Journeys to inner space
It was Nyepi Day in Bali this past week (March 9) and on this annual day of silence, which lasts 24 hours from 6am and marks the Saka new year, no fires must be lit nor travel undertaken, while lights and noise levels are kept very low. Denpasar airport is closed and so are businesses of all kinds. Most resorts keep one dining outlet open and operate with a skeleton staff. It is all about self-reflection and spiritual cleansing, and provides the ideal opportunity for tourists, too, to take time out and stop buzzing about like agitated bees.
Now that most of us can’t function without checking our small-screen devices every few minutes, I reckon we need to introduce a slow day into every holiday itinerary. In the old days, even a whistle-stop tour program would have a “Day at Rest”, but rarely would anyone take that as an invitation to sleep. Shop up a storm more likely, or go golfing or somesuch. But such in-between breaks are actually splendid opportunities to sit and watch the world go by, especially at an outdoor cafe, and if you can’t find a strategically placed one of those in any city worth its organic coffee beans, then you are just not trying.
Lots of us pay good money to go to spas and wellness sanctuaries and be forced to sit still, meditate or do improving things like yoga, and adjust our diets and rebalance our whatnots. I am as guilty as the next traveller of forking out for such pricey indulgences, but what bliss it would be to have a make-believe Nyepi Day once a week, every week, one on which you would just talk (or not) quietly to your family or companions or be happily alone and just stay very still.
The lunar date of Nyepi Day changes each year, but it’s March 28 in 2017, a tad later than usual. I was in Bali on my birthday one Nyepi Day and the villa staff found a way to deliver a cake in the dark, complete with an embarrassing number of candles that couldn’t be lit as matches were on the taboo list. I was secretly thrilled that we were unable to see, let alone count, the telltale candles, and the staff then cleared off and we cut it into big chunks to eat by moonlight in the pool.
That was also the year the adjacent spa, much recommended by villa staff, had a birthday promotion that gave you a discount in rupiah of the number of years you were celebrating. At my great age, that represented the sort of saving that could have sent them broke. “They will have to pay money to Madam for her massage,” observed butler Wayan, with a sunbeam smile.
Some tourists deliberately stay away from Bali on Nyepi Day but I recommend it as a cleansing ritual. Lock the mobile phone and iPad or laptop in the guestroom safe and pick up a book. Sit by a pool. Jot in a journal. Next day it’ll all be on again, busier than ever, although I like the idea of continuing the non-techno theme and leaving the telly and the iPhone switched off and just sauntering to my favourite cafe in Seminyak. That’s the one where the blackboard reads: “No Wi-Fi here. Write a letter to your mother.”