The first weekend we were in Malaysia, Troy took me to the Batu Caves. When you hear the word caves, you think of a great big empty space inside of a mountain or the ground. And that’s what these are. Sort of. They are caves, but they’re not empty.
The Batu Caves is a series of large and small limestone caves dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war and victory. These caves are about 8 miles north of Kuala Lumpur and are estimated to be about 400 million years old. Before becoming a religious site, these caves were used throughout the centuries as shelter for the various people who have inhabited the area. Then, around 1860, the Chinese who lived near the caves began using the guano (bat droppings) inside as fertilizer for their farms. Having been in caves in Borneo that are not commonly frequented by people, but overly populated by bats, I can safely affirm that these caves most likely had plenty of guano to fertilize a hundred farms.
Even though the Chinese and various other locals used the caves in 1860, they didn’t start becoming popular until 1878 when the colonial British government made record of the caves’ existence. Then, an American naturalist William Hornaday visited and the site began its current life as a tourist destination.
Around the same time, the local Indian population also used the caves for religious purposes. An Indian trader named K. Thamboosamy Pillai was the first recorded to have dedicated the main cave to the worship of Lord Murugan and in 1890 he erected a statue of Lord Murugan inside the temple cave. Soon after that, in 1892, the festival known as Thaipusam began being celebrated there.
At the temple today there is a 272 cement staircase leading from the ground to the main cavern at the top of the hill. These steps were originally made of wood and constructed in 1920. Before those steps were erected, worshipers and those using the guano as fertilizer had to climb roughly 130 feet up the steep hillside to get to the entrance of the main cave, which is known as Cathedral Cave.
Cathedral Cave is 328 high and is home to several Hindu shrines as well as a beautiful Hindu temple.
Just past that temple is another (smaller) set of stairs that will lead you to another temple and a few more shrines. It’s just so amazing to me, the amount of detail and the work that has gone into these shrines and temples. Granted, tools and machinery help produce these now, but there still remains a high level of detail on the more aged items, the ones that were made when only hand tools were available. It’s very impressive what they did.
At the base of the stairs leading up to last chamber, there is a temple that has been built into the cave wall. Unfortunately, none of my shots turned out very well. Oh well. I do have a picture of this awesome little lady. She is walking into that temple. The bad on her back? Yeah, that’s her hair. I thought it was straw or some kind of coarse bag at first, but after seeing her again when we were leaving, we figured out it was her hair.
Funny story about her leaving. When we were going down the stairs, we saw her again and raced down so we could get some more shots of her. I know, we’re terrible. Her hair was just so fascinating! After taking a couple quick shots and watching her for a minute, we decided that Troy should be polite and offer her his arm as she went down the stairs. You know, since there are a lot of stairs and she’s a little older. Well, when he offered, you’d have thought he had told her he wanted to kill her or steal her purse. She yelled at us a bit and got quite possessive of her purse and hair. It was a bit comical watching her try to angrily gesture us away while trying to keep her bag and her hair close to her. Poor lady. We were just trying to be nice.
Aside from the temples and shrines inside Cathedral Cave, there are a few temples at the base of the cave as well as another around the left side of the hill, just as you get off the train. At the base of the hill you will find Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave. These caves were renovated in 2008 and are now set up as one cave known as Cave Villa. I have not been in these, but there is supposed to be quite a collection of Hindu art and statues inside as well as shrines dedicated to Lord Murugan’s victory over Soorapadam, an immortal demon who torments the good people of the world.
Before you get to the main cave and Cave Villa, if you arrived on the train, you will pass two other temples. One is to the left of where you enter the hill area after exiting the train. This temple is preceded by a large statue of Hanuman, the monkey devotee of Lord Rama.
The temple behind him is dedicated to him. Beyond that is a cave known as Ramayana Cave. It is supposed to have the story of Rama depicted on the walls, though we’ve not seen it because the cave is always blocked off every time we’ve gone there.
Nobody seems to know why it is blocked off. I’m assuming they’re doing remodeling, but there is also the possibility that it is dangerous for some reason. Whatever the reason is, I went up to the gate and took pictures.
The other temple is up some steep steps (maybe around 15-20 steps) and is really quite pretty. You do need to remove your shoes before going up the steps as a sign of respect to their religion. The first time we went there, there was a festival going on and we got to watch them sing, pray and perform a few rituals. It was really neat. And the people were really great about us watching. They invited us up to the front so we could see and they let us wander to different areas to get different views of what was going on. We had our big cameras with us and a few of the people kept gesturing for us to get closer. It was fun.
Another fun thing about the Batu Caves is that there are tons of monkeys crawling around. Most of them are pretty docile, but there are a few that get territorial. If you bring food, be aware that the monkeys will try to steal it from you if you pull it out. Any reaching into a bag will entice a few monkeys to come see what you’ve got. There are some who will even climb on you if you hold still for long enough. (i don’t recomment it….see below) When I went to the caves with Troy’s parents in March I made sure I had a bag of peanuts easily accessible in my purse and whenever the monkeys got too close I would throw peanuts to the side and we would walk around them as they went after the peanuts.
The first time Troy and I went to Batu Caves we noticed a set of stairs going off to the left when climbing up the 272-step staircase and went over to investigate. Up those steps is another cave and a tour of it. It iscalled Dark Cave and costs RM35 per person. This tour is through the hill in a very dark section of the cave and you get to see some pretty awesome (and huge) hugs. The spiders and centipedes in there are MASSIVE! Thank goodness they give you a flashlight.
Outside of that cave is where we saw the aggressive monkeys. One monkey climbed on a lady who was leaning on the railing and she laughed for a while as it sat on her shoulder. After a few moments the monkey climbed on her head and started ‘having it’s way’ with her ear. I was very embarrassed for her. The poor lady was turning all shades of red and was trying to get the monkey off of her, but it would get rather aggressive when she tried to shoo it off. Finally, after laughing his head off, pointing and taking a bunch of pictures, Troy got a leaf and enticed the monkey to get off the poor lady. Shortly after, the lady’s husband sat on a rock and the same monkey jumped on his head, where he proceeded to pull the guy’s hair, bounce up and down rapidly and bite the guy’s head. It was a little scary. We got out of there after that.
The moneys weren’t all bad. There were some really cute ones that we had a good time with.
Overall, even with the crazy monkey, I really liked the Batu Caves. There were a lot of fascinating things to see, the people were super nice and it was fun learning about a different culture. I highly recommend visiting the Batu Caves if you are ever in Kuala Lumpur.
View from the top of the stairs.
View from the top of the stairs.
A man who loves his cows.
Feeding the monkeys!
- Lord Murugan Statue at Batu Caves (welcometoerinsworld.com)