Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur
The Batu Caves, 13 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur, are a prime destination for us westerners for various reasons. Whereas I would not necessarily have needed 272 steps climbing steeply to the caves in the humid heat, I would want to not miss the chance to have a chat with all the monkeys and their babies who sit on the steep staircase, waiting to be fed.
But also the cultural and religious signification of the place is intriguing. And a temple built into interconnecting caves is something very special.
First of all, the Batu Caves are the sacred place for the Hindus in Malaysia. But not for a very long time yet. Until 1878 only some locals knew about the existence of the caves hidden in the jungle. Anti-Japanese guerilleros could hide there without fearing to be discovered. And after being known by a wider community, the caves first only became a popular picnic spot. Elephants carried the townies from KL to the caves.
When you climb up the already mentioned 272 concrete steps up to the stairs you might already understand why the Hindus chose the caves as the perfect place for a pilgrimage at the start of their Thaipusam Festival. The effort is perfect for repenting their sins. Some even carry kavadis – wodden frames covered in flowers and fruit and attached to the body by long metal hooks – up the stairs. In the early days – before the staircase was built – the devotees had to climb up the craggy rockface.
The limestone caves consist of about 20 caves - three main caves and many smaller ones. They are 400 metres long and 100 metres high, and several ones of them are not accessible due to the fragile and crumbly structure of limestone.
The main cave is called Cathedral Cave, and it is the most impressive one. There is a huge chamber under an enormous. Daylight gets inside by several holes in the ceiling. At the end of the caves you can see the sky above you.
Access to the caves daily from 7am to 9pm.
I will post several more tips about the caves, the festival and especially the monkeys in extra tips, so you can enjoy my trip as much as I did :-)
You reach the caves by bus # 11 and 11d from the Pudu Raya Bus Terminal, and by #70 and 349 from lebuh Pudu in Chinatown.
KL can be quite confusing so here is a tip on where to catch the No. 11 bus to the Bantu Caves. If you are standing at the north end of Jalan Petaling where the market is and the street is closed for only walking, head away from the market one block; at the intersection look ahead of you and left there is a sort of triangular island on the left with several buses parked next to it. The No. 11 bus leaves from there. It is the beginning and end point for the number 11. It's is 2.50 MYR, less then 1 USD, one way. It takes about half an hour to get there give or take depending on traffic.
This is the best place to catch the No. 11 unless you are familiar with its route. When returning ask the ticket person on the bus where to catch the return. It is down the road about a 100 yards on the opposite side of the street in front of a cafe. Best of luck enjoy your travels.
Although my driver accompanied me everywhere he knew why he waited on the big square below the Batu Caves. It was piping hot, and you sweated already from all pores without moving at all.
I prepared myself by purchasing a bottle of cold water (for myself) and a bag full of peanuts (for the monkeys) at one of the food stalls. So I and the animals had a lot of fun.
However, take care, do not allow the monkeys to climb on you, or it could end in tears LOL Better you throw a peanut on the ground if they approach you...
The 272 concrete steps up to the Batu Caves are painted red and white, the handrails yellow.
The monkeys and their young are sitting directly on the steps or on top of the side walls, and check out who is willing to feed them.
As they get a lot of food each day, sometimes they do not bother coming closer to you to take a peanut or a piece of banana. But most do.
To be frank, I was a bit disappointed after straggling for the 272 steps upwards....
How to get there?
Get on Bus No. 11D near the back of Central Market. The bus ride takes around 40 minutes, very hot on the bus.
One of our favourite experiences in KL. Check out everyone else's tips for all the information you need about the history of Batu caves, how to get there etc, (we took a tour by the way). The reason we liked it so much was because of the close encounters with the Long tailed macaques. There are hundreds of them, hanging out on the steps waiting for food hand outs. If you are a photographer, there are some great photo opportunities. Be careful however. The golden rule is, the macaques can approach you, but don't approach them. Some of the adults will confidently walk behind you along the walls and even pose for photos when they feel like it! Anther amusing pastime is to watch the other tourists' reactions as the monkeys sneak up on them or get too close for comfort. It certainly takes your mind of the long climb to the cave.
At the bottom of the steps to the Batu Caves is a colourful gate with carved and painted Hindu figurines, already looking like a hindu temple. But in fact it is only the intriguing start of the things to come further up the hill.
Although the Hindus do not make up a big lot of the population, you can see their influence everywhere. Indians, mostly from South India, are less than ten per cent of the population – and of these, about 80 per cent are Hindus and Tamils. The whole year round Hinduism has its celebrations and ceremonies. The main celebrations are Thaipusam and Deepavali (Divali).
The entrance normally is arch-shaped, and wherever you look you see the figures of Indian Gods.
The monkeys at the Batu Caves are long tailed macaques.
As the mothers never leave their babies alone those learn early that it is not really necessary to search food in the wild. They can sit down and wait and see.
So they sit on the steps and on the side walls, and - most picturesquely - on the dome-crowned pillars of the side walls, and check out who has the most delicious food for them.
BTW They also love potato chips and cookies but I would not consider this healthy for them, as this stuff is heavily seasoned. You should stick to unsalted peanuts and fruit.
Long-tailed macaques like the ones at the Batu Caves are incredibly intelligent monkeys. In Indonesia scientists have even watched them fishing in rivers with their hands and eat the fish.
They also forage for crabs. So you should not be surprised if they take not well hidden food items from you.
Macaques are widespread from North Africa to Japan. They are the most widespread primates aside humans. 22 species are known.
This is an active religious site. At the entrance to the stairs leading to the cave opening, is the huge statue dedicated to Lord Murugan, a Hindu diety popular with Tamil Hindis. He is prayed to especially during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated at the Batu Caves, mostly by the Tamil.
Besides the various festivals, several caves and shrines to be seen here, there are unique insects and animals lurking in the caves and the Malaysian Nature Society offers tours of the Dark Caves with the focus on flora and fauna.
Since I was there they have added something over 160 climbing routes for those interested in rock climbing. Also a cable car was recently built.
Many people come to tour and you're welcomed to also. Make sure you show the respect due.
When you are in the Kuala Lumpur area I reccomend taking a small trip to the Batu Caves, outside of Kuala Lumpur. These caves speak for themselves and ar truely amazing to visit and explore. Go when you have some extra time in Kuala Lumpur!
The Long-tailed Macaques you see and meet at the Batu Caves are also known as Crab-eating Macaques (Macaca fascicularis).
They easily adjust to human life – like the seagulls here in Christchurch that have found a new home at the rubbish dump. Or birds at any place where humans are - foraging in rubbish bins, tearing holes in rubbish bags, waiting for cars to kill hopping animals on the road, etc.
The macaque|s reputation reaches from pest animals – hated by farmers and if they come too close to villages – to sacred, as they are around some Hindu temples.
Surely this macaque was not born to love Coke.
But as said before, they adapt easily to human surroundings.
So at the Batu Caves they check rubbish bins for such delicacies as a can of Pepsi.
First they check if they are really empty…
Click here to see how the story continues.
… then they pour the content on the tiles where the liquid cannot disappear into the soil, and lick it up.
Click here for Part 1 of the Coke Can Test
A couple of guys we met in the hostel in Kuala Lumpar asked if we wanted to join them on a trip to the Batu Caves to see bats or something (or maybe i imagined there were bats there cos of the name??). It was an interesting bus ride, which gave us a chance to check out the Malaysian countryside. All i can really remember of the caves though is a bunch of monkeys outside. We had a wonder around - and the caves are very impressive. Then we got the bus back and had to pack as we had a bus to Singapore to catch. I'd mentioned my constant craving for cheese toasties since we'd been travelling and the guys surprised us by making us lots of toasted cheese sandwiches before we had to go! I wish i could remember their names now...