One of the attractions of Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a series of caves situated on a limestone hill in the northern suburbs of KL, and the caves are known as Batu Caves. Located 14km of KL covering about 156 hectares and containing about 20 caves, Batu Caves is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the caves attract over a million people each year during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated on a grand scale in Malaysia, mostly by the Tamil community.
Although I have been living in KL for 17 years, I have never been to Batu Caves until recently when I made an effort to schedule some time on a Sunday to visit the caves. I could have driven to Batu Caves but instead, I took the KTM Komuter train from KL Sentral, our inter-city railway hub to the caves on the Batu Caves-Rawang/T.Malim line. The train runs on a frequency of 15 to 30 minutes, and the journey from KL Sentral to Batu Caves takes approximately 30 minutes.
Batu Caves were used by the indigenous people for shelter since pre-historic times but the caves were mined in the 1860s by Chinese settlers for guano (bat droppings) to be used as fertilisers for their vegetable farms. It was during the late 19th century that Batu Caves were discovered by an American naturalist and subsequently scientifically explored by the British colonial administrators. In 1891, Hindu devotees established a temple in the “grand cathedral” of the cave, in honour of Lord Murugan, son of the supreme deity Shiva and his consort Parvati.
The Thaipusam festival commemorates the time when Murugan was presented with a spear by Parvati. The spear or vel is a symbol of Parvati’s shakti or power to defeat the army of Surapadman, head of the demons. Therefore, it is believed that devotees pray to Lord Murugan to defeat the “daily demons” afflicting their lives, for example, illnesses, career blocks or infertility, and in return, devotees would take a vow to dedicate a kavadi to him.
Kavadi means “sacrifice at every step” and bearing a kavadi is an act of devotion and humility. Kavadi can be in various forms – the simplest is devotees carrying a pot of milk (pal kudam) or couples who have been blessed with children over the past year will carry their babies in saffron slings suspended from sugarcane stalks. The more extreme acts of devotion, but nonetheless common are devotees piercing their backs, cheeks and tongues with hooks and spears.
To read more about Thaipusam, you may read about my experience at the festival in Ipoh here.
Batu Caves attracts thousands of visitors every day, not limited to Thaipusam only: Indian-Malaysians come for prayers and pilgrimages while tourists flock to the site to take photos of the tallest Lord Murugan statue in the world at 42.7metres in height which was unveiled in 2006. Both locals and tourists climb 272 steps* leading up to the temple cave.
*In 1920, wooden steps were built to the temple cave but were later replaced with concrete steps as seen today.
The caves are also home to many monkeys or macaques, and they are quite a feisty bunch! The problem is people like to feed them food, I have seen images of these monkeys drinking out of a soft drink can! 🙁 Keep your sunglasses away and ensure that your camera is sling over your neck or across your shoulder for the monkeys are THE professional snatch thieves here!
The attraction of Batu Caves is not confined to the Temple Cave but halfway up the 272 steps is the Dark Cave. The Dark Cave is a conservation site managed by the Malaysian Nature Society, comprising passages covering 2km in which are found impressive cave formations of stalactite, stalagmite, cave pearls, cave curtains, columns and gour pools.
The Dark Cave is also home to the liphistius batuensis or the Trapdoor Spider which probably dates back to 300 million years ago and therefore is classified as a living fossil. The Trapdoor Spider is said to be found only in Batu Caves and was mentioned in the 1994 Guinness Book of World Records for being the most elusive of all spiders.
A large part of the Dark Cave is closed to the public for conservation purposes but visitors are encouraged to go on a 45-minute educational tour, led by a guide in small groups of 10 people, walking through a few caverns and ending at The Great Chamber. I signed up for the tour and was pretty impressed by the quality of the tour: we were given hardhats and a torch light, and our guide, Zaf did a good job in explaining the history, ecosystem and geological formations of the Dark Cave. There is also a 3-hour Adventure tour which involves climbing, crawling and spelunking through the Crawl Passage.
There are other caves on ground level which are worth visiting. I would highly recommend the Ramayana Cave which visitors can’t miss especially when they exit from the train station for there is a statue of Lord Hanuman at 15m in height situated at the entrance of the cave.
The Ramayana Cave depicts the story of the Indian epic Ramayana with colourful lightings and statues that line the walls. Look out for the sleeping giant of Kumbhakarna, brother of Ravana. At the top of the cave is a shrine to a stalagmite which resembles the linga or lingam that is seen as a symbol of Shiva.
Opening Hours & Entrance Fees
Temple Cave: 7AM – 7PM daily; Free admission
Dark Cave: 10AM – 5PM Monday to Friday; 10.30AM – 5.30PM Saturday, Sunday, Public Holidays.
Educational Tour – RM25 (Adult-MyKad holders), RM35 (Foreigner), RM25 (child below 12
Ramayana Cave: RM5
Cave Villa: RM15
(I didn’t visit the Cave Villa because I found the fees expensive. It is said that the Cave Villa has Hindu statues and paintings inside the cave).
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