Slightly north of Kuala Lumpur, the Batu Caves house an almost hidden complex of Hindu temples, mostly set inside a large limestone cave system. The large, cool caves are a world away from the bustle of Malaysia’s capital city, and a must-see if you're in the area.
While several tours are available, it is so easy and inexpensive to get to the Batu Caves on public transport that it is hardly worth taking a tour. The city train departs Kuala Lumpur’s Sentral Station, takes around half an hour and costs about US $3 per person. There is even a ‘women’s coach’ for women who want to ensure they travel undisturbed by men! From the Batu Caves station it is a short walk to the entrance to the temples, about 200m.
|Women's coach on the train, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia|
Walking from the train you pass several vendors selling souvenirs, food, drinks and temple offerings. There are also various temples along the base of the hill.
|Monkey God Hanuman greets visitors off the train at Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia|
The steps and the caves
Guarded by an enormous statue of Lord Murugan, a tall and extremely steep staircase leads up to the caves. The 272 steps are broken up by a few platforms where visitors can catch their breath while dodging the local population of macaque monkeys that patrol the staircase, looking for food to steal.
|Near vertical steps up to Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia|
Once you’ve dodged the monkeys and made it up the staircase, in the exhausting humidity, sidestep the sprawling souvenir stall and the largest cave of the complex Cathedral Cave (also called Temple Cave), opens up before you.
|Inside Cathedral Cave, Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia|
The Cathedral cave is huge and has an incredibly high ceiling. Ornate Hindu shrines line the cave walls and at the far end is (yet) another staircase.
At the top of the innermost staircase is the highest cave containing the main temple dedicated to Murugan. It is a modest temple structure in the middle of a smaller, but open-aired, temple. Again, watch out for monkeys.
|Murugan Temple, Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia|
There are other caves to explore including the Dark Cave that makes an unusual move in promoting itself by boasting it is ‘home to the world’s rarest spider’, should that entice you. Personally, I can’t think of anything worse than a cave full of spiders. Actually, I can, it’s a dark cave of spiders – eurrgh!
|Butter wouldn't melt! Macaque monkey, Batu Caves, Malaysia|
Lord Murugan statue
Murugan is the Hindu God of War and is the favoured deity of Tamil Hindus in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. He is believed to reliably assist devotees when called upon. The large statue of Murugan outside the Batu Caves is almost 43m tall, making it the tallest in Malaysia, and the second tallest in the world. It is a relatively new addition to the religious site, having only been completed in 2006. The statue is made of concrete and covered in gold paint.
A Religious site
While Hindus seem very tolerant of tourists visiting the caves, it is important to remember that the site contains religious temples, so visitors should behave respectfully. The religious site does not charge an entry fee, and access to some areas may be restricted at certain times. One of my favourite memories of my visit was a friendly conversation I had with a young boy who seemed curious about me. I was equally interested in him. He wore a yellow sarong, his head and hair had been painted white and he laughed as tourists dodged the unwanted attention of the monkeys. He explained to me that one of the three channels of steps had been closed for a Hindu festival to take place.
Cover-up sarongs are offered to visiting females wearing revealing clothing, before they enter the complex, at the bottom of the main staircase. While shoes are worn on the staircase and in the caves, they should be removed if you enter a temple.
The Batu Caves are a must-see if you visit Kuala Lumpur. The majestic caves (preferably without the spiders) are incredible structures that provide welcome cool from the heat of the day and the Hindu shrines give the caves a spiritual atmosphere. The colours and the artwork that go into Hindu temples never cease to amaze me.