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The explosions are floor-shaking. Rib-rattling. Bamboo “canons” (supersize firecrackers filled with calcium carbide) are the joy of teenagers in the run up to Nyepi — Balinese New Year. They might shake the leaves from the trees but they’re a mere rumble in the jungle compared with what’s to come. Live preparations for Bali’s biggest holiday festivities begin days ahead with rehearsals of clamorous percussive gamelan music drumming villages to sleep; temple tannoys singing out in cleansing ceremonies long before the cockerel the following morning.

It’s the cacophonous storm before the calm. Nyepi, New Year’s Day itself, is an annual day of silence that sees everything shut — airports, seaports, radio and TV stations, and many power grids. Although, as Nyepi follows the lunar-based Balinese saka calendar (which changes each year), the final date is ultimately decided upon by a power play of priests, and there are always tales of flight bookings having to be cancelled where travel agents on distant shores didn’t get the memo.

Nyepi (this year on March 7), is a time to cleanse the spirit, meditate, and stargaze (wet season weather allowing, you can expect seriously dark skies with the island shut down). Absolutely no one is allowed on the streets, everyone stays home — the most orthodox families blacking out windows, not cooking, working or creating any noise or light; a scene that last year’s blockbuster thriller, A Quiet Place, surely took inspiration from. The occasional stray tourist will be returned promptly to their lodgings by watchful pecalang (community police).

A pre-Nyepi parade
A pre-Nyepi parade Credit: getty

But the day comes in with a big bang. On Nyepi Eve villages stage Ngrupuk parades: towering convoys of Ogoh-Ogoh — 16ft papier-mâché ‘monster dolls’ — accompanied by the insistent hammering of gamelan orchestras. In places like Jasri on the beautiful rice-paddy-fringed shores of less developed eastern Bali, peripheral festivities include barong dances and Ter Teran — one-on-one “fire battles” with palm torches.

Pride of villagers, Technicolor Ogoh-Ogoh giants start appearing from under wraps, roadside and in temple courtyards a day or so before Nyepi eve, enjoying a little bit of last-minute hair and make-up before the big show. Not wholly faithful to demons of the Hindu pantheon, modern Ogoh-Ogoh monsters err towards a Conan The Barbarian meets Incredible Hulk aesthetic. They are nonetheless terrifying for it, most striking a war pose, giant feet and fists raised with a fee-fi-fo-fum ferocity, and all suffering from a paucity of personal grooming — metres of long matted witchy hair, fetted tombstone teeth bared in a screaming grimace, and talon black toenails the nadir of any pedicurist’s career.

Intended to rouse the island’s demons from dormancy, these ostentatious ogres are the centre of a monster New Year’s Eve party which climaxes in their cremation — the work of months going up in sky-high columns of flame and smoke — before the island plays dead the next day, ostensibly to bore the evil spirits back to sleep for another year.

How to do it

Bali’s Nyepi “silent day” is island-wide, with a curfew running for 24 hours from 6am on March 7 2019.

New Year’s Eve parades take place in most villages across the island but celebrations in the less-developed east retain a homemade charm, and are supremely quiet for Nyepi Day itself.

Some hotels in this area offer special access to the Ogoh-Ogoh parades, such as Alila Manggis in Candidasa: alilahotels.com/manggis

For specialist Bali cultural packages try carrier.co.uk