Find yourself stuck in Kuala Lumpur wondering were to go next, after all the touristy spots you have checked off your bucket list? Fret not! Just 15 km away from where you are is a cave on a limestone hill which is one out of ten holy Tamil shrines dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Murugan. You can take a half day trip to the Batu Caves Murugan Temple and take a few more hours to check out the other popular historical caves and shrines the neighbourhood has to offer.
Batu Caves and its History
When you google Batu Caves, the most popular result you will notice is the colourful staircase beside a majestic statue of Lord Murugan, generally known as the Temple Cave. However, it is a lesser acknowledged fact that this is only one out of 5 caves in the region. The rest are – the Ramayana Cave, Dark Cave and two separate ones (but with the same name) Cave Villas.
“Batu” meaning rock, is named after the 400 million-year-old limestone hills and the site is also named after the Batu River that runs in the area. The Temuan people originally took sanctuary in these caves back in the days and represent the most indigenous known inhabitants of the fantastic limestone mountains.
Back in the 19th century, the caves were discovered by Chinese settlers and eventually became crucial to their living for the guano that the bat population produced. The guano excavated was used as fertilizer for their fields.
A few years down the line, in the 1870s, when Malaysia was developing under the colonial regime, the caves gathered attention because of the Chinese immigrants. In 1891, visitors flocked to the caves and eventually promoted as a place of worship by a Tamil merchant who was inspired by the vel (resembling the head of a celestial spear) shaped entrance of the main cave and sought to build a temple to worship the Hindu God of War who carried the spear – Lord Murugan. Post-1920s received a swarm of tourists, and the numbers continue to rise even today. For the most part, it is a major pilgrimage site for Hindus visiting from all over the world.
Suggested Read: Malaysia Travel Guide
Batu Caves Murugan Temple
The gigantic Murugan statue was unveiled in 2006 and the accompanying marvellous rainbow coloured staircase with 272 steps to be exact, leads one up to the actual cave. The other advantage is a beautiful photo motif of the magnificent skyline of Malaysia that will surely take your breath away.
Do keep an eye out for notorious monkeys that are quick to snatch whatever you hold in your hands, be it food or glasses. Some visitors end up getting caught in a mini-brawl with them as some of the monkeys are quite protective. Since they are fed by tourists frequently, it has become a norm to assume you would do so as well! Thank us later!
Like most Hindu temples, there are rigid rules here too! If you are a woman, ensure you are dressed modestly when you plan to visit. You are typically required to cover your shoulders and knees. But you can also rent a scarf/sarong near the staircase if you’ve come underprepared (for 5 Ringgit) or you can purchase one at the local stores by the historical site. We recommend you to carry some food and water in your backpack to get you through the climb and stay hydrated when you reach the main cave.
The brightly painted rainbow coloured staircase of the temple has already melted the hearts of Instagrammers and on many days is the sole reason why travellers visit!
The Dark and Light Cave
A surprising highlight of Batu Caves that is widely unknown is located a few steps below the Temple cave, called Dark Cave. You can take a guided tour for a reasonable charge (inclusive of cave guide, flashlight, and helmet) per adult. You can also buy your ticket in advance and skip the buyers’ queue at the entrance of the cave. The reason there is an entry fee due to conservational efforts to ensure tourists do not disturb the eco-system of the cave. Also, the odds are you will get lost or injured if you walk into the pitch black labyrinth. For the adventurous ones, it will be a thrilling experience in the darkness. The guide will show you all the cool creepy crawlers hidden in there, bats squeaking and ravishing rock formations all.
You can continue upwards up to the “light” cave. Once you get up to the chamber and you turn around to notice the panoramic view of the city from a fantastic height. Inside, there is plenty of space and a high vaulted ceiling that allows a much cooler breeze to take away all the stickiness and sweat caused by the climb. You know you are one with nature when you catch a whiff of the earthy scent and notice all the abrupt changes in the temperature.
Tip: It would be great if you have time to spare (tentatively 3 hours) to explore the caves thoroughly. We urge you to plan your trip in advance to make the most of a successful and draining climb!
Glorious Days of Temple Cave
The perfect time of the year to visit the historical site to witness it in all its grandeur is during the Kerala based festival celebrated sometime around January to February every year by the local Indian origin communities. It is also traditionally observed by Malayali and Tamil communities in India.
The festival called Thaipusam (fun fact: a public holiday in Malaysia) gets its name from the Tamil calendar’s month Thai and the name of a star, Pusam. The pious pilgrimage revolves around ardent faith, endurance and penance as devotees worship Lord Murugan by engaging in various acts of devotion. To name a few – shaving their heads, carrying different types of Kavadi or a pot of milk, piercing parts of their bodies, cleansing their bodies through fasting and abstinence and the practice of consuming a vegetarian diet for the duration. What is additionally relatively common is the mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers. All of this is performed in the attempt to purify their bodies and seek blessings from the higher power.
Also Read: Top 10 temples in Bali
Are you wondering how they celebrate?
A procession begins in the wee hours, very early in the morning on the primary day of Thaipusam from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur. All the way from there, the devotees spend eight hours to go up to Batu Caves.
Devotees carry containers filled with milk as an offering to Lord Murugan either by hand or in enormous decorated carriers on their shoulders called ‘kavadi’. The kavadi is a wooden semi-circular arch that is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers and sometimes weighs over a hundred kilos. It holds long and sharp skewers, the ends of which pierce the skin (usually of the torso) of the person carrying it. The tradition is to bathe in the Sungai Batu (Rocky River) and then head up the steps to the cave for the rest of the day packed with rituals and ceremonies.
In this neighbourhood of caves, temples and monkeys, you will also find souvenir stores, food stalls, small yet modest cafes to keep you high on energy with all the tasty dishes!
How to get to the Batu Caves
We recommend the cheapest and reliable mode of transport as the KTM Komuter from Kuala Lumpur to the Batu Caves Hindu temple. The tickets cost around 4 MYR and are available at KL Sentral train station (as of January 2019), and the trip takes no more than half an hour.
The KTM Komuter arrives every 15 minutes on the Port Klang line during peak hours. At other times the train leaves every 30 minutes. Since Batu Caves is the last stop, you need not worry about missing the stop. It is a few minutes walk from the station to the Batu Caves Temple and thoroughly worth it to witness a distinctive face of Malaysia.
Timings and Entry Fee
The cave is open to visitors daily from 6 am to 9 pm. There is no entry fee for the Temple Cave, but there is a fee of 30-35RM (inclusive of a cave guide, flashlight, and helmet) per person for the Dark Cave.
We hope you like your experience enough to add cave exploration to your list of hobbies! There’s a first time for everything! March on!