I was trying to conserve my energy as I climbed the 272 steps towards the main chamber of Malaysia’s Batu Caves. It would’ve been easier if the sun wasn’t at its zenith. It would’ve been easier if there were no monkeys careening up and down the steps waiting for an easy snatch from tourists. It would have been easier if I wasn’t carrying ten kilos worth of photographic equipment.
There were a lot of it would have beens, but after what seemed like an eternity (kidding), those would have beens ended as I found myself staring at the dark maw of Batu Cave’s mouth.
|GANESH IS EVERYWHERE|
According to the stamps on my passport, I have flown exactly 16 times to Kuala Lumpur. And on each one of those trips, I’ve always wanted to visit Batu Caves. Indeed, along with the Petronas Towers, it is one of Malaysia’s most iconic tourist spots, and for the life of me—I just don’t know what happens—we always seem to miss going to the cave.
Batu Caves is not exactly located in Kuala Lumpur, it is about thirteen kilometers north of the city at the state of Selangor, but going there is a breeze. From the KL Sentral station, there is a direct KTM Komuter Train (MYR2.00) to the entrance of this famous Hindu shrine.
And this last visit to KL, we boarded that train. Finally.
|THE ICONIC LORD MURUGAN STATUE, AS SEEN FROM THE TRAIN STATION|
From the Batu Caves train station, we can already see the top half of the massive golden statue of Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war the cave is dedicated upon. The youngest son of Shiva to Parvati, Murugan is one of the most important Hindu gods venerated by Tamil Hindus in Malaysia. The cave itself is the center of the community’s Thaipusam Festival; that festival where people pierce their skin with hooks and skewers, and miraculously, without shedding a single drop of blood.
|HANUMAN, THE GREEN MONKEY GOD, GUARDS THE ENTRANCE TO THE GROUNDS|
|INDIAN SNACKS BEING SOLD AT THE STALLS ALONG BATU CAVES|
Braving Malaysia’s unbearable midday heat, we passed a huge 50-foot statue of Hanuman, the green monkey god, where a couple of long tailed-macaque monkeys were doing unspeakable acts (right in front of their god!). We went through stalls after stalls of souvenirs and Indian snacks before we finally arrived at the square leading to Batu Caves’ entrada.
|BATU CAVES, AT LAST!|
From this vantage, we beheld the 140-foot high Murugan statue guarding the steps leading to the caves. Currently, it holds the record for being the tallest depiction of Murugan in the whole world, at a cost of 24 million rupees (about USD360,600.00) though.
|272 HEART-ATTACK INDUCING STEPS|
Batu Caves is a limestone formation discovered in 1892. The rock, or batu, is said to be about 400 million years old and houses a series of caves. My companions begged off climbing the steps towards its main chamber, but I was determined to finally see it, sweltering heat and all.
|BEWARE OF SNEAKY MONKEYS!|
So, leaving a few of my things with them, I set off towards the steps, gingerly avoiding the wild monkeys running across the railings and pacing myself just right for the climb up. I was told not to have any plastic bags with me or even dangle a water bottle as these monkeys tend to snatch them. I heeded that call, plus more, keeping my surroundings and cameras in check all throughout the arduous climb.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take that long for me to finally set my foot at that last step. I took in the view of the cave’s mouth for a minute before letting it swallow me.
|INSIDE THE MAIN CHAMBER OF BATU CAVES|
The temperature dropped a bit as I entered the massive cave. And when I say massive, I mean massive. The chamber inside is gargantuan huge, soaring to about a hundred meters high. From the ceiling, a distinct ray of light pierced the darkness down to the concrete floor below, and where it hits, you’d bet there’s a person there trying to take a selfie with that lone ray.
|TEMPLE DETAIL INSIDE BATU CAVES|
All along the walls of the caves, colorful Hindu images are set on natural rock niches, making the experience of walking along the chamber quite surreal. And at its far end, a full-blown temple stands, complete with a lighted plethora of more Hindu deities.
I was surprised to find another set of stairs leading up to another chamber inside the cave. It’s definitely not as high as the main entrance of Batu Caves and I was up in no time.
|LOOKING UP, HINDU GOPURAM RISE UP TO THE CAVE CEILING OPENING|
This particular chamber is smaller than the main hall and is lighted by a natural opening at its ceiling. A portion of the wall is set with vegetation clinging against the folds of the craggy rock surface, and at the ground, several smaller Hindu shrines stand. It was weirdly fascinating.
There were only a few tourists when I visited Batu Caves, and I heard this place, large as it is, gets filled to brimming during the Thaipusam Festival. The emptiness of the place must’ve added to my appreciatation of the cave.
|THE HINDU GODDESS OF WEALTH, LAKSHMI, ON THE SECOND CHAMBER OF BATU CAVES|
To be honest, I was expecting to be disappointed with our visit, fearing it would be very touristy and very Disneylandish, but I was surprisingly elated to find Batu Caves to be darkly beautiful, and dare I say, even enchanting. The combination of mysterious Hindu deities set inside a monumental natural hollow, the dimly lit nature of the place, that natural opening on the second chamber; these, combined, made its mark on me.
And of course, at long last, after so many years, I can finally cross Batu Caves off my list!
Address: Batu Caves, Gombak, Selangor, Malaysia
Contact Number: (+603) 2287-9422
Open Hours: 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, Daily
Entrance Fee: Free
GPS Coordinates Map: 3.237372, 101.683808