Sangeh Monkey Forest is one of the most popular Bali Places of Interest located approximately 20km north of the island's capital city of Denpasar. The monkey forest boasts six hectares of fertile forestland with primordial, giant nutmeg trees which grow to a height of 40m. The sanctuary is considered sacred where the macaques inhabit both the woods and the 17th century Pura Bukit Sari, a temple located deep within the greens. Among the many monkey forests scattered across the island, Sangeh can be considered best known among locals as the first to open as an attraction, hence the village name's close association to the playful primates.
Sangeh Monkey Forest is open to visitors daily, and has seen various phases of enhancements over the decades to welcome local and foreign sightseers alike, mainly to its parking areas, toilet facilities, art and souvenir shops, food and beverage stalls and visitor trails. The 13ha forest is a nature reserve and is best known for its not only one, but many monkey kingdoms within its grounds. The grey macaques that inhabit the nutmeg forest each have a ring leader and for the whole, there is one highest ruler or king, who dwells in the largest area where a sanctified temple is also found, namely the Bukit Sari Temple (to some locals, referred to as Pura Pucak Sari).
The Bukit Sari temple is the largest of four temples, the others are Pura Melanting, Pura Tirta and Pura Anyar. It was once a ruin until the Mengwi kingdom ordered for its restoration and even the expansion of the temple. It was named Bukit Sari or essence of the hill and due to the people's aptitude of worship, the sanctity of the temple led to its grounds and the whole forest, thus preservation was guaranteed to its whole perimeter.
And an important nature reserve was established, culturally and through generations. Besides nutmeg trees (Dipterocarpus trinervis) there is a special specimen which locals usually refer to as Lanang Wadon, or Male Female because at the bottom of this tree is a hole with a down-pointing branch - resembling genitals. This interesting tree grows at the forest entrance, and is actually a Milkwood pine (Alstonia Scholaris).
In Bali, the Milkwood pine has many special uses such as in sacred mask making. Some local elders believe that some of the trees are three centuries old. According to oral tradition passed down to generations, the Sangeh Monkey Forest was planned to be built as a royal garden for the Mengwi kingdom. To enhance it nutmeg trees were brought from Mount Agung to be planted.
At first the plan was kept secret, but in the end it was let out, the project scrapped, hence the area being named Sangeh - literally openly known. It is said that planting the tree specimens elsewhere would be a futile attempt. Scientific research in recent years have identified the various natural inhabitants of Sangeh Monkey Forest, comprising of 22 different species of birds, five species of mammals, three species of reptiles, two types of amphibians and five different arthropods.
Other trees found in the forest include mahogany, guava, and sapodilla. The grey macaques were once of a negative reputation and were notoriously mischievous and adept pickpockets. And visitors were requested not to wear obvious jewellery or loose items while visiting Sangeh Monkey Forest. But over the years, this issue had been looked after and their characteristics have somewhat improved.
This is mainly due to their wellbeing being well managed and looked after by the community. Nevertheless, it is a rule of thumb to always take caution and regard them as wild animals. As you would expect, there are various art stalls and those selling food and refreshments near the parking and entrance. Souvenirs and curios are also not hard to find. Admission fee to enter the sanctuary is IDR 5,000. As it is considered a sacred site, women during their periods or those who are mourning the loss of a deceased family are considered by the locals as in an impure state, thus prohibited access into the forest.
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