The Batu Caves of Malaysia
This Magic Carpet Journal Joins Maxine as she climbs to Malaysia’s Batu Caves, home of a Hindu Temple and a family of long-tailed macaques.Via Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Our morning destination was the Batu Caves, a 13 kilometre drive out of Kuala Lumpur. First discovered in 1892, the caves have become an important place for people of the Hindu religion, but also fascinate other visitors from throughout the world. A daunting 272 steps lead up to these large, natural, underground chambers. Thinking I would find the climb too tiring, I planned only to walk part-way up and admire the view while waiting for my friends to return. However, a band of playful, long-tailed macaques lured me on. Not quite tame, they shared the stairs with the humans who used the red and white, numbered steps to access the caves at the top. They sat on the steps or the handrail posts or in the shrubbery growing on the surrounding rock walls, allowing people to come quite close before scampering quickly out of reach.
Diverted, I stopped frequently to watch their mischievous antics or snap pictures. It gave me a chance to catch my breath at the same time. One monkey remained sitting on a post while I crept quite close, with camera ready. As I got within a few feet of him, he gave me an aggressive snarl at the moment I snapped the picture. On film it looks like a big grin. (The picture is risque but one of my favorites.) Soon, I was surprised to see the colourful, carved statues over the entrance to the cave, looming ahead. I had actually climbed all the way up to the caves!
Stepping into a dark cavern, my friends and I pressed onward as our eyes adjusted to the gloomy interior. The short, murky passageway opened into a massive cave with a high vaulted ceiling. To my left, just inside the cave, I noticed a niche with a carved Hindu deity set into a small, ornate altar. Walking through the huge rock-walled cavern, (approximately 400 metres long and 120 metres high) more colourful figures from Hindu mythology came into view set into other niches.
At the far end of the huge cave sits another set of stairs. This wide stairway leads to a higher cave, appearing like a stage at the front of an enormous amphitheater. Above the stairway a large opening in the vaulted ceiling allows shafts of sunlight to cascade onto the dark recesses of the caves below. Reaching the top of the stairs, we discovered a small, Hindu temple festooned with colourful, carved deities. Two young monks could be seen in the Temple, wearing only long sarongs wrapped around their waists.
Not only is the upper cave home to the Hindu Temple, but the band of monkeys seem to make this home too. More of the resident monkeys were scampering around the rock ledge surrounding this platform.
One mother macaque was carrying her still-wet newborn, who clung to her furry underbelly. The tiny tot looked out at the world with large, round, unblinking eyes. While the mother used her arms, legs and tail to run and jump around the rocks, the baby instinctively hung on tight.
Returning through the large cave, I stopped to take pictures of the vaulted ceiling with the shimmering shafts of sunlight illuminating the stalactites that hang from the ceiling and walls. The silvery light resembled a filmy, white, bridal veil cascading down into the cavern below. Approaching the exit I found a small booth in the gloom, which had gone unnoticed before. I couldn’t resist a small carved bone and bead necklace amongst the souvenirs and crafts displayed outside the booth. The attendant placed it in a plastic bag for me. Emerging at the top of the 272 steps, we were glad we were walking down, not climbing up the stairs again. We chatted with other visitors to the caves as we began descending the steps. Suddenly, one quick little gray monkey jumped out from the rocks and darted directly for me. Before I realized what was happening he jumped up and tugged at the plastic bag I was carrying. He would have taken it if I had not had a good grip on it. I yanked the bag back and loudly informed him, “Oh no you don’t!” He quickly darted back to where he came from, without his anticipated prize.
On the stairway coming back down, we stopped to talk to a Hindu couple with their young baby. The baby’s head had been shaved, then covered with a yellow paste. The parents explain this was part of a purification ritual, after which the baby was brought to the temple to be blessed by the monks.
It was late morning before we reached the base again. At the bottom of the steps my eye was caught by an assortment of colourful beads exhibited on a mat by another vendor. I lingered for a few moments then hurried across to examine another Hindu temple situated close by. I was thankful that we had climbed up to the caves before the late morning sun brought on the heat of the day. Newly-made friends suggested we try the milk of a green cocoanut to quench our thirst. The vendor used a machete to cut the hard shell at the top and two straws were pushed down through the soft, white meat. Believe me it was a wonderfully refreshing drink, restoring our energies after a fascinating morning adventure.
Story and pictures by M. Maxine George
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Last Updated February 21, 2021 by Matthew George – Webmaster