Batu Caves
Batu Caves, where rich Malaysian culture meets the city

Written by :
Elisa Ismail

Malaysia is renowned for its diversity and rich culture, which can be seen from all of our mixed races. The various places of worship for the different religions have become an iconic landmark, and Batu Caves situated in Selangor not far from Kuala Lumpur is one of them.

Batu Caves consists of three caves built offshoot a big limestone situated in the northern part of Kuala Lumpur, which is home for the Hindu temples and shrines where you can find the different Hindu deities.

A visit is easy enough since it is just in Kuala Lumpur. I thought a car drive there would suffice since the Middle Ring Road 2 (MRR2) is so accessible from most highways. Getting there is easy as you can spot the golden statue of Lord Murugan can be seen a distance away.

Batu Caves is considered as one of Malaysia’s natural wonders, as the caves are formed from limestone hundreds of years ago. The caves are one of Malaysia’s biggest attractions rich in its culture and history, and a place of pilgrimage for Hindus. The name is derived from the ‘Sungai Batu’ (River Batu), which flows nearby and located 7 miles, north of Kuala Lumpur. It is said a local Hindu community leader by the name of K. Thamboosamy Pillay built the caves in 1891. The entrance of the cave that resembled a ‘vel’ or spear traditionally clutched by the deity Lord Murugan inspired him to create the statue. Now, Thaipusam is an annual celebration dedicated to Lord Murugan where thousands of Hindu devotees come to pay their respects.

Batu Caves comes alive during the month of January or February with the celebration of Thaipusam, where Hindu devotees carrying a procession from the city will come and gather with their rituals and celebrations. As I arrived at Batu Caves, the first thing that struck me most was the extravagant 43-meter high golden statue of Lord Murugan. Regally posted at the entrance of the main caves. It did give me the chills looking at the enormity of the statue. I remember thinking, how were they able to construct such an enormous statue many years ago without the modern technology we have today. I admired the statue along with other visitors who were busy clicking away at their camera, marveling at this great structure.

" It did give me the chills looking at the enormity of the statue. I remember thinking, how were they able to construct such an enormous statue many years ago without the modern technology we have today. "

As I looked around, the place was buzzing with people – local and foreign visitors taking in the sights. Even the monkeys who were loitering around Batu Caves didn’t seem to be fazed by us! Besides the statues and Hindu priests, I heard the monkeys also consider Batu Caves as their home – as I saw plenty of them enjoying the attention from the visitors handing them food.

What piqued my interest the most weren’t the monkeys, and as regal as Lord Murugan was with his gold plated shroud; I saw the 272 multi colored steps that may look all ‘colorful’ and vibrant – but was menacing to the physical human body!

That is 544 steps going up and down, how was I going to conquer that I thought? To truly experience Batu Caves and all its glory is to climb up the 272 steps to enter the caves. There lies the various statues that serves as the ritual place for many Hindu devotees. Before going up the flight of stairs, I thought I better fuel my energy by grabbing a snack at one of the stalls that were selling the local delicacies. You can be spoilt for choice with all the local snacks. I settled with the local Indian snack called ‘vadei’, a snack made from red lentils blended with onions, red chilies and various spices. To quench my thirst on this hot day, I drank a refreshing glass of coconut water!

Recharged and equipped with my handy camera and my trusty water bottle, I was ready to tackle my Mount Everest - also known as the steps of Batu Caves! As I walked up, I was in awe with the people that joined me on this quest up the steps.

However, what amazed me was the dedication and willingness of the devotees – young and old slowly chanting prayers underneath their breath to go up and perform their ritual prayers. They had a mission, as devotees climb up this obstacle to meet and pray to their gods. Surrendering their body, mind and soul as well as resisting fatigue to reach the caves above. The elderly took their time whilst chanting, while the younger children clasped the hands of their parents with excitement and eagerness.

" As I walked up, I was in awe with the people that joined me on this quest up the steps. I saw the usual throng of visitors both local and foreigners, all having the same beady sweat forming on our foreheads and face as we challenged ourselves up the steps. "

A quarter way up, I already felt tired muscles tingling my legs underneath the scorched sun. I looked up and saw the determined faces of the devotees and that gave me the energy to lift my spirit and forge on.

Finally reaching the top, the feeling was indescribable - a sense of mixed emotions overcame me. I was beyond exhausted and my body was aching but I felt accomplished, proud even that I didn’t give up and persevered on regardless that every bone in my body wanted me to stop and collapse from exhaustion. I told myself I did it, maybe the aura of determination from the fellow devotees gave me the ‘strength’ to endure it up all the stairs. As I reached the top, murmurs of the devotees chanting prayers was echoing in the cave, and again all I could see was the calmness in the faces of the devotees as they stood in front of their deity statues in prayer. The interior surrounding was filled with limestone which was estimated to be 400 million years old. The temple inside the cave is an important religious landmark for Hindus and becomes the place of worship for the devotees. Quietly, I walked around snapping pictures and being cautious not to disturb those who were in prayers - in a state of quiet meditation.

The deity statue in the cave was aligned at the side and to see the statues, we all had to line up and wait in turn to see the god statues. The statues were under the pagodas that were carved with intricate, colorful carvings of all their Hindu god sculptures. The statues were surrounded by light candles, and lighted incense lit by the devotees. The smells of the incense whiffed in the caves as more and more were being lighted up.

Further ahead I could see the entrance to another dark cave, a guided tour and a ticket price of RM33 including a flashlight and helmet. I decided not to go for the cave tour, as it would be another one hour of hiking and walking. I was scared that if I ventured out to another cave, I might not be able to make the 272 steps down!

After exploring the cave and having fully immersed myself in the culture and the sights, I guess it was about time for me to make my descend down the challenging 272 steps yet again! This time I was mentally prepared, and thought that the climb down will not be as bad as the climb up. As I left the cave, I felt the effort to climb up the steps was definitely worth it. Seeing how the devotees honored their religion, young and old climbing to the top of 272 steps to give prayers and offerings was something of wonderment.

" This time I was mentally prepared, and thought that climb down will not be as bad as the climn up "

As I prepared to go down the steps once again, the heat had cooled down a bit but the sun was up and the light was enough to guide us down the steps carefully. I looked up and saw the partial view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline and admired the sight of Malaysia’s city center. Looking out at the modern city of where the daily grind, hustle and bustle of city life is happening, and realizing not far out here - I am standing at a limestone hilltop amongst the throngs of people admiring culture and the beauty of nature and the caves. A striking contrast of two worlds but yet here I am standing here looking out at the city below. The steady pace down allowed me to enjoy the sights more as you could see the sights and view clearer as you go down the steps.

After 544 steps, finally I succeeded in immersing myself in what Batu Caves has to offer. Rich in culture and religion, it gave me the opportunity to appreciate a different faith besides mine and in practicing their respected religion openly. Looking around I saw the stalls were still open and decided to just take my last coconut water to replenish the electrolytes and my energy! As I sat, conversations in various languages could be heard and people sharing their experiences of walking up the hill to the top and the sense of achievement and relief that they made it down in one piece…thankfully.

How To Get There

One last picture of Lord Murugan and the colorful steps would be my picture memento that I managed to conquer my personal ‘Everest’ here in Kuala Lumpur city. I looked around Batu Caves, and with the place buzzing with visitors and devotees - I could still take a moment to bask in the surrounding nature that has also made Batu Caves one of Malaysia’s top destination spots for avid nature lovers.

The lush green trees and a hint of grey limestone from the caves, makes Batu Caves picture worthy any day. For new or returning tourists who want to discover culture and nature’s beauty intertwined, Batu Caves will not disappoint – everything in one place here in the heart of the city center.

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