The Bali adventure wouldn't be complete without visiting The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. I never had close encounters with numerous troops (group of monkeys) until recently in Batu Caves and Uluwatu Temple. Despite their obnoxious behavior, these animals are considered sacred in the island's religion. The Monkey Forest of Ubud has numerous temples and pillars dedicated to them.
Out of curiosity, I channeled my inner monkeyness (Merriam-Webster's furious right now because lately, I've been inventing words) and mustered enough courage to interview some of the inhabitants of the sacred forest.
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary or Sacred Monkey Forest of Ubud was built in the early 14th century during the Pejeng Dynasty. There are three temples in the area:
- Pura Dalem Agung (The Main Temple) is located at the southwest area of the complex. This is Shiva's place of worship, The Recycler, or The Transformer.
- Pura Beji (Beji Temple) is located at the northwest area and is the goddess Gangga's place of worship. This temple is a place of purification before conducting the ceremony or piodalan. Pura Beji is often used for 'melukat' as spiritual and physical cleansing.
- The third temple, Pura Prajapati (Prajapati Temple), is located at the northeast quadrant of the forest. The temple is adjacent to a cemetery. In this temple, the Hindus worship Prajapati. The cemetery is just a temporary resting place of the dead as they conduct mass cremation every five years.
The monkeys play a significant role in Balinese mythology as they often appear in art traditions and cultural dances such as the Kecak and Ramayana Dance. The forest area is sanctified by the local community. There are restricted areas in the sacred forest and visitors aren't allowed to enter unless they come to pray in full Balinese praying dress.
As I entered the complex, I met up with several monkeys. They may live in the same forest but they have different stories to tell.
"I've been living in this forest for more than 8 years yet I still haven't found my perfect match. It's either they're taken by an alpha male of one troop, or the problem is just me. I do have balls (pun not intended, human) to ask a female for a date but they seemed uninterested. Tell me, do I look boring to you, human?""Well, uhhhh, I don't think...""Gaaah, I knew it."
"I almost got killed two years ago. While exploring the uncharted territory of the forest, two troops spotted me swinging from one tree to another. I thought it was a friendly approach until one of the members tackled me. I got caught off guard. The other member tried to bite me but I immediately counterattacked and immediately fled the area.""Good thing they didn't chase you.""Don't get me started with the pursuit, human. You see, I outran them. I was fast, well maybe because of adrenaline, but I was literally jumping from branch to branch for my dear life. I should've listened to my elders but I was too adamant to explore the forest. I sometimes wonder what it looks like beyond our sacred forest. I came to realize that there are risks when you take the path less traveled. But I have no regrets."Life is all about taking risks.""Now we are talking, human."
"No offense human, but your troops seemed crazy. I mean, can't you see what they're doing? They have this long metal twig and they smile at it for several times."
"It's called a selfie stick. A smartphone is attached to it and is used to take photos. This one though is a DSLR camera. Same concept, only that it takes sharper photos.""Whatever, human. You're talking gibberish to me. I'm only after for bananas. Oh wait, there's one member of your troop who's giving free bananas to us. I should go now."
"Sorry I can't talk to you right now, human. I think I've finally seen my potential mate."
"I am fat, big, and slow. I find it difficult swinging from tree to tree, that's why I prefer walking around the temple grounds. The female members of my troop don't like me because of how I look. I started questioning my self-worth. I tried not to eat bananas for days but I just couldn't resist. Bananas make me happy. If they don't like me because of my physique, then so be it. The most important thing is, I am happy.""But you seem unhappy right now.""I am striking a pose, human. I know how that thing you're holding works so go ahead, and shoot. My knowledge about humans is broader than any other monkeys here in the forest. I may be ugly but I'm a smart chimp."
"This is my 10th or 11th baby chimp, and probably my last. I don't know. I stop counting after 4. The older ones have already joined some troops in the forest and I seldom see them. As a mother, it is painful not to watch my children grow. I have yearned to be with them during their growing years. Some moms in our society think that I was just being too clingy and emotional. I can't blame myself. I had carried them for six months, fed them with my milk, and sacrificed a lot, including my life.""You're a one tough mother.""Thank you, human. By the way, who's with you?""My mom.""She raised you well."
"I have rubbed my butt and balls on the railings several times to mark my scent, yet the females haven't picked it up. I've been doing this for quite some time and my butt and balls are getting sore. I never thought courting would be this hard. Tell me, human. Do you also rub your butt and balls during courtship?""Nope, we don't do that. We just give gifts to the girls whom we like.""I wish we could do that in our society. One time, I gave three bananas to a female member whom I loved the most. She took all of it and ate it because she was hungry. I was expecting something from her but, no. I got nothing from her. He went off to another male monkey the following day. I have invested too much and gained nothing. It's so hard to move on, human.""We can't move forward if we dwell in the past.""That's too deep, but I'll take your advice."
How We Got Here
We rented a car for Rp 700,000 ($54), good for 12 hours, excluding toll and parking fees. If you know how to drive a car, rent is only Rp 250,000 ($19). The Sacred Monkey Forest of Ubud is an hour drive away from Kuta Denpasar (city center). Tickets are priced at Rp 40,000 ($3) regardless of your nationality and it comes with a free brochure written in English.