As the crowds of tourists slowly made their way to the source of the music, so did the monkeys. Hundreds and hundreds of monkeys. Swinging from branch to branch, crossing paths and bridges, monkeys were appearing from every direction, alerting one another to something exciting in the distance. Where were these sounds coming from?
The animals and people were equally curious, shuffling quickly towards the center of the park. We arrived at about 3pm and really didn’t know what to expect of this small monkey sanctuary in the corner of town. Fate or luck was on our side because we had wandered into the forest on the day of one of their BIGGEST celebrations, the celebration of Tumpek Kandang!
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is home to some 600 Balinese long-tailed monkeys, or Macaques. These curious little primates are protected and sacred in this forest in Bali. We had planned on visiting the sanctuary for several days, but had left it to our last day on accident. And what an accident it turned out to be! The Tumpek Kandang celebration is one of harmony in life, especially with nature, so many in the community had gathered in the forest to show appreciation for those that live in the sanctuary.
Christine and I wandered with the others to the center of the Monkey Forest to find out what was causing the forest to gather. To our surprise, we found a monkey-costumed dancer in the middle of dozens of drums, dancing frantically around the musicians. A line of formally-dressed women walking towards the main shrine extended far beyond our sights, each one carrying a basket of offerings on her head to be placed in the park’s center. As much as we loved watching this amazing ceremony, the monkeys loved the performance even more! They jumped from branch to branch to get a better view and chattered and howled every time the music stopped as though they were chanting for an encore!!
Christine and I silently slipped out of the crowd to explore more of the park and became lost in the ancient beauty of it all. Dragon-headed bridges and vine-covered temples were at every turn within the Hindu temple complex, making us feel like we we had stumbled upon a scene from Indiana Jones.
From a distance we heard the music stop and instantly the feeling of the forest changed. We were not prepared what happened next. Like ants on the same scent trail, hundreds of macaques began to flood past us to different parts of the sanctuary! Determined to get ahead of us in any way, monkeys darted between our legs, flew over head and ran up hills to get to the next attraction.
The monkeys were scrambling all over the place, the braver ones closely following the tourists, knowing they had food that they could hand out. As one walked beside us on the railing of a bridge, he decided I had something special in my pocket and jumped on my leg!!! He clung to me and trying to dig in my pant pocket while I held it closed and prayed he didn’t bite me! At the time I thought, I’m pretty sure it’s frowned upon to hit a monkey in a monkey sanctuary, but how do I get this thing off of me??! I shook my leg as his nails dug in and Christine took photos. Thank you dear. The effort was eventually too much for him and he lost interest, jumping down and finding a new tourist to investigate.
Without the music for entertainment, some of the monkeys ran for an afternoon swim in an open water hole. Like a group of anxious children, the animals took turns calling for attention from the others, then leapt from trees to perform aerial acrobatics and splash into the cool water. 30 seconds in the water, and each child was back out again to outperform the others in an even more spectacular display!I suspect the young monkeys could have done this all day, but that day was special and Sacred Monkey Forest staff had a secret treat lined up for a post-ceremony party.
The Forest Sanctuary crew walked through the park, whistling for attention, then began giving out precious gifts for the animals. Eggs! Park staff were tossing dozens and dozens of eggs on the ground for the monkeys to enjoy to show appreciation for their lives and the harmony achieved in this area. Ironically, this spurred more than one fight as the monkeys battled for position to get the most eggs! All sense of order was lost as they pushed and hissed and fought to slurp up the broken yolks!!!
Christine and I watched all of this as the monkeys ran practically on top of us in apparent disinterest. We had no food so we didn’t exist. It was monkey MADNESS and we were directly in the middle of it!!
As the sun started to go down, and the festivities came to an end, we walked towards the exit with a sense of awe that we had just been so close to so many monkeys. What incredible timing to accidentally choose the exact day that the locals celebrate their furry little friends AND arrive just as the ceremony was beginning! Visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary was by far one of our favorite experiences in Bali and the highlight of our stay in Ubud.
To read more about monkeys and jungle adventures, check out our time in Tikal!