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On Walkabout At: The Batu Caves In Malaysia

Here is yet another cave I have went to for everyone to check out, this time in Malaysia:

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This location is a Hindu holy site known as the Batu Caves located 7 miles north of the Malaysian capitol city of Kuala Lumpur.  Family friends of my wife and I who are ethnic Malays brought drove us over to the see the caves while visiting Kuala Lumpur.  The caves are one of the biggest tourist attractions in Malaysia.

Someone of you may be thinking that it is odd to have a Hindu holy site is Muslim nation like Malaysia?  What a lot of people don’t realize about Malaysia is that it is in fact a multi-ethnic country where about 55% of the people are ethnic Malay Muslims while about 30% are ethnic Chinese, 10% or ethnic Indians, and %5 are other ethnic groups.  It is this 10% Indian minority that makes such Hindu holy sites possible in Malaysia.  Some of you may be wondering, how did these ethnic groups all get to Malaysia?  Well that is because Malaysia was a British colony until the country gained independence in 1957.  People who lived in the British colonies had the ability to move and relocate into other British colonies.  So that is why many of the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia can draw their families origins back to southern China where Hong Kong is located.  The Indians came here from the native India just across the Bay of Bengal from Malaysia that was likewise once a British colony.

Anyway this cave became a Hindu temple because of the cave entrance looks like a Hindu “vel symbol“.  This same vel symbol can be seen being held by the giant Hindu deity Murugan statue that was constructed outside of the cave:

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Murugan is considered the God of War to Tamil Hindu practitioners in primarily Southern India and Sri Lanka.  Besides the large statue constructed outside the cave, there is also an ornately decorated temple as well:

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All around this temple below the cave was elaborate Hindu imagery.  I have no idea what this imagery means and neither did my ethnic Malay friend who brought my wife and I over to see the caves, but they were impressive to look at:

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The cave system is composed of limestone hollowed out by the abundant rainfall that the region receives.  Just looking at this huge hulk of densely vegetated limestone is impressive much less exploring the cave system within:

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These caves were at first home to Malaysian aboriginals that make up part of that 5% of others that compose the Malaysian population.  Aboriginals are now adays only found living in communities deep in the mountains of Malaysia, and in the 19th century when British explorers began arriving in the area these caves had already been abandoned.  In the 1860’s Chinese colonists began to use the caves to excavate guano from to fertilize their fields down below.  It was probably these early Chinese who gave the cave system its name of Batu Caves after the Batu River that flows in the valley below.

The most popular time to visit the cave is during the Hindu holiday of Thaipusam.  It is during this holiday that as many as 800,000 people visit the caves to see devout Hindus place hooks in their backs and head to drag objects such as jugs or frameworks.  These devout Hindus believe that such pain and sacrifice will bring them good favors from the Gods:

Access to the cave is by a steep staircase that caused me to work up quite a sweat walking up because of the extreme humidity the envelopes Malaysia in the summer months:

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My Malaysian buddy an I decided to walk up to the caves because my wife and his wife weren’t up to such a steep walk in the stifling humidity.  So they instead decided to check out the temples and various little shops selling Indian goods below.

Before walking up the staircase all visitors pass through this gate that like everything else at the Batu Caves is elaborately decorated with Hindu imagery:

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Something that visitors to the caves like myself found of interest was the amount of monkeys running around begging for food from the tourists:

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Since I didn’t have any food to give this monkey he was quite upset and making loud noises and showing me his teeth:

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Anyway I made it up to the 272nd step that provides access to the cave without getting attacked by a monkey:

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Once on top of the staircase, just like below, I had to pass through this elaborately decorated gate:

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Once I passed under the gate there was yet another statue of Murugan greeting me to the cave’s entrance, but this one much smaller than the one below:

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My Malay buddy took this picture of me at the entrance to the cave:

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I may not look like it in the picture, but I was actually soaked in sweat after walking up to the cave’s entrance.

Of course before entering the cave there was more monkeys running around looking for food:

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As I entered the cave I was stunned by how big the ceiling of the cave was, it was just absolutely huge:

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It is easy to understand how this largest chamber of the cave system is called the Cathedral Cave. The best part of walking into the cave was how nice and cool it was inside compared to outside.

At the top of the cave’s chamber there was actually a small hole that brought sunlight into the cave:

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On the sides of the cave’s chamber I could see many monkeys crawling up and down from the chamber’s opening.  The monkeys inside the cave are for the tourists enjoyment, but for believers in Hinduism this cave is home to many holy shrines:

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As well as a holy temple:

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This temple was of course adorned with more Hindu imagery:

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After checking out the various Hindu sites within the cave my buddy and I walked back out towards the entrance of the cave to admire the view of the northern Kuala Lumpur suburbs before beginning our walk back to the bottom of the stairs:

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Of course going down the stairs was much easier than going up, but it didn’t matter in the sweat department because I was once again soaked because of the humidity.  We both met up with our wives to get something eat and my wife just took one look at me soaked in sweat and just said that she was glad she didn’t go up there.  She may have been glad to not have walked up to the cave, but I was because it was quite scenic natural attraction in its own right much less learning about the interesting Hindu history that is the true heart of this cave.

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