Beyond Beaches: A Detour to Bali’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

Meeting temple primates in Ubud.  
Padangtegal Temple Bali Shiva
Pura Dalem Agung, a shrine for Shiva, is the main temple in Bali’s Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Photo: R.M. Nunes/Alamy/Indiapicture

Wandering through Bali’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is like walking into a mythical jungle. Moss-covered stone statues and temple ruins are scattered throughout this 27-acre park in Ubud that is part nature reserve and part temple complex. Some 600 Balinese long-tailed macaques live here amidst the lush foliage. Residents of the bordering village of Padangtegal believe that a forest surrounding a shrine is the sacred abode of holy spirits, making this a protected, unspoilt preserve that is a wonderful detour from Bali’s beaches.

The three temples within, believed to date to the 14th century, illustrate traditional Balinese temple architecture. The ruins exude a mystical aura, as do the statues of native animals and Balinese figures that you see while walking along the forest path. Here a panther, boar, and monkey around a stone pool, there Komodo dragons peeping into a stream, further on dragons and humans with round eyes and fangs flank staircases. And it’s always amusing to see a family of monkey figurines surrounded by their living counterparts.

History and nature come together seamlessly within this reserve. The monkeys that live here are as significant as the people of the village who guard it. Visitors, who may only enter on foot, are asked not to carry bags or food in order to avoid confrontation with the monkeys. Over 10,000 visitors come to this sanctuary every month. While some like to watch the frisky primates from a distance, others are lured solely by the mossy stone sentinels.

Appeared in the March 2016 issue as “Temple Primates”.

 

The Guide

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary or Mandala Suci Wenara Wana is in the town of Ubud, 30 km/1 hr north of Bali’s capital Denpasar. The sanctuary is just off Monkey Forest Street, one of Ubud’s main streets. Temple entry only for those who want to pray and are dressed in traditional Balinese prayer clothes.

Warning Some tourists have been bitten and “robbed” by monkeys here, so don’t carry any food or bags, not even a camera bag. Don’t try to lure the monkeys or touch them. Strictly follow instructions provided at the entrance.(monkeyforestubud.com; open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily except one holiday in March; entry IDR30,000/₹141.)

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    Rumela Basu is Features Writer at National Geographic Traveller India and has an MA in International Journalism from Cardiff University. She likes poetry, food, and books. One day she'd love to have a large library and enough time to travel and drink lots of tea.

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