On Tuesday, our first full day in Kuala Lumpur, we took a tour of several sites around the city. Our first stop was the Batu Caves, a series of limestone caves turned into a Hindu shrine to the god Subramanyan. I expected the caves, which are over 400 million years old according to our guide, to be in a somewhat remote location, but in the last 10-20 years the surrounding area has grown so built-up that we could see the entrance from the highway.
As we approached, we could see a giant gold-painted statue of Subramanyan marking the entrance to the cave (I’m bad at height approximations, but Wikipedia tells me it’s 140 ft. It certainly dwarfs you as you get close!). Right off the highway, rows of stalls lined the streets selling garlands to leave at the shrines as offerings. The stalls didn’t stop at the entrance, as I expected them to, given it’s a religious site. Strangely, you could buy garlands, postcards, and Kuala Lumpur souvenirs inside the cave too.
The entrance to the Batu Caves is atop a 272-step staircase. The climb was one of the best parts of the visit, because the steps are lined with monkeys, presumably hoping to get some snacks off the many visitors. I learned they aren’t as adorable and friendly as they seem – getting too close and making eye contact provokes some monkeys to grab your scarf and bear their teeth… whoops! Don’t worry, I escaped unscathed.
The inside of the main cave (the only one we visited) was an interesting mix of natural formations and man-made intervention – more of the latter than I would have expected. There were a couple souvenir shops with loud toys that made the caves seem like an inauthentic tourist attraction. I would have loved to see them in a more natural state. Still, the caves contain several individual shrines and are a hugely important site for the thousands of Hindus that visit them as a place of worship, so they certainly hold authenticity in that regard. Either way, I’m glad that made the list of sites on our whirlwind tour.