21 November 2013
One of the "must do" items in Ubud is a visit to the Monkey Forest - the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (http://www.monkeyforestubud.com/).
But, of course, there were all sorts of beautiful sights as we walked the kilometer or so to the forest. More birdbaths full of flowers. Flags and kites and pennants. A display of I don't know what, but many of them were like cats, so it was like a great display of multi-coloured cats. I love all the colourful things we encounter while walking around. (And I could go crazy over the fashion here, but that's another issue.)
On to the monkey forest.
The monkeys are long-tailed macaques - although I would call them crested macaques, because they all seem to have a little monkey mohawk hairstyle. (But I'm not a scientist, so I didn't get to name them.) They aren't very big, although the alpha males are large, maybe the size of the average 2 year old child. If they stood up, they might come up to two feet tall (60 cm?). The females are smaller, and of course the babies are little and very cute.
The obvious question is why is the monkey forest considered sacred - part of it is that there are several temples within the forest, so they are sacred since they are places of worship. However, according to the monkey forest website, it is also because Balinese Hinduism is unlike Hinduism in other parts of the world. Here in Bali, there are elements of animism, ancestor worship, and Buddhism combined with traditional Hinduism. Part of the old Balinese beliefs that continue to this day is that animal and human spirits inhabit forests and ravines - so this particular forest, which has natural springs and ravines, is believed to be home to various spirits of both ancestors and animals. A sacred forest represents the co-existence of humans and animals, living and spirits. And, since Hinduism believes in reincarnation, well, all animals are treated with respect. So that monkey sitting next to you might be an ancestor. Or not.
The monkeys certainly know that they are treated with respect - at least, by most of the visitors. There were the occasional tourists making the monkeys jump for bananas. But the monkeys are smart - they will jump onto the tourist and try to grab the bananas! (The sign tells you what to do if a monkey jumps on you - the directions say "drop the food and walk away slowly" - the monkey will jump off to go get the food.)
Before even entering the monkey forest, there were smart monkeys raiding the shrines and eating the offerings - one monkey was throwing down the little boxes between eating the rice and little biscuits.
There were women at the entrance selling bananas, so that tourists could feed the monkeys - and of course the monkeys try to swipe the bananas when they can. One monkey was up in a tree and decided to pee on the banana lady - she whipped out a slingshot and chased that monkey away!
We walked through the forest - there were monkeys sitting on benches. Monkeys sitting on statues. Monkeys sitting on statues of monkeys. Monkey families. Monkey fights. Marauding monkey gangs beating up old alpha male monkeys who were trying to bully smaller monkeys. Monkey sex. Monkey play. Monkey love. Monkey stampedes running through. Monkeys lying around sleeping. Monkeys trying to open coconuts. Monkeys tossing coconuts at the people, sort of like monkey bowling. Monkeys actually sliding down stair banisters! Monkeys everywhere you looked! In the trees, in the temples, on the ground, walking over people who sat on the walls. And the monkeys mostly ignored people, unless the person offered a banana - then the monkeys flocked around and tried to grab a banana or two.
And there were beautiful statues of monkeys, cows, dragons all over (especially dragons creating the railings on the stairs) - just gorgeous stonework!
It really was incredible!
As I said, the monkeys had sort of a crest or faux-mohawk. The older, bigger monkeys had almost a beard, with a big grey moustache. Some of the monkeys seemed very ladylike. And of course the babies were off exploring, or playing with friends, or snuggling up to mama monkey when they needed some love.
We had a great time. Richard even encountered a big male monkey walking toward him and looking kind of dominant - so Richard puffed out his chest and drew himself up to his full six-foot-something - Alpha Male Monkey looked at Richard - Richard looked at Alpha - Alpha took a step to one side - Richard took a step to the other side - and then they both walked past each other, having given each other just a bit more room.
So - I have tons of monkey photos, but here are just a sampling of the monkeys we encountered.