Bali Photo Tour ~ The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Our first stop on the most recent Bali Photo Tour was the perennial crowd pleaser, Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana, or more commonly known as, The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary of Ubud.
Absolutely packed with photo opportunities, The Bali Monkey Forests seldom disappoints (unless your guide does not tell you the crucial do’s and don’ts). The first rule of Monkey Forest is don’t talk about Monkey Forest (apologies to the international audience who may not get the pop culture reference).
In all seriousness, there are a couple things to consider when visiting one of Bali’s Monkey Forests. Glasses, earrings, shiny treasures sticking out of your pocket or backpack, food (not so) cleverly hidden away deep in the recesses of your bag, are all no-no’s. These serve as monkey magnets and likely will either be snagged by our simian relatives, or necessitate one or more to claw their way onto your body and dutifully perform a cavity search.
These simians are exceedingly smart. They are keenly aware that if they steal something of little value to themselves, but of great value to you, they can get you to barter something desirable such as bananas or other edible delicacies in exchange for the return of your item. Although it may now sport design upgrades in the form of fang marks. They can open water bottles with ease and will grab them out of your hand, backpack or wherever else they can locate one.
Again, its best not to bring in any superfluous items into the Monkey Forests, and certainly no food, shiny objects or other non-essential items that can be easily grabbed by the mischievous habitants. I write this not only for you to maintain your prized possessions, but also for the health of the monkeys. Almost every time I visit I see a curious cousin with aerosol hairspray, hand sanitizer, soft drinks, cigarettes or other noxious item a careless tourist introduced to the sacred forest.
A common faux pas, and one that is admittedly quite difficult to avoid, is smiling at the anthropomorphic Anthropoids. They are so lovable and amusing, I often catch myself smiling and laughing at them. Showing ones teeth can be interpreted as a display of aggression as can staring.
I don’t mean to scare you, as simple precautions will make for a most enjoyable visit, but these primates are smart. Do not tease or attempt to outsmart them. I have seen far too many tourists get the raw end of that exchange. They know the game and they make the rules.
Once these simple guidelines are met, your visit will be rewarding and filled with photo ops. Catch the forest at the right time of the day, and the emerald green filtering through the chlorophyll enriched canopy will produce stunning natural light perfect for photography.
While these tips apply to the many monkey forests located throughout Bali, the dwellers of the Ubud sanctuary are a bit less aggressive than most. For example, the primates at Pura Uluwatu Temple are known to be slightly less well behaved and guides will often carry sticks as a precaution. Sangeh Village also has a lovely monkey forest and is worth a visit. Monkeys are also often seen when traveling at higher elevations in Bali such as driving over the volcanoes.
Our photo tour participants had such a good time the promise of the best massage and mandi lalur treatment in Ubud could not draw them away. Their persistence and dedication to their art provided them with numerous striking exposures.
The Sacred Monkey Sanctuary is home to 300-600 spirited long tailed macaques that live in three distinct troupes. The dense forest, one of Bali’s most revered for its Taksu, or spiritual power, encompasses 115 different species of trees (many replete with powerful tree spirits), and none more impressive than the colossal Banyon Tree that leads to The Holy Bathing Temple. Actually, the tree and its hanging root system is so large it shelters an ornately carved Naga or Dragon Bridge that spans a deep gorge cutting through the heart of the forest.
It’s difficult to date the bridge accurately. Speaking with several forest elders, I have been told its more than 200-700 years old, but many stories and legends which surround the mystical bridge, date it back much further. For more on the Dragon Bridge click here.
There are many additional noteworthy facets of the Monkey Sanctuary. There are three principle temples, the oldest dating back to the 14th century, hundreds of moss covered expressive sculptures, grand trees and plants, and even a primate cemetery (that has recently enigmatically vanished).
The mysteries surrounding the monkey cemetery are compelling. It is known that scores of the monkeys pass away each year, but only a small percentage of their bodies are actually recovered. No one is quite sure what happens or where they go. Numerous studies have been conducted with no definitive results. For the departed monkeys that are recovered, the human caretakers thoughtfully create a carved headstone reflecting their personality, their name and year of expiry.
The caretakers are intimately connected to the monkeys and develop a relationship with them. It’s quite touching and having them pass on is sad but also seen as liberating. For more on the mysteries shrouding the monkeys and the forest they call home, please click here.
Thanks to our Bali Photo Tour participants for their enthusiasm and dedication during the trip to the Monkey Forest and the entire retreat. It was a rewarding, fun and enlightening trip.
Isn’t it time you treated yourself to a photo retreat in one of the most picturesque places on the planet?
When photographers from National Geographic, The Smithsonian, and The New York Times come to Bali for a guided photography tour, they choose Floating Leaf. We cater to all skill levels and provide personalized instruction as much or as little as you like. All aspects from camera settings, to composition, to post processing can be covered. Not only do we take you to exquisite locations, we relate the history and significance to help deepen your understanding of what you are photographing. Putu’s Royal heritage provides us with access to secret locations that other travelers don’t experience and Mikaku, having over a decade of experience as a collegiate art professor, and recently awarded The Travel Photographer of the Year, will significantly enhance your experience in Bali.
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