KL was the last leg of our Borneo Adventures. And if you think we were starting to ease off on the adventures, you would be grossly mistaken.
There is a lot to do both in and around KL. Most of it you can reach easily with public transport. Some of it you will need a driver or a bit more planning. In our case, with kids involved (and N still not liking the humidity) we opted with a driver for the “out of town” activities.
We found an awesome driver through the TripAdvisor forums. CK was strongly recommended by many on the forum, and very easy to contact by email. There was an initial panic attack waiting for him at the hotel on the first day, but once we were seated in his car it was like driving around with an old friend.
The first place we were booked in with CK was Batu Caves.
Batu Caves is a Hindu Temple carved out of a huge limestone hill. It takes its name from the Sungai Batu (Batu River), which flows past the hill. It has 3 main caves, but is filled with little grottoes and corners holding many Hindu shrines. The main deity for this temple is Lord Murugan, a warrior god capable of killing evil beings to save the devoted. The world’s tallest Murugan Statue is at the base of the hill.
To reach the caves, you have to climb 272 steps straight up. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought – probably helped by comparing it to many other climbs (Bologna Towers, Vatican, Chiang Mai).
Although B had to carry N in the backpack, S climbed the stairs all by himself (okay – perhaps with some motivation from the monkeys he was chasing with his camera). Seriously, there are a lot of monkeys here and they are very comfortable with taking advantage of tourists.
Inside were many worshippers, as well as tourists coming to see this holy place. CK told us we were visiting during a quiet time. During January or February, Batu Caves is the hot spot for the Thaipusam Festival – a festival to commemorate the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a spear (“Vel”) to vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. This was the original inspiration behind dedicating Batu Caves to Lord Murugan – the opening of the caves has a “Vel” shape to it.
Many people think Thaipusam is also the birthday of Murugan, but I have since been advised Vaikhasi Vishakam is Murugan’s birthday, which falls in the Vaikhasi month (May/June). Yes – Batu Caves has a festival then. Reminds me of my great-grandmother born on Feb 29. She used to celebrate her birthday on both Feb 28 and March 1, except for the leap years. Then she would celebrate her birthday on all 3 days (Feb 28, Feb 29, AND Mar 1). Why? Because she could – and every one loves a party. The festivals at the Batu Caves are kind of the same.
At the top of the stairs (the entrance to the caves), I stopped to chat to a mother and daughter (regular attendees at this local shrine). They were dressed elaborately, with decorations in their hair. They explained that they always came to this shrine each week, dressed in the most befitting way for Lord Murugan – out of respect for the many deeds he has done in his many lives. It was true and traditional hero-worshipping. It was also beautiful to talk to a local who saw this as their holy place, and not just another tourist who was seeing it as a landmark. It added a level of genuine spirituality to the caves.
Unfortunately, this was countered by the heavy tourist-focused marketing that was there as well. There are genuine ticket booths to access the caves, and when you do reach the top you are greeted with a bunch of booths selling little statues, postcards, t-shirts and mugs. I was really grateful for speaking with the mother and daughter, as it provided me with a balanced view of the caves.