Batu Caves

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.

BACKGROUND

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.

OUR VISIT

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 These steps were originally made of wood and constructed in 1920.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.

Photo

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.

Here are a few other random shots from the trip. To see more, please ‘like’ and visit my Facebook page or add my Google+ page to your circles.

View from the top of the stairs.

View from the top of the stairs.

A man who loves his cows.

Feeding the monkeys!

Batu Caves

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28 Replies to “Batu Caves”

  1. Pingback: <b>Batu Caves</b> – A Day in the Life of A Simple Girl: BATUCAVES.com

  2. meganekubasch

    Wowwwww. I love this post. The pictures are amazing. This must have been a wonderful experience. It is too bad that the lady in the yellow garb was offended by your offer to assist her. Cultural differences amaze me. Thank you so much for sharing your experience 🙂

    • Erin Post author

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked my post. The Batu Caves were really great to visit and I would love to go back. I agree that cultural differences can be quite surprising. That’s one of the things I love about travelling: learning how different cultures work. Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my post.

    • Erin Post author

      hahaha! Those monkeys! I was loving the monkeys, too, until the one bit that guy. Now they make me a little nervous. lol. But as long as they stay a few feet away from me, I like them.

  3. Valerie

    I love the pictures of the older lady with the hair! Haha, I remember when I was in Uganda at the zoo (where the monkeys roam freely) I made the mistake of reaching into my purse for a mint. About 10 monkeys come running up towards me, scared me to death! I threw the mint and quickly got away though and didn’t reach towards my purse the rest of the time :)

  4. Jen Seligmann

    Fantastic post! I’ve always wanted to visit Batu Caves ever since seeing it on Globe Trekker many many years ago. It looks so colourful and vibrant and the traditions and culture behind it all is fascinating to me.

  5. Sarah Ebner

    I think I’ve said it before, but your pictures are amazing. They really give a feel of the place you’re writing about. The Batu Caves are a place I’d love to go too – they look and sound fascinating.

  6. Amy

    What an awesome place! I love all the bright colors. Those aggressive monkeys and massive spiders might make me a little nervous, but it still seems like it would be worth it.

  7. Hannah

    Wow! That looks incredible and your photos are stunning! Funny about that elderly lady yelling at you for just wanting to help- at least you tried!

  8. Els

    Wow, this looks stunning! I’m trying to persuade my partner to visit Malaysia, but he’s quite reluctant, saying it doesn’t have a lot of tradition! I’ll show him your post! 🙂 But oh God, I’m really scared of monkeys, so would have to take a chill pill before going there, haha!

    • Erin Post author

      No tradition in Malaysia? Oh, wow! We lived there a year and there is quite a lot of tradition there. A lot of Hindus dress is traditional Hindu clothing, there are many traditional ceremonies and celebrations around town throughout the year, Malays have their own traditions and culture and so do the Chinese that live there. It’s quite the amalgamation.

    • Erin Post author

      Thank you! I was surprised, too, at how at ease the monkeys were around people. But I guess that’s what happens after decades of cohabitation.

  9. Heather Cole

    Stunning! We didn’t have time to visit when we were in KL a couple of years ago, though not sure I’d have enjoyed the guano or the monkeys (they kind of scare me, the monkeys not the guano). Very impressive though, and I think your pics are great! Shame about the little old lady, just goes to show sometimes you just shouldn’t even bother trying to be chivalrous 🙂

    • Erin Post author

      The people there are pretty good about cleaning the stairs and making it so you don’t have to walk in any guano. There are a few places inside the big cave where there is some, but for the most part it’s all cleaned up. And as long as you don’t reach into your pockets or bag, the monkeys will leave you alone. The aggressive monkeys were over by the Dark Cave, so you should be fine if you avoid that part.

      Yeah, we felt bad about the old lady. I’m hoping it was just a language thing and she thought we were trying to steal from her and not that she was disgusted by our offer. Who knows.

  10. Anu (Country Hopping Couple)

    Lovely temple. But those monkeys are really notorious, aren’t they? A lot of hilly temples in South India do have monkeys of these kind. We cannot carry flower, fruit or camera in the bag…they know how to open the purse or a box and probably to click a camera too…ha ha! big time trouble makers 🙂

    • Erin Post author

      Yes! Monkeys are so mischievous! And smart. We kept getting a kick out of the monkeys going up and pulling on people’s pockets. They know where the goodies are. lol

  11. shussey27

    I hope I get to return to Malaysia one day. Although I have technically been I only spent one night in Kuala Lumpur (and what I night!) but my partner lived there and had visited the Batu Caves and described them very similarly to you. Sounds like a great religious place to visit – and why are there always monkeys!? :) We saw monkeys (only) at religious temples in Myanmar but no where else….very strange! They weren’t so aggressive as those ones you saw though :)

    • Erin Post author

      Yeah, I got nervous every time I went there that the monkeys would jump on me. That’s why I carried a bag of peanuts in my purse so I could throw peanuts where I wanted the monkeys to go so they wouldn’t get too close. It worked really well.

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