I have the pool to myself, apart from the flower petals that have fallen from a tree in the garden, which look like red lipped mouths, smiling at me as they bob on the water. I am in Bali, Indonesia and the resort I am staying in is rather lovely.
The Samata, in Sanur, has a limited number of suites so it’s very peaceful, and one has the feeling of being the only person here. Two of the pools overlook rice fields, where white egrets are stalking the guy rotavating the fields for planting, eating what ever is disturbed by his actions. It is blissful.
I have arrived in the middle of Balinese New Year celebrations, making this my third new year celebration of 2017. There are six days of the festival, celebrated by Hindus, for the new year and I’ve arrived on the second day, or Nyepi eve, (27 March). At sunset, the ritual of Pengrupukan, or the Ogoh-ogoh parades happen, and I went to see the one in Sanur. Balinese parade the streets with the Ogoh-ogohs, playing a deafening mixture of the kulkul (traditional bamboo bell), claxons, gamelan and drummers music. The idea is to scare away evil spirits by making as much noise as is humanly possible
Ogoh-ogohs are huge statues made of bamboo and paper, symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits, and look rather scary. Devout Hindu Balinese villagers start making Ogoh-ogohs about 2 months before Nyepi, they are quite stunning and very detailed. The statues sit on bamboo frames and are carried by men and boys. There are also people in the parade in a variety of costumes.
It seems as if the whole town is out for the parade, the roads are stuffed with people, and there’s a happy, party atmosphere. There are balloon sellers, food stalls, fireworks, motorbikes weaving through the crowds, loud, noisy, excited chatter, and everyone is posing for selfies. I originally went to watch the parade at the starting point, however, it was like I was standing in a sauna, packed with fully clothed people, so I moved and found myself in the area where the Ogoh-ogohs were waiting to join the parade, and where people were happy to post for photos. As soon as the parade finished everyone headed for home, a chaotic mass of motorbikes and cars all leaving at the same time, to continue the celebrations before ‘the day of silence’.
The third day of the festival, is called Nyepi, and is the most important and sacred Hindu holiday on Bali, and is a general public holiday in the rest of Indonesia. Nyepi means ‘to keep silent’ and the entire island is ‘closed’. The airport is shut, there are no flights, (Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai International is the only airport in the world to voluntarily close for an entire 24 hours), all shops and restaurants are closed, the beach is prohibited, no traffic is allowed on the roads, essentially people are not allowed out of their homes. To ensure that all these rules are obeyed, local watchmen known as Pecalang (Nyepi Police) are deployed all over the Island.
During Nyepi, from 6am to 6am, noise inside the home must be kept to a minimum with no television or entertainment, no work, no fire or light, including electricity. The exception to this is hotels, however guests are not allowed out of the hotel grounds during Nyepi. The Samata restaurant closed at 7pm instead of 10.30, all the lights in the hotel grounds were turned off and although we did have electricity and television we were asked to be respectful and keep it quiet.
There is a belief that, after the boisterous and active celebrations of days one and two, the Island goes into hiding to protect itself from the evil spirits, fooling them to believe that Bali, enveloped in an atmosphere of complete darkness and tranquillity, is a deserted Island. This myth dates back to the mythical times of evil spirits, Gods, superheroes and witches. It was indeed very quiet, and with no light pollution and no clouds, it looked like glitter had been thrown into the sky, as it sparkled with millions of stars.