from “Viper’s Creed” soundtrack, iLL, 2009.
For our first real venture out into Kuala Lumpur we decided we would take in its most famous natural wonder: Batu Caves. Situated in the northern outskirts of the city, Batu Caves is a huge limestone hill that juts from the landscape. The main cave itself is also home to a Hindu shrine, dedicated to Lord Murugan, and is one of the most popular outside India.
Whilst being around 400 million years old, Batu Caves was in more recent times used in the mid 1800s by early Chinese settlers as a source of bat guano, which they used to fertilised their food crops. The caves then became famous in 1878 when they were recorded by the colonial authorities. Then towards the end of the 19th century the caves were promoted as a site of worship by an Indian trader, and a shrine was built within the main cave, and it is now known as the Temple Cave. To reach the Temple Cave you have to climb up 272 concrete steps to the entrance, and at the foot of the steps stands a 43m tall golden statue of Lord Murugan.
At the base of the hill on the western side is the Ramayana Cave, and this was the first one we decided to visit while we mustered our energy to face the 272 step climb to the Temple Cave. The Ramayana Cave depicts the story of Rama in a series of statues along the irregular walls of the cave. While not exactly what we would call sophisticated, this story of Rama depiction using colourful statues did not seem too demeaning of the location, unlike the additions to the Temple Cave as we were to discover.
The climb up the steps to the Temple Cave were fortunately not overly challenging in the heat although a few stops along to the way to pause and take in the view were welcome. The steps are in four lanes – two up, two down – and as usual there are always some people in the wrong lane making things more difficult; it’s not hard to pay attention to the up/down arrows!
One attraction – or peril – are the macaques which live in and around the caves. They are quite unafraid of humans and can pose a bit of a hazard to tourists as they can be quite territorial. We saw a number of them attempting to menace children with the parents having to fend them off.
The macaques are also always seeking food, and some visitors do feed them. This isn’t a good idea in our opinion – it is what has led to them being both unafraid of humans and also actively trying to snatch anything edible (and otherwise) from people. They really should be left alone – they are wild animals, not pets.
The Temple Cave is a huge cavern of craggy rock, with a large opening in the top, and numerous plants growing up in the inaccessible heights. It really is very impressive, but – for us – somewhat spoiled by the presence of the changes for the shrine.
In all honesty we felt the shrine and other building works in the Temple Cave have spoiled a real natural wonder. Concrete, poor construction, iron bars, fairy lights, tacky statues – really we thought it was such a shame to ruin such an amazing place of innate earthly beauty.
We recommend you go for the cave, not the shrine.