The fascinating celebration of Balinese new year, or Hari Nyepi, culminates in a night of revelry followed by a day of absolute silence. The dragons shown here were built by the youth of a local temple. On new year's eve (which falls in March), they and hundreds like them will be raised on their beds of bamboo poles and spun through the streets to a frenzied beat of drums and gongs. The procession is so wild that police have to stop dragons from careering into the dense crowds lining the streets. At the end of the night, they're carried to the beach, where they're burned in the night's final ritual.
The next morning, everything will be still. All Balinese will spend the day quietly at home with their families, so that the evil spirits roused the night before will conclude that the island is uninhabited. Discouraged, they will set off for other lands, leaving the people of Bali another year of peace and good fortune.
Hari Nyepi itself is not such a good fortune for the restless visitor, however. Hotels are required to keep their guests locked inside their grounds. When I last experienced the holiday in 1994, even the electricity was turned off, making for a sweltering, fanless day of languid inactivity punctuated only by offers from fellow hotel guests to trade food or drinks. Not taking the dire warnings of Balinese friends literally, I had prepared poorly, and had only a pineapple and some crackers. But even that proved a tempting hoard for my Swedish neighbors, who had nothing but a bottle of vodka to last them 24 hours.