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Ogoh-ogoh – the scariest festival in Bali

The warning from our taxi driver, Wayan, is fierce but friendly, ‘no electricity, no internet, no beach, no shops. If you go out, you get arrested.’
   We exchange uneasy glances in the back of the cab as the bustling town slips by. Cafés and chaotic market-style shops each a whiz of brightly coloured hand-stitched fabric bags, scarves and souvenirs.
   ‘It’s Nyepi tomorrow, our New Year.’ Wayan announces enthusiastically, ‘we make Ogoh-ogoh and you see them tonight.’
   Wayan continues, ‘Ogoh-ogoh are giant demon puppets we build to scare evil away. Each town builds their own Ogoh-ogoh and parades them through the streets, then tomorrow is the Day of Silence – Nyepi. We don’t work, it’s a day for reflection. Not even tourists can leave the hotels.’
   ‘So, it’s like Halloween?’ I ask.
   ‘Bigger!’ Wayan answers with a grin. ‘You come tonight and see.’
   Leaving our hotel around 6pm we follow the streams of locals ambling towards the centre of Sanur. Avoiding the cavernous holes in the middle of the roads, we walk the winding backstreets looking for the giant ogre puppets we’ve been promised.
   Eventually the bustling sounds of crowds grow louder, and we step out into the brightly lit town filled with hundreds of traditionally dressed locals.
   We inch our way through the crowd and are greeted by the sight of a monstrous straw-filled statue the size of a giant beach hut. It’s bulging eyes and huge fangs hang from a gaping mouth as men stand, a quarter of the size below.
   The sounds of deep metallic drums throb in the distance, vibrating through me as they grow louder. From behind the small Hindu temple at the end of the street, the bobbing head of a deep-blue four-armed monster with vampire teeth emerges.
   Behind it, another 50ft demon makes its way along the road. This one a grossly deformed woman with abnormally sagging breasts, razor-sharp teeth and a snake-like tongue.
   The two pass by and the cheering crowd turn toward the straw-like ogre we’d first seen. The drumming grows faster and louder. The atmosphere heaves in the high humidity.
   ‘They can’t move that thing, surely?’ I whisper, watching intently as several men gather each side of the straw ogre.
   There’s stillness, and the drumming grows faster as I watch the men heave the structure above their shoulders and manoeuvre it out of the side street and into the main road. They struggle as they approach the power lines. There’s no way they will get under those cables I think. But sure enough, out comes the longest spear I have ever seen.
   A man appears and lifts the spear into the power cables, raising them as the other men move the ogre under, clear of the wires.
   The crowd cheers and peels away from where they’re standing, following the straw structure.
I’m left with a sense of utter wonder.
   If this is how they do New Year’s Eve, I can’t wait to see what the Day of Silence brings to this magical place.

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Jenni Smith

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