Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kuala Lumpur: Temples and Caves

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.

Noble monkey

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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  1. Oh, gosh! I clicked on mortification of flesh. Are you going back for the festival? I don't think I could handle being around that many fresh piercings!

  2. Chantelle - I'm stayong away during Thaipusum. But if curiousity gets the better of me, I'm definitely not bringing the kids.

  3. I just watched a whole documentary about the festival and the Batu Caves. It must have been amazing to be there in person. My youngest would love all the monkeys.

    The festival...I'm not sure I'd want to be surrounded by all the crowds or piercings. LOL. I'm a wimp.

  4. The caves and the statues are amazing. The monkeys are everywhere and very cheeky. We were warned not to carry food with us as the monkeys may come after you to get the food.

  5. That's a lot of stairs! But the beautiful temples inside the caves are worth it. #wkendtravelinspiration

  6. This cave is massive, I'd definitely like to visit. Love that monkey photo. I really enjoyed your time in Malaysia and Batu Caves are definitely on my To See List.

  7. Wow. we visited small Hindu temples in Singapore and Bangkok and they just boggled my mind with all the color and detail. This must have been a really transporting experience. amazing!

  8. This is an attraction I have wanted to visit for a long time. Hope I make it to Malaysia one day. I had not realized the cave is a Hindu site on a Muslim country. Very interesting.

  9. It's been a while since we were in KL and visited the Batu Caves. It is a climb but worth it.

  10. Yes, the view and the temple itself are so amazing that it makes up for the climb.

  11. The fact that this one was built inside a cave gave it an Indiana Jones feel. It was very unique.

  12. With so many Indians and Chinese living in Malaysia's big cities, it's not unusual to find Hindu and Chinese temples mixed in among the mosques.

  13. The scaffolding around the huge gold statue has been removed since I last visited. I'd love to see it unobstructed.

  14. What an interesting idea to build a temple within a cave. This is an amazing place to visit. Those monkeys are everywhere.

  15. Lyn - A Hole in my ShoeOctober 22, 2016 at 12:36 AM

    I've been to KL but did not have time to get to Batu Caves. I'm thinking it's time to go back...


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