Anyone who has ever researched what to do in Ubud, Bali, will surely be familiar with The Sacred Monkey Forest. It came up in all my online searches, I found several blogs about it floating around and when I finally went, I could have sworn that I even recognised some of the monkeys. Perhaps a sharp, observant eye on my part; perhaps a touch of monkey delusion.
Hastily, I initially dismissed the prospect of visiting myself though, querying whether it fell definitively within the parameters of gimmicky tourist trap and wary of how quickly the monkeys would prey on anyone or anything with even a whiff of food-related odour.
You see, as a child visiting relatives in India, I became rather accustomed to monkeys perching on all kinds of unexpected surfaces – city centres, family window sills, it was really no more noteworthy than spotting a black cab in London. But then there was the cookie incident…
A few years ago, I undertook my one and only solo travel adventure, travelling alone to Southern India to spend 8 weeks doing my medical elective in Bangalore. I made some great friends along the way but towards the end of the trip, I remember how homesick I felt. I missed the catharsis of familiar voices, the raspy crunch of autumnal leaves underfoot and the guilty taste of my favourite sugar picks.
And so, even as a budget-conscious student, I forked out a cheeky sum of money on a posh cookie from one of Bangalore’s famous malls. Its price was comparable to England yet unfathomable by Indian standards but it was worth it to sample the buttery soft, just-baked dough that I loved to make at home – or at least, it should have been.
A friend and I had planned to go walking in the Nandi Hills near Bangalore that same day and I saved my precious cookie for the stroll. As we ascended to a panoramic viewpoint, I took out the cookie-containing plastic bag and dug into my first bite of the melting chocolate chips. And then, in the blink of an eye, my startled eyes saw a monkey leap out from nowhere, grab the bag out of my hand and jump back into hiding in an instant, dropping just a few sorry crumbs on the soil beneath me, as if to rub my hungry nose right in it. It seems the old children’s song is true:
“The monkey see. The monkey do. The monkey does the same as you.”
The Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud
As you can imagine, that monkey’s quick speed and close proximity shaved a few years off my life and that was why, when Pumpkin persuaded me we must visit the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, I was more than happy to follow the guidance we had read to respect the natural habits of the monkeys by not feeding them human snacks like bread (even though I had come to learn of their cookie inclination!)
Banana vendors are present within the grounds of the monkey forest for those of you who are happy to get a up close and personal with these intelligent creatures but before you buy a bunch, make sure you are content with the potential for monkeys to be latching eagerly on your arms or sitting on your shoulder, as we saw them doing with many a tourist.
There are rangers wandering around the grounds if you do run into any monkey-related troubles but from my observations, if you generally either let them roam without bothering them or let them eat their bananas in peace, they were mostly very nonplussed about the presence of tourists and showed no signs of being camera-shy.
Monkey Faces at The Sacred Monkey Forest
More fascinating were the faces, expressions and postures of the monkeys. Each monkey seemed to carry its own unique character with a maternal, nurturing one, innocent, hungry babies and an authoritative, high and mighty one, lazing around with the kind of self-confident assertion that reminded us that we were guests on their patch and not the other way round.
It was only after returning to the UK that I discovered that the Sacred Monkey Forest is actually owned by the village of Padangtegal and it is their local villagers who are responsible for governing decisions about the Monkey Forest.
And the word sacred in the title is a literal rather than generous adjective with the monkey forest, serving as a space of spirituality, founded on Hindu principles and philosophies with three beautiful temples within the grounds.
Even as a child, I remember my parents showing me children’s books about ancient fables of the Hinduism with animations of monkeys depicted in stories, these animals playing an important role in the Hindu religion. The Sacred Monkey Forest was an exemplary portrayal of this concept that I had first gained insight into so many years ago.
The monkeys have free reign around the forest and for those of you who find the prospect of this unnerving, you would be best advised to find an alternative activity. For the rest of you though, once you’ve drained your smart phone battery with monkey face shots taken from every angle, take some time to explore the various walking trails and appreciate the lush fauna.
Where in the world have you come across cheeky monkeys like these?
And if these fuzzy Simian faces haven’t persuaded you into visiting Bali, perhaps I can convince you with the Jimbaran Bay sunsets, an insight into a traditional Balinese family compound or for a touch of luxury, a truly spectacular private pool villa.