Batu Caves is the type of experience that captures why I like to travel. It offered me a window into a world so different than my everyday life, and it ramped up my urge to explore other cultures. Back in the 1800s, an Indian trader came across these limestone caves. Thinking that the entrance resembled a vel, the divine spear of the god Lord Murugan, he built a temple to this deity inside the cave. A few centuries later, the complex has grown and become one of the primary Hindu sites in Malaysia. Next month, over a million people are expected to attend the temple's Thaipusam festival which will apparently feature much mortification of the flesh.
The caves are a mere 8 miles north of Kuala Lumpur, and it makes for a quick 2-3 hour excursion, including the drive there and back. As we headed up the highway, something gold and glittering caught my eye in the distance. Lo and behold, it marked our destination.
|World's largest Murugan statue|
This 140-foot-tall statue of Lord Murugan, a popular deity with Tamil Hindus, marks the beginning of the 272 stairs leading up to the Temple Cave.
|Statues atop the entrance gate|
We started ascending the steep staircase, grateful for the broad landings so we could stop and take in the views. We even had a little entertainment off to the side.
|Bananas, chips, peanuts — pretty much anything would suffice|
The first large cave had numerous Hindu shrines inside. It also had a couple chickens. Well, chickens and monkeys. Make that chickens, monkeys and pigeons. And people — I must not forget the people.
|From the Temple Cave, you can take even more steps.|
We decided to head up one more level and found that the next cave opened up to the sky. Monkeys scaled the almost vertical walls, using nothing more than thin vines to pull themselves upwards.
Inside the shrines, Hindu men and women were lined up for some reason. Perhaps a blessing of some sort? The man on the right was preparing leaves inside a bowl. Periodically, the man in the center of the picture would emerge from the room with another bowl and put a dab of its contents — ash, maybe? — on the worshippers foreheads. The solemn ritual brought to mind the same devoutness and prescribed motions of a Catholic mass. The people waiting in line reminded me of Catholics heading to the altar for communion.
Afterwards, we headed back down the stairs, skipping the Dark Cave tour and the museum-like Cave Villa. Following the crowd, I couldn't help stopping to snap a picture of the 50-foot Hanuman statue that stood over the entrance of Ramayana Cave.
It was a fascinating experience that revealed to me how little I know about Hinduism and made me want to learn more. And all those stairs burned calories, too! Something for the mind and something for the body. It's a win-win situation.
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