Wanara Wana, a sanctuary of mind
In the increasingly cramped Ubud, where cars and big buses own the road and investors gulp every available rice paddy around, a vast tract of forest reserve down in Padangtegal is fast becoming the only sanctuary left for both humans and their (very, very) distant cousin, the long tailed macaques.
Called Wenara Wana, or Monkey Forest to the local tourist guides and foreign visitors, the forest reserve is a rare success story of a community that manages to conserve its environmental heritage, as well as transform it into a lucrative money-making enterprise.
The forest is run and managed by a management committee set up by the customary village of Padangtegal, the custodian of the Wenara Wana, a 27-acre complex comprising a forest that is the main habitat for two competing groups of monkeys, a sacred temple with beautiful pond and fountains, and the graveyard and cremation ground for members of the customary village.
The forest generates billions of rupiah annually from tickets sold to visitors. The money goes back to the customary village and enables it to fund major temple rituals and other social functions.
Moreover, the money has also assisted the village to purchase a new tract of land to expand the reserve and start a replanting initiative aimed at populating the reserve with every sacred and ceremonial plant known to Balinese Hindus. So far, the reserve hosts around 115 different species of plants. It is no wonder that it is being nominated for the prestigious Kalpataru environmental award.
Visiting the forest is a refreshing experience. The feet will surely be taxed by the long walk and uneven terrain, particularly if one ventures into the western outskirts of the forest where steps will escort the visitor to a dragon bridge next to an archaic banyan tree with majestic, drape-like aerial roots, and later on to a flowing stream with cool, invigorating water.
But a gift has always awaited the traveler with the sorest of feet: a clear water pond with carefree fish and shiny, metallic coins gathered on its bottom, probably thrown by visitors wishing for luck or a parking attendant frustrated by his meager revenue; a temple with stunning reliefs carved on its outer wall, and, most importantly, a sense of quiet isolation — a precious thing the traveler usually wishes for after spending hours on the streets of downtown Ubud, where the “noise” is not only aural, produced by car engines and horns, as well as human voices and music from restaurants and spas, but also visual, created by the crowded shapes of buildings and colors of clothes, sandals, and every other stuff offered in those boutiques and antique shops.
Monkey Forest, therefore, is not only a place to seek and feed the monkeys, but also a place to calm the monkey within.
- Photos by I Wayan Juniarta