 a.m. on March 17 and ends at 6 a.m. on March 18—sunrise to sunrise. The island goes dark and silent so that, on the New Year’s night when demons and gods fly overhead, they pass right by thinking it’s uninhabited—and will thus cause no harm.
The next day? Silence and stillness.
Some might balk at the idea of spending 24 hours of their vacation subject to restricted activity, but the meditative silence of Nyepi, the most sacred day of the year in Bali, is powerful and worth experiencing.
Nyepi 2017 felt like a normal day, sans a morning yoga class. But during a day in Padang Padang spent with a friend, quietly reading on our balcony, gazing over the jungle at the Indian Ocean in the distance, eating cold leftover pizza (we’d planned ahead the night before), and resisting the urge to use our iPhones, I kept thinking that there should be more simple, quiet times like this in our existence.
And then the sun set—aglow in pink, per usual—the stars came out, and it went from a lovely experience to a purely mystical, maybe even religious one. Even on safari in Africa I haven’t seen as many thick clumps of stars and swirling galaxies illuminating an inky black sky. With not a light illuminated for miles—the pecalang made sure of that, even shining a flashlight in our window accusingly when I accidentally opened my phone—it felt like just us and those celestial beings. We sat silent and still, and the demons passed right by us in the darkness.
>>Next: Superstitions From Around the World