As I’ve traveled, I’ve heard many tales about southeast Asian temples from people who’ve visited the area, and Batu Caves lives up to all of their stories, monkeys and all. Located several miles north of Kuala Lumpur, the limestone caves are the site of various Hindu shrines in devotion to Lord Murugan. His golden-colored statue stands next to the 270-plus steps leading into the Cathedral/Temple Cave and is the largest Lord Murugan statue in the world.
Beng, Voon’s friend, joined us on the excursion out to Batu Caves, and as we stepped out of the taxi the size of the Batu Caves blew me away. Beng had mentioned that it’d be quite a hike up to the cave entrance, but this was ridiculous. The steps were steep and seemed to go on forever.
Despite this, we started our journey onward and upward, as they say, along with dozens of other tourists and religious devotees. Never before was I more thankful for having worked as a waitress and cleaned hostel rooms for 60-hours a week back in New Zealand than I was at this moment. All that hard work got me in shape and helped me reach the top when I would’ve otherwise given up.
Along the way, dozens of wild monkeys frolicked around us as they jumped from one side of the stairs to the other. Always in search of free food, the monkeys were bold and not afraid of people. Some monkeys ate fruits or drank milk off the ground as many people brought treats for them. Other, more aggressive monkeys, dashed toward people and snatched bags out of their hands. I watched as one literally tore the bag from a man’s hand, ripped open the bottle of milk and started chugging.
Having not brought any food with me, I felt quite confident that I wouldn’t be bombarded by a monkey horde and was able to enjoy their cuteness. I even found a mommy with a baby clinging to her body. It was just like something out of National Geographic. It was amazing how close they let us come to them and how close we were allowed to go. If this were America, we’d only get to see them from behind bars or through a thick sheet of glass. Too much potential for a lawsuit should anything untoward happen I suppose.
After a couple of brief (ahem) “photo stops” along the way, Beng, Voon and I finally reached the summit. The view was nice despite the cloudy haze on the horizon, and it was a long way down to where we began. It looked like rain was coming (or that could’ve just been the pollution around KL), but we had the cover of the caves to protect us.
The natural formations within the cave itself reminded me of something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The water-eroded cave walls and stalactites made me feel as though I was on an authentic expedition to some unknown part of the world. However, then the sheer number of people around me brought me back to reality.
As we continued farther into the cave, I saw small shrines nestled among the natural shapes in the rocks. Colorful statues of Hindu gods and goddesses decorated the shrines of various shapes and sizes. Deep within Batu Caves were full-sized areas of worship where Hindu monks carried out their religious practices. Beng mentioned that we’d just missed a large Hindu religious celebration during which time priests (although I’m not sure if that’s the correct title for them – swami maybe?) and worshipers congregated in the area.
Despite the smothering, always-present Malaysian heat outside, the caves were cool and refreshing. I was glad we made it out here today and that I was able to share it with friends. While I definitely enjoy traveling alone, having friends to experience things with makes it all the more memorable. Thanks Beng and Voon for a wonderful day!