Nov 22 2011
Read any Tourism Malaysia publication, or scan its website, and you could be forgiven for thinking Kuala Lumpur has no public transport to speak of. The phrase “taxis are the most convenient mode of transport” appears with alarming regularity, even when Rapid KL buses, or walking, are viable options.
But even Tourism Malaysia could not claim that taxis are the most convenient way to reach the Hindu temple complex of Batu Caves. The KTM Komuter station (2 ringgit from KL Sentral) could hardly be closer if it tried. But Batu Caves are not just easy to get to, they also make an interesting and very affordable day trip from central KL.
The first sight that hits you when you approach the complex (07:00-21:00, free admission) is the massive (at 42.7 metres the world’s tallest) statue of Lord Murugan. A son of Shiva, he is known by umpteen names around India, but his worship is most associated with the Tamil people of the deep south. As Tamils make up the bulk of ethnic Indians in Malaysia (and Singapore too) it should come as no surprise that Lord Murugan is particularly important to the local Hindu community.
Next to the statue are the 272 steps leading up to main caves of the temple complex. The steps are steep, and can be slippery after rainfall, so it’s best to take them at a reasonable pace. Avoiding the midday sun is probably a wise idea too. After the ordeal by steps, you are faced with the 100-metre high Cathedral or Temple Cave. Quite apart from its natural splendour, the cave has number of Hindu shrines dotted round.
After another set of steps is a smaller cave, which is bathed in light from the tree-lined gap in the ceiling above. Anyone who associates caves with dank, dark places will be surprised by how airy and light this space is.
The recently opened Dark Cave (Tues-Sun, 09:30-17:00; foreigners, 35 ringgit, Malaysians, 25 ringgit), which is on your right as you start your return journey to ground level, does live up to its name however.
The terrace by the Dark Cave offers superb views of central KL, even on a hazy day. It also has a prominent sign, which everyone seems to ignore, requesting that people not feed the monkeys. One of the features of Batu Caves are the cheeky macaques, stuffing a variety of food into their mouths. Don’t get too close, as they have been known to bite the hand that feeds them.
Harder to spot, and much less brazen, are the attractive langurs, who also hang round the complex in the hope of a free meal. Hanuman, the monkey God, is one of the most popular Hindu deities, so it’s fair to say these guys are likely to remain part and parcel of the Batu Caves experience.
Although the limestone caves are believed to be 400 million years old, their association with Hindu worshippers only stretches back to 1890. In little more than a century however, the complex has become an important pilgrimage site.
The best (and worst) time to visit Batu Caves is during the predominantly Tamil festival of Thaipusam, when the site is thronged by several hundred thousand worshippers. The caves are the climax of a procession from Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Chinatown, with a silver chariot carrying a statue of Lord Murugan at its head. Thaipusam is next celebrated on February 7, 2012.
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