When we travelled North from Kuala Lumpur towards the Cameron Highlands we planned a stop at the famous Batu Caves, a limestone hill that has a series of caves and cave temples and is situated 13 kilometres outside the capital.
We learnt in our guidebook that you have to climb 272 steep concrete steps to reach the main attraction, the Temple (aka Cathedral) Cave – one of the biggest and most popular Hindu shrines outside India. It is the focus point of the Hindu festival Thaipusam in the Tamil month of Thai (which is in the end of January or beginning of February) and dedicated to Lord Murugan.
After we opened the doors of our car in the parking lot, the heat and humidity hit us like a brick. A flight of 272 steep steps? Not so sure about that. Nevertheless, we left the comfort of the AC and made our way towards the entrance, which is marked by a 42.7 metres high, golden statue of Lord Murugan. It was unveiled in January 2006 after three years of construction and is the biggest Lord Murugan statue in the world.
Climbing up the redly painted steps we were accompanied by many macaques begging for food. They are used to humans and therefore quite shameless if they detect anything of interest to them.
Some drops of sweat later we reached the top and entered the Temple Cave, the biggest of the three main caves, rising almost 100 metres above the ground. The temple complex has very high ceilings featuring ornate Hindu shrines.
The comfortable breath in the cave was a welcome change from the sweltering heat. Besides us mainly Hindu worshipers visited the place. What puzzled us was the atmosphere. It was different from the places of worship we know from our culture; it was noisy, hectic, lively and dirty. Vendors were selling blinking and loud mini statues as well as other souvenirs.
With new impressions we left the Temple Cave and enjoyed the view.
Below the Temple Cave is the Dark Cave, with rock formations and a number of animals found nowhere else. It is a two-kilometre network of relatively untouched caverns. Stalactites jutting from the cave’s ceiling and stalagmites rising from the floor form intricate formations such as cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops, which took thousands of years to form. In order to maintain the cave’s ecology, you have to book a tour with the Malaysian Nature Society in order to get access.
As we still had quite a journey ahead of us, we skipped the Temple Cave and climbed down.
At the base of the hill you find the renovated Cave Villa with two more cave temples, the Art Gallery Cave and the Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings. Many of the shrines relate to the story of Lord Murugan’s victory over the demon Soorapadam. An audio tour is available to visitors.
At this point we were looking forward to a cold drink before we continued our drive up North.
By the way: in case you are a rock-climbing enthusiast, Batu Cave offers more than 160 climbing routes. Tours can be organized through local adventure companies.