Temples of Bali: Pura Bukit Sari

When I visited this temple for the first time well over 25 years ago it was relatively unknown to tourists travelling to Bali. At that time, you could just walk in off the very busy road and into the silence of the forest. There was no hefty entrance fee, only a donations box as you left the peaceful place. And now, the temple of Bukit Sari is inundated daily with busloads of tourists from around the world and travellers in general. I would estimate that 90% of the aforementioned tourists and travellers didn’t even know the temple existed in the forest and if they did, it would have only been graced with a fleeting glance. It was the main attraction within the forest that was the drawcard. Of course I am talking about the monkey forest at Sangeh and its ubiquitous clan of monkeys, and now, the entrance fee is Rp20,000. How times change.

Being set within a large growth of nutmeg (pala) trees, Pura Bukit Sari was built in the 17th century as a meditation temple by the son of the King of Mengwi but now it is an irrigation or subak temple. It is definitely an eerie temple and especially at sunrise when the monkeys come down to feed as the streaks of early morning light filter through the trees canopy. The grey-stone and weather-beaten temple is in a square compound with stone-carved reliefs and a thatched meru. Although not as appealing as many of the temples in Bali are, it is simply constructed and is a fine example of a subak temple and is important to the area. The main feature you will notice is the large garuda statue seemingly guarding the temple whereas in fact it is the monkeys that are the guardians of this peaceful place.

There is an intriguing local legend attached to the monkey forest. The forest was created when Rama’s general, the monkey king Hanuman, attempted to annihilate Rama’s enemy Rawana and his army by squashing them between two halves of Mount Meru. In the process of doing so part of the mountain fell to earth at Sangeh along with hordes of Hanuman’s army monkeys just left clinging to the nutmeg trees and the result being the creation of Bukit Sari. Intriguing as this legend is, if you retain this in your mind as you walk the path that runs clockwise through the forest and down to the river then it is your imagination that could re-create the legend for you. Silly as this may seem, just try it. It worked for me.