Where’s The Elevator? – Batu Caves – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Our Tour de KL continued today with a trip to the Batu Caves, a complex of Hindu shrines and caves about 5 miles north of the city. We originally thought it was a “nature” type of cave, but we were in for a surprise!

The day started with a lesson in how to navigate KL’s public transportation system. The fact that we’ve managed to be here for a week without setting foot on an MRT is a testament to how little we’ve done. Fortunately, the train system here is pretty intuitive, and with little struggle we caught the LRT from our hotel to KL Sentral, and from there a commuter train out to the caves.

Stepping off the train, the first thing we saw was the backside of a big green statue of some creature inside the complex. We went through the entrance and got a better view – it was a 50 foot statue of Hanuman, a part monkey, part human Hindu god. Oversized religious statues aren’t uncommon in this part of the world, so we thought “neat!” And continued walking towards a more crowded area, thinking it might be the entrance to the caves.

We walked about five minutes on a path that went past some street vendors hawking Indian snacks. Then out of nowhere, the path opened up into a larger area, and we knew we were there. A massive golden statue towered over us, and right next to it was a staircase that crept up into the mountain above. It was just about noon and oppressively hot; this was not going to be pleasant. Kevin suggested that we go to the Indian cafe across the street and carb up first. Two slabs of roti canai and one big dosa masala later, we were ready to go (side note: the Indian food here is amazing, we will talk about this more another day).

As we approached the stairs, the scale of this thing became abundantly clear. That massive golden statue is a 140 foot tall version of Lord Murugan, another Hindu god. That staircase consists of 272 stairs. This complex is a religious site, and it truly is a pilgrimage just to get up to the cave. We hit the stairs and started our ascent. We only made it a few steps in before we heard a familiar sound…the call of a macaque. Make that many macaques. We looked up at what lay ahead. Macaques everywhere. Some jumping and playing in the trees above. Some walking the stairs. Some perched on the handrail, eating whatever food scraps they had obtained from a visitor. At that very moment, one was chasing a little girl up the stairs…that little girl was holding a popsicle. This place was infested. We had heard from a taxi driver yesterday that there were monkeys there, and he joked that we should bring bananas. But other times we’ve been to a place where they say there are monkeys, there would be a handful at best. This place had dozens, and they were walking around like they owned the place. The rule of thumb for surviving around macaques is not to smile. Showing teeth is a sign of aggression. Also, stay away from their babies. Otherwise, just keep calm and continue on.

Our lips sealed shut, we continued the ascent up the remainder of the stairs, keeping a distance from the monkeys as much as possible. The reward at the top was a few caves that were so tall that the 140 foot tall Lord Murugan statue could have easily stood inside of them. There were Hindu temples inside, and shrines along the walls. And a few more rogue monkeys, and some chickens. Other than that…well, it was just a big cave that smelled funny. And now we were dripping with sweat. So after a bit of exploring, we turned around, watched some more monkey-on-human crime, and made the long journey back to the pool to cool off.