One of the most popular things to do in Kuala Lumpur making a visit to the impressive Batu Caves located north of the city.
Only ‘officially’ discovered 120 years ago by an American naturalist William Hornaday, the caves are now a place of religious significance and one of the most intriguing places to visit in Malaysia.
The limestone Batu Caves are said to be around 400 million years old and that they were used as shelters by the indigenous Temuan people.
A short time after the Hornaday’s discovery, K. Thamboosamy Pillai (an Indian trader) was inspired by the ‘vel’-shaped entrance of the main cave to dedicate a temple to Lord Murugan within the caves. In 1890, Pillai, installed the murti (consecrated statue) of Sri Subramania Swamy in what is now known as the Temple Cave.
Since that time, Batu Caves has become a pilgrimage site for Hindus. The Thaipusam festival is celebrated there every year and up to a million pilgrims visit the site during the three days of celebrations in January or February. Watching this colorful festival from up close is a highlight for many who holiday in Malaysia during this time.
On the morning of Thaipusam, a procession of devotees make their way from Sri Mahamariamman Temple to Batu Caves as a religious undertaking to Lord Muruga which can last up to eight hours. Devotees carry containers of milk or huge decorated carriers on their shoulders called ‘kavadi’. When the kavadi bearers arrive at the foot of caves, they have to climb the stairway leading up to the Temple Cave to present these offerings to Lord Muruga.
Wooden steps up to the Temple Cave were built in 1920 but were recently replaced by a flight of 272 concrete steps. Groups of mischievous monkeys playing on the vertical limestone cliff faces help to distract visitors as they make the often arduous climb. If you are lucky, they might sit still long enough for a great photo opportunity!
Batu Caves actually consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. Temple Cave is the largest with a 100 meter high ceiling and has a number of ornate Hindu shrines dotted around.
Below this is the Dark Cave which mesmerizes with its stunning natural beauty and wildlife. Amazing rock formations and stalactites and stalagmites which have formed over thousands of years create dazzling patterns including cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops. The Malaysian Nature Society organizes regular educational and adventure trips to the Dark Caves and is one of the lesser known, but interesting things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
The Art Gallery Cave is located at the base of the steps where a number of statues and wall paintings depicting Hindu deities and mythology are prominently placed. The Ramayana Cave is situated to the left and on the way to see the Hanuman Temple; visitors can see the 15 meter tall statue of Hanuman, the noble monkey devotee and aide of Lord Rama.
Standing at 42.7 meters high, the world’s tallest statue of Muruga stands tall outside Batu Caves. Taking three years and costing approximately 24 million rupees to build, it was constructed from 1,550 cubic meters of concrete, 250 tons of steel bars and 300 liters of gold paint. It was unveiled in January 2006 and is an iconic attraction for those who travel to Kuala Lumpur.
Visitors who are keen to find out more about what to do in Malaysia should try their hand at rock climbing. Batu Caves has been the hub of this emerging adventure sport for the past 10 years with more than 160 climbing routes to choose from.
Adopting responsible travel principles when choosing to holiday in Malaysia is becoming more important as the need to preserve the integrity of the nation’s natural and religious treasures grows.
Visitors who travel to Kuala Lumpur are reminded to be respectful of local people praying at the caves, to dress appropriately and to help protect the surrounding natural environment by leaving it in the same condition as when you arrive.