Batu Caves lay silently, passively, inertly for millions of years; the caverns – home to colonies of bats and monkeys – growing gradually larger with each passing eon. The mounds of bat guano inside the caves began to pile up, reaching towards the skies. It was these nitrogen-and-phosphorus-rich deposits, rather than the caves themselves, that first attracted modern humans to the site.
Then, in 1890, Batu Caves caught the eye of K. Thamboosamy Pillay, an affluent Tamil Malay philanthropist best known for building the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur.
When K. Thamboosamy Pillay looked at the dark, eerie chambers of Batu Caves he envisaged a grand temple, a place to worship the Hindu deity Lord Murugan, the god of war.
Roll forward a hundred years and the Batu Caves are now one of the largest and most popular Hindu temples outside of India.
The gates of Batu Caves are guarded by a 42.7 metre high, gilded statue of Lord Murugan (this, incidentally, is the largest statue of Lord Murugan in the world).
Beyond the gates is the hardship that all pilgrims – and tourists – must overcome: a flight of 272 stairs. There’s no need to rush them though; there are plenty of viewpoints along the way.
You’ll encounter no shortage of monkeys – crab-eating macaques to be more precise – throughout Batu Caves. And, as often happens at temples in South-east Asia, these monkeys are now reliant on handouts from pilgrims and tourists.
Keep clear of these little terrors, and don’t let them see you eating or carrying food.
Even though the natural landform of the caverns has been extensively modified to accommodate concrete steps, devotional niches, and all the other accoutrements of a temple complex, Batu Caves manages to remain dark, eerie, and obscure.
The trip through the caves to the inner-most cavern (known as the Temple Cave) is a sombre and otherworldly experience, just as K. Thamboosamy Pillay intended.
Once you’ve had your fill of Batu Cave, make your way along the cliff base to nearby Ramayana Cave – fronted by a statue of Hanuman, the Monkey God.
Ramayana Cave is a natural cave that has been re-appropriated to tell the story of the ancient Indian poem, the Ramayana.
The Ramayana, an epic tale some 24,000 verses long, gives an account of prince Rama’s travels around India, and his subsequent quest to recover his wife from the demon king Ravana.
In the uppermost reaches of the cave you’ll find a shrine built around an unadorned stalagmite. This stalagmite is considered a naturally occurring lingam (a phallus worshipped as a symbol of Shiva) and is revered as such.
I didn’t include any photos of the lingam as I don’t want my website becoming too raunchy.
Practical information and how to reach Batu Caves:
Batu Caves are located just 13 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur. The caves are easily reached by public bus as well as by train – Batu Caves even has its own train station. More transport info here.