Monday, May 30, 2011

(Travelogue) Oriental Outings Day 4: Attending World's Best Festival in Bali

Friday, March 04, 2011

World's Best Festival
The week long Bali fun begun right away as we arrived just in time to catch Nyepi - the Balinese New Year - which is one of the best festivals of the world, according to Lonely Planet!

Balinese calander tracks lunar pattern, similar to what Islamic and Chinese ones do although with different starting points. In 2011, the local New Year (Year 1933) had to fall on March 5, whereas the Hijri (Year 1432) and the Sino (Year 4708) calendars had already started on December 7 and February 3, respectively.

The majority of the residents follow Hinduism in the otherwise Muslim Indonesia. Hindusim in Bali is a different and a more primitive version of the religion as compared to the Indian one probably because of its intermingling with Buddhism and Animism. Unlike India, temples - called Pura - are mostly open air compounds and may also be found inside a house or along side a paddy field. The religion is mostly interwoven in perfomring arts and ubiquitous rituals which keeps the primitivity alive. 

Balinese New Year is one such ritual consists of two contrasting events; Ogoh-Ogoh parades, which is all about noise and craziness and the converse Nyepi Day, which is all silence and peace.

Go as Balinese Go
The cozy ambiance of Villa Purnama was just perfect to provide us with a peaceful sleep after a happening day yesterday and to make us ready for the fun to come.

After the late breakfast Putu handed over the motorbike keys with a brief coaching session for the basic self-start bike. As a trial, I made a round to the nearby market, which reminded me of good old college days when I used to have a 100cc Kawasaki! But for Urooba, that was the first time and she was both excited and concerned.
The motorbike experience in Bali

Motorbikes: The way to go in Bali

Hendra's invitation
All was set to start our Bali experience so we left the guesthouse for Sanur area’s McDonalds to meet Hendra and fellows, who invited us to participate live in the festival!

The whole island was in the seventh heaven preparing for the crazy evening. Our first motorbike experience, aorund clean narrow streets surrounded by green paddy fields, could not be any better amid the festivities and a sweet drizzling with the gentle breeze!

Men and women were roaming around in their traditional white clothes, children were busy giving Ogoh-Ogoh final touches, police in their typical black attire was controlling the traffic anticipating the festival, and temples were being decorated with the exceptional splendor!

Don't get frightened up if you see an upsize and monsterous effigy on a Bali roadside with bulging eyes, ugly figure, devlish looks, and threating fingers: they are the Ogoh-Ogoh, an integral part of the New Year Eve. Every town has to craft their own intricately detailed monsters to be paraded around the town with an exotic show of color and noise. 
Ogoh Ogoh: The Red Devil

Ogoh Ogoh: They may be Animals!

Ogoh Ogoh: an aged one

Ogoh Ogoh: ready to destroy!

Ogoh Ogoh: Its coming!

Ogoh Ogoh: this one looks harmless!

Ogoh Ogoh: devils mela

Ogoh Ogoh: blood thirsty!

It looked like that there is a competition among residents, especially among youngsters, to craft the creepiest one! By doing the ritual, as per local myths, they intend to invite evil forces to their island! Think that Balinese are devil’s lovers? No, in fact they would bamboozle them with their next trick, called Nyepi! Yes, the next day, i.e. the New Year, all the islanders go in hiding to mislead those fiends as if there is no one living there and the island will be spared for another year!

A Balinese Home
Not surprisingly, we were the last to join the multihued troupe, at the meeting point, which included a Dutch couple on their university swap, an Indonesian-Dutch girl RĂ©nia Sastrowidjojo on her work break, a Tunisian guy Khalil who was running away from the blood filled revolution back home, an American girl teaching English in Bali, Hendra’s friend Adi, and a couple of other energetic folks.

Hendra first took us to his home for some pre-festival customs, including putting on sarongs to cover the legs. Hendra's home perfectly representsa a characteristic Balinese home which consists of a combination of separately built structures, each of which provides for distinct facility. Usually, the South Eastern structure is designated for the temple. So, if you get lost in Bali just have a look to a nearby home to come back to the right track!

There are separate compounds for kitchen, common area, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. Taking the advantage of being the eldest sibling, affable Hendra occupies the bedroom usually designated for parents!
Me wrapping sarung in Hendra's Home

Hendra's father performing rituals

Offerings made from colourful plants

Offerings decorated intricately

Basket outside home for the offerings

Hendra's mother explaining the ritual

Renia testing Bhasa!
The Festival Begins
While we were busy in exchanging notes with his father, his equally hospitable mother helped female travelers in wrapping up colorful sarongs and then we headed to the local community center, where the carnival was about to start. Every Banjar, a central community worship place, had been represented by a group of youngsters wearing identical shirts and carrying their deftly created Ogoh-Ogoh mounted on especially made bamboo carts. Before the procession, a formal ceremony was held; a man circumambulate the sacred stone with a torch in his hands while the priest recited the holy book and then the nuns sprinkled sanctified water on the participants. 
Ogoh Ogoh: its heavy

Rituals start in the Banjar

Attending the ceremony

Nun sprinkiling the sacred water

The ceremony concludes

The torch guy

Posing for the camera!
It was around sunset when the march proceeded to the main road with each group carrying their respective Ogog-Ogoh while the faction in black shirts was playing their instruments to enhance the ambiance. The momentum was building up tremendously and reached to its climax when a group lit up their torches. It was getting paranormal, as if we were taken centuries aback in a supernatural world! Whenever, the procession crossed a T-junction, and it crossed many of them, the groups carrying Ogoh-Ogoh had to make three dancing round in the anticlockwise direction. With those monstrous ogres, that was the craziest and the most difficult part of the show. 

Ogoh Ogoh: I am not scared!

Leaders in white; Hendra (second from the right)

The Red Brigade

Ogoh Ogoh: Procession starts

Ogoh Ogoh: coming closer

Ogoh Ogoh: Troupe in black
The atmosphere was more like any religious pageant in our part of the world, for instance Eid Miladun Nabi or Aashoora. Volunteers were controlling the traffic while a large number of locals were lined up besides the road and some of them were even peeking from the surrounding windows to catch a glimpse of it. Although we were enjoying that fully but it started getting endless. Misha was very excited initially, however, her energy level finally went down around half way and she slept in the baby carrier. After waking up she refused to be suspended anymore so we had to take turns for each furlong to carry her without any support. Finally, that ended up at a big junction where the participants danced till those monsters fell down signifying the defeat of the evil.
Torches around

Litting it up

Beating the drum
The Savior
Came the savior, Adi - Hendra’s trusted friend and a local Couch Surfer - as the guest cast was surrounded by one of the intimidating devils; hunger! He took all foreigner visitors to a nearby Makaan, a local roadside hotel for the dinner.

Modus operandi at the restaurant was somewhere in between the ala carte and the buffet. A variety of dishes, from vegetable to meat, were on the display, as in any buffet and can be chosen in any combination. But one can order only once, for a given price. The price depends on what and how many types of curry one adds to the rice; egg being the cheapest while fish one was the most expensive. Feel of the food was quite different what we experienced with Hadi in Singapore. Most importantly, and to our surprise, it was spicy and rich in taste, very close to Indian cuisine, so much so that the Dutch guy could not survive even the quarter plate!
Its spicy!

Khalil enjoyed the food
During the dinner, we had a good chat with the multicultural and affable Ranea, who belonged to Netherlands, however, her ancestors were from Indonesia. She told us that due to her local looks people start conversing with her in Bhasa which was funny as she had very little understanding of the lingo.

On our way back, we noticed the police had started putting barricades on the road due to the Neype next day. It also started raining heavily as soon as we departed the ways but we reached back to the gueshouse safely at around midnight where Putu and the other staff was standing outside the villa worried about crazy us!