It’s difficult describing just what makes a visit to the Batu Caves in Malaysia so entrancing.
Is it the towering Hindu statues, the dizzying height of the ascent to reach the caves or all those pesky monkeys that delight and terrorize visitors as they climb and climb and climb their way to the top? It’s actually the combination of all three.
Located eight miles north of the country’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, the limestone caves are believed to be some 400 million years old. Discovered in 1892, the caves were once the home of the indigenous Temuan people. The Batu Caves are one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. Today the site attracts worshippers, tourists and rock climbers.
One of the caves can only be accessed via special guided tours. Flashlights and some crawling are involved according to what I’ve read. One should do some Internet research on this as I believe it must be booked in advance and costs approximately the equivalent of $15.
At the entrance to the caves is an imposing—140-feet high—gold painted statue of Hindu deity of war Lord Muraga that was unveiled in 2006.
To view the caves, one has to be willing to get one’s heart rate pumping by climbing a series of flights of stairs—272 steps to be exact—as well as contend with a slew of long-tailed macque monkeys. The stairs can be exhausting, and the monkeys that roam the stairs practically mugging and panhandling range from charming to hyper-aggressive. I watched one visitor as a plastic bag with treats was snatched from his hand while he approached one primate for a close-up photo.
But it’s all worth it to reach the summit where paintings and statues are embedded in and against the rock walls. There are a few more flights of stairs down into the main chamber of the cave and up to the Cathedral (or Temple) Cave. In another section of the cave one can look straight up 328 feet to where the limestone opens to the sky as monkeys scamper up, down and across the walls.
Water and souvenirs can be purchased before heading down as well as at several gift shops on the plaza where flocks of pigeons dominate the terrain.
The Batu Caves are reported to attract some 5,000 visitors a day, but that number swells to more than one million during the Thaipusam Festival, which is held in late January. During the festival, an eight-hour procession takes place in which some Hindi devotees pierce their skin and carry heavy clay pots of milk while they climb the stairs.
The Batu Caves are easily accessible by train or bus from Kuala Lumpur. There is no entrance fee for access to most of the caves.
For more information on the Batu Caves, visit www.tourism.gov.my.