Sacred Monkey Forest | Ubud, Bali

Oct 7 , 2015 | Padangtegal, Ubud, Bali

I’ve read about The Sacred Monkey Forest before arriving in Bali and I’m as hesitant to go as I am curious. I have visions of it being an animal safari— a bit of a mob scene with monkeys fastened to people instead of cars. I know there are instances of visitors being bitten and so I enter cautiously, not fully knowing what to expect.

This is home to five groups of long-tailed macaques, and three Hindu temples, still in use, that were built in the 1300s. The monkeys have their own territories within 27 acres of dense, old growth forest, running deep into the ravines and along rocky streams. I relish the cool, stepping deeper into forest, down to the Holy Spring Temple. Like so many parts of Ubud, it represents an ancient past. Deities, it is believed, live in nature. I’m astonished to see how tranquil and lush the forest is. The trees are considered sacred and the banyans are breathtaking. I’ve arrived late in the afternoon and the tourists numbers are low.

The monkeys move freely throughout the forest and across its paths. Visitors are told not to feed them any outside foodstuffs (their bravado knows no end) except the bananas for purchase. You simply need to do as you’re asked at the entrance: walk slowly, calmly and respectfully. It’s a surreal experience to be so close to these creatures. I have to wonder if it isn’t largely because people have ignored the rules of engagement that the monkeys can grow agitated. They aren’t aggressive unless threatened. But I watch as people bait them with food in order to take photos, encouraging them to jump onto their heads and shoulders, and then become unnerved when the monkeys do just that. They amble and jump, carry their young and breeze past visitors with cautious comfort. I move slowly, carefully, and I’m rewarded by the chance to sit right beside many of them, spellbound by their antics. And above all others, I’m drawn to the mothers and babies …

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