It’s another steaming hot day in Kuala Lumpur and the air conditioning on the train has made me consider a day of just staying in transit to keep cool. Another option would be to head to a nice air conditioned shopping mall or find a little cafe to chill out in with an iced coffee…Of course, that just isn’t my style. Instead of sitting in air con, I’m going to explore some huge limestone caves filled with Hindu shrines, which involves climbing 272 steps.
The train arrives at Batu Caves Station and I reluctantly step out into the heat. I have no idea where I’m going so I follow the crowds until I can see a huge limestone karst mountain ahead of me. Batu Caves is a huge cave temple complex, with different shrines located all over the place, including at the base of the mountain.
It takes me a while just to get to the bottom of the steps, where the largest statue of Lord Murugan in the world stands guard. The scene before me is quite magnificent (and a little daunting), the 272 concrete steps rising high up above me to the entrance to the main cave. I look around and see other people with reluctant looks on their faces. Everyone appears to be questioning their decision to come and climb up all of these stairs on a scorching day like this, but like me, they realise that there is nothing left to do except to start climbing.
As I climb the stairs there is the unmistakable smell of feces and urine, and up ahead I can see the source. A monkey is hassling a lady for food while another is running down the concrete partition between the staircases. I’m essentially walking in a giant monkey lavatory, but I can’t be too mad at them – they are so damn cute! A young Asian lady is gooing and gaaing over a baby monkey, while another runs off with her water bottle while she isn’t looking.
By the time I reach the 272nd step I’m almost drenched in sweat, but the view from the top is well worth it, and the explorer within is giddy with excitement at exploring the caves. There are various people collapsed around the entrance on what ever they can find to sit on, recovering from the climb, but I’m heading straight for the giant cavern ahead.
This cavern is Temple Cave (or cathedral cave) and houses lots of different Hindu shrines which sit beneath a huge ceiling. The cavern is lit quite well as it has two large entrances which let natural light in. The site is just spectacular, despite the smell of monkey urine, pigeon poop, and I’m guessing guano as well.
The cave leads through another opening into a cave with a collapsed ceiling which puts me back in the beating hot sun. There is a temple here and lots of Hindu worshipers are lined up to get their blessings. The fragrant smells from the temple are a welcome relief, and along with the sounds and the general peacefulness of the place, it keeps me lingering here for longer than I expected.
Batu Caves is one of the most important Hindu worship sites outside of India and is dedicated to Lord Murugan. In late Janurary/early February, the important Thaipusam festival is held here, attracting pilgrims from all over Malaysia and around the world. Over a million pilgrims attend. This place must be an incredible sight during that time, and I can see why they have chosen it for such an important event.
I make the long climb back down the 272 steps feeling good about making the decision to come here. I’ll swap air con for places like this any day.