Batu Caves, Malaysia
“Batu” in Indonesian means a stone, rock, brick or milestone. It may be a true milestone in some people’s life especially in a spiritual part of it. The Sri Subramaniam Temple built in 1891 is dedicated to Lord Murugan, youngest son of Shiva and his wife Parvati.
Batu caves are the most famous Hindu shrines outside India. It’s located in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It’s considered as a main attraction of Kuala Lumpur or even Malaysia. The temple located approximately on a 9th floor, 272 steps hike up, doesn’t arouse as much interest as a large statue of the Hindu god at the entrance. I’ve to admit it now: it’s impressive no matter if it’s a day or night, you’re just about to climb up or enjoying a view from the top of the stairs.
The place doesn’t attract only tourists. It’s also popular among members of Hindu communities all over the world. Batu Caves as a famous touristic destination is full of people every day but is really crowded once a year during Thaipusam festival (the exact time of celebration is based on lunar calendar – it’s the full moon day in the month of Thai which is January or February in the Gregorian calendar).
I took an uber from a hotel located in Bandar Sunway, Subang Jaya which is 30 km from Batu Caves. I was ready for my small adventure at 5 am but since I checked opening hours online (6 am to 9 pm) I decided to leave the hotel at 6 in the morning. I didn’t have to wait for long time for a driver to pick me up, probably because the hotel is located in a neighborhood of Sunway Lagoon – well-known water park in Malaysia, and Sunway Pyramid Mall – small shopping kingdom in the area. A Malaysian lad didn’t try to hide his surprise when I confirmed the destination address.
– You traveling alone? – He asked. Apparently, it was not only unexpected but also unimaginable for him.
– Yes, I do. I mean… I’m here with a bunch of people but nobody wanted to join me. It’s a little bit early and I’m sure all of them are sleeping.
– Haha. Sleeping, sleeping. Yes. Sleeping is good. Yes, yes. You should sleep too – He said with slightly taut voice following by nervous laughter.
– Ah… Nah. I’m well rested and really want to see these caves. How long it’ll take to ride there? The app says that up to 30 minutes…
– Yes, yes. 30 minutes. I try to find the fastest way.
Twenty-five minutes later we reach Batu Caves village, but it took another few minutes to get to the temple complex because my driver got lost in the complicated road system. Anyway, I was there early enough to enjoy this special atmosphere of that unique moment when a night slowly turns into a day.
The gold statue of Lord Murugan – a Hindu god of war, guarding an entrance to the temple is very imposing. The statue is 42.7 meters in height which makes it the tallest statue in Malaysia. Besides that, it’s also the tallest statue of a Hindu deity in Malaysia and the second one in the World. Wow! And I saw it with my own eyes!
I could admire the view of the statue for dozens of minutes because, what I’ve learned on the spot, the entrance to the main cave called Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave is open at 7 in the morning. I was exploring an almost empty complex and I was completely fine with that. I saw some people meditating and/or praying in small shrines located at the foot of limestone hill, salesmen slowly setting up their stands. And then, just a few minutes before 7, I noticed a man girded with a piece of cloth. He started hiking up the stairs. I followed him immediately. Sun was rising and I stopped for several seconds in the middle of the concrete stairs to enjoy the view. It was stunning.
However, when I reached the Cathedral Cave, I was a bit disappointed. The atmosphere of this place that appeared in my imagination as mystical was tarnished. In the dark cave with very high ceiling and beautiful shrines was a… construction site. There’s a pile of bricks set against the wall, pipes and other items needed on site. Another disappointment was that I didn’t meet any monkey neither on my way up or down. It was too early for monkeys. Probably they were sleeping in some cozy place just like my crew. ? I met two roosters in the Temple Cave though that were crowing from time to time announcing the beginning of the day. I also met a peacock walking proudly across the complex.
Half an hour later I was downstairs again. Meantime I’ve discovered that the other caves: Dark Cave and Cave Villa, that I wanted to visit, open at 10 am and 9 am. I couldn’t stay there that long so around 8 am decided to go back to my hotel.
On my way, I accidentally did take a taxi. Yes, it was unplanned event partially forced by a taxi driver. I was considering taking a train. I really like to travel by public transportation. I don’t need to talk to anybody but listen to my favorite music. I can also observe people and learn a little bit more about a local society. However, a taxi driver slowed down and finally stopped watching me coming out of the complex. I ran to the car and opened passenger back door.
– Can we go to Sunway hotel? – I asked aware that it’s far away.
– Sunway? – He hesitated but it was too late. I was already sitting in the car. Taxi smelled strange but I decided to stay inside.
– Yes. I can show it to you on the map. It’s where the Sunway Mall is. There’s also a water park…
– Sunway hotel? There’s a Sunway hotel a few minutes from here…
– No, no, this one is about half an hour drive… You know… It’s a pretty huge complex with a mall and a water park… and you have a resort and spa there…
– Ohhh… in Subang Jaya?
– Hm… probably… – I turned on my offline map app and showed it to him pointing on the screen. – It’s here.
– Yes, yes – he confirmed. – Sunway Pyramid Hotel…
– Yas! – I exclaimed gladly didn’t let him finish. Once I sat back on a comfortable this old car I realized how tired I am. My leg hurt and my eyelids became heavy.
– The jam is now… very big. Everybody go to work. To KL. To the city…. – He started the conversation.
– What do you mean? Won’t you wake me there? – I asked apprehensively.
– No, I can go there. We will try to find the fastest way but it’s just a wrong… wrong time. You should wait two-three hours more and go. Now, everybody goes to KL.
– Kuala Lumpur. The city. Everybody work there. After two hours… they work. No jam.
– Oh… I see. I would love to stay longer but I have no time to wait.
– Okay, Okay. You alone here?
– Nope. I’m with my… colleagues. But they couldn’t join me and I really wanted to see this place. I may have no opportunity of visiting Kuala Lumpur soon so I’ve decided to go to the caves by myself. I’m doing that all the time anyway…
The guy gazed at me and smiled confusedly. Probably couldn’t catch my point. I smiled back.
He’s a man of Indian origin in his fifties who was born in Malaysia. His parents moved from India one year before India gained independence from the Great Britain (which was exactly 50 years ago – in August 1947). The man speaks fairly good English and was very talkative. I didn’t have any difficulties with understanding him but, the truth is that my communication skills improved since I moved to Dubai and started working as a flight attendant. Anyway, I could understand him and it does matter.
He never traveled to India and doesn’t consider himself an Indian. He could recognize himself as a member of the Indian community in Malaysia though. In one sentence, he discouraged and encouraged my willingness to visit this part of the world. He said, India is a very dangerous country and I should not travel there so that he would say that Indian cuisine is the best and cultural legacy should be cultivated. He told stories about raped girls, beat up boyfriends of those girls and afterward assured that religion and spirituality is the most important aspect of life in Hinduism. Sometimes I find it surprising, how people identify themselves. How many contradictions are in their minds.
– You know why caves closed now? – He resumed conversation after a moment of silence.
– Sorry? What was that? – I was looking through the window wondering how long it’ll take to get to the hotel. We really stacked in the traffic.
– Caves. You said that they were closed and you wanted to go inside.
– Some time ago… they were open day and night for everybody. All time open.
– Oh, really? What happened? Why they’re closed at night?
– Because of Muslims.
– Malaysia… capital… KL…. Most people living here are Muslim. The second is Indians and Chinese. Chinese and Indian are okay together. They talk sometimes in English and they can speak English because of that. Youngsters… they can’t. They are hanging out together in their…
– Yes. Groups only. We are not best friends but talk. Indians, Indian-Malaysians, Chinese… but not Muslims. They hate Indians…
– Do they?
– Yes. Are you Muslim?
– Nope – I giggled. – I do live in Dubai but I’m not a Muslim for sure. I’m from Poland. My family members are Christians if I can generalize but I am… am a free spirit. I believe in the power of brain and kindness and joy and that you can create your own reality and destiny…
– Okay, okay. Christians and Indians are okay together – he interrupted not interested in what I was saying. – What I was saying… O! Muslim hate Indians and they try to fight them. They think that Malaysia is their country but it’s not. It’s our country same as theirs.
– Oh… yes. Yea… But the caves…
– O, o, o! Exactly! – We finally found his train of thoughts. – Muslims destroyed altars, shrines, the temple!
– Did they!? – I was surprised. My knowledge about the political situation in Malaysia was equal to zero.
– Yes. In… in this book… Quran… is written that no other temple or statue of god can be higher than a mosque. And this gold statue of Murugan is very, very tall.
– Oh… I see… It’s so… unfair….
– I should send you to train. That jam is very bad. I’ll find another way but…
– I can take a train. It’s fine with me… – I told feeling a bit nauseous because of a funny smell in the taxi. – Where’s the closest station?
– You sure? You aren’t used to the public transportation… Do you know how to do it? – He asked with doubt.
– Of course, I know! – I laughed curious how did he come to that but I didn’t ask.
He gazed at me again and agreed. On our way to KL Sentral – a railway station from which I was instructed to take LRT to Kelana Jaya, he explained me several times step by step what should do to get back to the hotel safely. He took a responsibility for me and apparently felt guilty that couldn’t transport me to my final destination.
I listened to him and followed his instructions fairly well. I faced small problem on the last leg on my trip. I supposed to take another taxi from Kelana Jaya station but I should buy a ticket for this taxi – not take from a parking or bus station but I couldn’t find an adequate machine to purchase a ticket so I gave up and took a taxi from in front of the tram station building. They charged me double for this short trip but I didn’t regret it. I’ve learned a lot that day and it was worth every penny.