Walking away from the train platform at Batu Caves in Selangor, Malaysia is a revelation. The air changes as you divorce yourself from the steel surrounds and saunter down to its entrance.
The mood is light and convivial. A lady in brown saree traces curlicues with dark ink on a tourist’s forearms. Jewelry vendors hover by onlookers, waiting for them to shift their gaze onto their wares. They gleefully peddle the fancy accessories to tourists, before resuming their chitchat.
Batu Caves is a 30-minute ride via the KTM Komuter from Kuala Lumpur. Views alternate between empty stations and cityscapes, until you mostly see tropical greenery.
It could get a little claustrophobic in the morning. Hundreds of passengers board the light railway train to return to their communities in Selangor daily. Tourists naturally compound the numbers. But the packed crowd disperse as some muzzle their way into spaces freed by fellow passengers alighting at various stops. Some would meet again inside the tourist complex, where cave networks and sacred temples fill them with wonder.
One of the most crowded places in the area is a temple, which rises from your left side as you enter the gated cave complex. It is not uncommon to see families spending their day at the temple, sitting on mats and passing on plates filled with food. One family has commandeered a corner to set up a table for their potluck. The kids wait their turn to claim their bowls.
Prayers are spoken to enable a shield of protection for the living and the dead. A pregnant woman rubs the growing mound of her stomach, as she looks on at a family. A baby issues a shriek, his cries bouncing off the towering cavern walls bordering the temple. Relatives raise their hands, forming a semi-dome over the newborn. He is welcomed into the world; honey and ghee touch his lips, like many before him.
A feast for the senses ensues at the promenade linking the temple to the mouth of the Cathedral Cave, the largest cave at the tourist hotspot. It is hard to imagine that the sacred site was on the brink of destruction once due to exploitation. Food stalls lend color to surroundings with bright oranges, pinks and browns on the right side. The opposite side, meanwhile, proffers a soothing view of a pond, which serves as a the backdrop for many photographs.
The largest statue in Batu Caves looms in sight as you move deeper into the complex. It is as grand as it appears to be, certainly fit for a god. Lord Murugan’s statue in Batu Caves was built by no less than 15 sculptors. Two and a half million Malaysian ringgit was spent to construct it. Material-wise, it took 350 tons of steel, 1,550 cubic meters of concrete and 300 litres of gold paint to complete the statue.
The 272 steps at Batu Caves is next on any day tripper’s list after a good gawking at the statue. The Cathedral Cave was under construction at the time, and can benefit from extra hands. The man at the foot of the staircase handed out pieces of bricks for explorers to carry up to the top of the stairs. With a brick in hand, tourists pause intermittently during their ascent to catch their breath.
The limestone caves would surely inspire awe in an average visitor. The Batu Caves is somewhat nature’s way of reminding us of how small and insignificant we are. Nature is quite a powerful thing, indeed, and the Batu Caves is a testament to that.