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Batu Caves, one of the highlights in Kuala Lumpur and also a must-see in Malaysia, is a series of caves on a limestone hill located in the Gombak district in Selangor, 14 kilometres north of the city centre.
Local aboriginal tribe, the Jakun, had been aware for a long time of the caves. However, it was only after the discovery by the intrepid American Naturalist, William Temple Hornaday (1854-1937), in 1878 that the caves started to become famous. He was attracted to the caves by a strong odour, said to be a mixture of guano and durian, while he was out hunting one day.
Awestruck by the caves he discovered, he described his find:
We found ourselves in a grand cathedral. We walked along a grand gallery with clean and level floor, perpendicular walls and gothic roof, like the nave of a cathedral, 50 feet (15.2 metres) wide and 60 feet (18.3 metres) high. At the far end, the roof rose in a great round dome 90 or 100 feet (30 metres) high perfectly resembling St. Peter's in Rome.
It did become a place for worship later.
In 1891, Hindu devotees established a temple in the grand cathedral discovered by Hornaday. The cave became a shrine for Lord Murugan, a Hindu deity popular among the Tamils. Since then, Hindu devotees started making pilgrimages to the caves, climbing up the jagged rocks to the temple cave about 50 metres above the ground.
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In 1920, wooden steps were built to the cave temple. These were later replaced with concrete ones that can be seen today. There are altogether 272 steps leading up to the temple cave.
After three years of construction, a statue of Lord Murugan was unveiled in January 2006 in conjunction with the annual Thaipusam festival. At the height of 42.7 metres, it is believed to be the tallest Lord Murugan statue in the world.
Located three quarters of the way up the stairs to the main temple cave is Dark Cave. It consists a total of two kilometres surveyed passages, with its own special features of magnificent cave formations – stalactite, stalagmite, flowstone, cave pearls, cave curtains, column and gour pools which has taken Mother Nature eons to form.
This conservation site is home to an ancient animal community of 100 million years old, including the rarest spider in the world, the Trapdoor spider (Liphistius batuensis). It has a unique guano-driven ecosystem which sustain a tremendous ecological significance of rich scientific and educational interest.
The Malaysian Nature Society, responsible for conserving the site, organise two types of tours for visitors.
Educational tour is a 45-minute walk-in tour where you learn about the history, the ecosystem and the geological formations of Dark Cave. Visitors can participate without prior booking. While there are proper pathways in this tour, conditions inside the cave might be a problem for those who have breathing difficulties.
Adventure tour includes the 45-minute educational tour and then you get to go off the pathway to the wilder sections of the Dark Cave system. There will be elements of climbing, sliding and crawling through the infamous Crawl Passage. Booking is required for this tour. The duration takes approximately three hours. Expect to get wet and dirty with all the climbing and crawling.
On ground level, to the left of the stairs, are two caves, known as Cave Villa. The caves and outside compounds are packed full of Hindu statues and paintings.
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Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrating the birthday of Lord Murugan. This event usually falls at the end of January or early Feburary. Hindu devotees will offer kavadi to the Lord as a purpose to turn away a misfortune. To be a kavadi bearer, one has to go through prayer and fasting to cleanse themselves. Kavadi bearers also have to perform rituals at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Lord Murugan. There are many kinds of kavadi (burdens). It varies from as simple as carrying a pot of milk to mortification of skins by piercing the skin, cheeks, or/and tongue with vel skewers.
Two days before the actual date of this festival, a procession will begin at Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the oldest temple in Kuala Lumpur, located next to Chinatown in the heart of the city. This procession involves a pair of horses pulling a silver chariot carrying the statuettes of Lord Murugan and his consorts, Valli and Teivayanni, from the temple to Batu Caves for the celebration.
Every year, this festival alone attracts over a million Hindu devotees and thousands of visitors to Batu Caves for the celebration.
In 2013, Thaipusam is expected to fall on either 27 or 28 January.
Monday to Sunday, 07:00 – 19:00
Tuesday to Sunday, 09:30 – 17:00
Educational tour (45 minutes): RM35 (Adult), RM28 (Child below 10 years)
RM15 per person
KTM Komuter train takes you to the caves on the Batu Caves – Port Klang line. An adult single fare is RM4.80 from KL Sentral to Batu Caves. The journey from KL Sentral to Batu Caves takes about 30 minutes and trains run on a frequency of 15 to 30 minutes.
If you are in the vicinity of Central Market (Pasar Seni) and Chinatown (Petaling Street), you can also take the KTM Komuter train from the nearby old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station (not to be mistaken with the new KL Sentral), which is a 10-minute walk away (across the Klang River) from the Pasar Seni LRT station. An adult single fare is RM4.80.
Batu Caves is located at the northern section of the Middle Ring Road II . If you're coming from the city centre, drive along Jalan Sultan Ismail (westbound) right to the end (map) and turn into Jalan Kuching (northbound towards Kepong). Drive along the road and you will pass the Duta roundabout (map) and Kepong roundabout (map), connecting to Jalan Ipoh. Two kilometres ahead is a Tesco Extra hypermarket on your left. Keep to the left for about 500 metres and you will be exiting the road up a ramp on the left into a huge roundabout (map), take the third exit (eastbound) and then keep to your left. The cave is just 1 km ahead and the Lord Murugan statue is visible from afar.
There are two RapidKL bus routes which go to Batu Caves.
Note: Only selected stops mentioned below. "..." indicates several other stops in between.
This journey crosses three zones, and a single fare is RM2.50. When paying the bus fare, you may ask the driver to inform you of your stop so that you don't miss it.
Just ask for Batu Caves and the driver will know where to take you. From the city centre, the trip should not cost more than RM20 under normal traffic condition, or around RM25 on moderately heavy traffic jam.
Restaurants serving Indian food are available. However, like in any other popular touristy places, the prices are usually higher than normal.
Fresh coconuts can be seen outside the shops and restaurants. After the climb down from the caves, order a coconut, sit back, and enjoy the cool and refreshing coconut water on a hot day. It should not cost you more than RM3 for a coconut. Ask for the price before ordering.
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