Revered in the religious traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shintoism, our often holy to but not-so-saintly primate cousins are breathing life into the legends of the past for religious followers and curious visitors alike at the following spiritual destinations.
Swayambhunath, (Monkey Temple) Kathmandu, Nepal
A workout, wildlife excursion, and spiritual escape all wrapped into one! Be prepared to huff and puff your way up 365 steep steps to meet your furry friends here. Located atop a hill west of Kathmandu city, the complex consists of a magnificent domed stupa, as well as a variety of shrines and temples. This sacred pilgrimage site is home to hundreds of monkeys considered holy to Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus. According to the legend Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom was raising the temple hill and the lice in his hair transformed into these monkeys. That story alone sounds like inspiration for the climb.
Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana (Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary ) Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
This heavily-wooded 27-acre eco-sanctuary contains three temples and more than 80 varieties of trees. More than 500 Macaques live in the sanctuary; they’re revered here as manifestations of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. A local staff feeds and cares for the monkeys, and also protects tourists who are often vulnerable to their not-so-cute and cuddly bites and scratches. If you happen to make a visit, best to steer clear of those fangs and let the pros do the monkey feeding.
Jigokudani Monkey Park, Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano, Japan
Jigokudani means “Hell’s Valley” so named due to the area’s eerie bubbling hot springs, harsh landscape, and snowy frigid climate. The park is famous for its population of Japanese Macaques–also known as Snow Monkeys, the most northern living non-human primates. Sometime in the early ’60s these clever characters decided to test the waters of the natural hot springs, and they’ve descended from the forest to warm up in their steamy discovery every winter since. Although not technically a religious site, the Snow Monkeys are popular in Japanese fables and are believed to be messengers of the Shinto mountain gods and rivers. No doubt, seeing monkeys on spa retreat is a probably a surreal and spiritual experience all on its own.
Temple of Galtaji at Galwar Bagh (Monkey Temple), Jaipur, India
The pink stone Temple of Galtaji at Galwar Bagh is an idyllic sanctuary in the heart of Jaipur. Here, Hindu pilgrims gather to bathe in the sacred springs and reservoirs of the complex. A temple dedicated to the Hindu monkey god Hanuman is also on site, and a tribe of his present day monkey representatives reside here. Ironically, the monkeys’ famously naughty behavior is in stark contrast to their seemingly tranquil home life. They’re often engage in fights, break-ins, robberies, and general havoc-wreaking, and are lucky to be protected by their sacred status. The dramatic antics of these so-called “Rebel Monkeys” has achieved reality TV-worthy status, having snagged their own show on NatGeo.