Having Batu Caves on our itinerary during our visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was exciting. We had seen so many beautiful photos & heard about its spiritual significance in the area, so we were looking forward to the experience. After a Crazy Bus Ride that included a breakdown & subsequent detour, we finally arrived at the entrance of Batu Caves. We could immediately feel the energy as we approached the giant golden statue at the entrance.
Our visit happened to fall just a couple of days before the biggest Hindu festival (Thaipusam) of the year would be held here. So there were vendors setting up all around the grounds outside the caves and we enjoyed wandering around looking at all unique goods being set out. On one hand we were bummed to miss out on such an energetic festival, but as it turned out, we were in for a memorable cultural experience all of our own.
We made our way to the base of the stairs and saw others preparing themselves for the hike up the steep 276 steps to the cave entrance, which is located up on a mountain overlooking Kuala Lumpur. The blazing hot sun (and incredible humidity) made this one hot and long trek! We had to stop at the platforms frequently to drink water and rest so that we wouldn’t overheat. As we huffed up these stairs, we were getting passed by locals who were carrying items up to the cave in preparation for the event that weekend. They seemed to fly right by us like they were just out for an afternoon stroll!
Once we made it to the top, we could immediately feel the coolness of the cave; which felt amazing on our sweaty bodies. We rested in the cool air and turned around to look behind us at the breathtaking view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline. After a bit, we decide to wander further into the caves, following tourists and local families alike. The sound of traditional music was echoing through the cave, so we followed the music and the families.
Walking into this unknown environment was exhilarating to the soul. The music led us to a small temple in the side of the cave, and we realized that beyond the crowd of locals it appeared that priests were feeding and washing a Hindu idol. We sat back and enjoyed the listening to the music and watching this ceremony take place in front of us. This is when we noticed that locals were delivering these items for the idol, they had carried heavy pots full of liquid (on their heads) up all those stairs just for this ceremony. Not knowing much about the Hindu religion, we were curious about what was going on. Even though we weren’t familiar with this ritual, we knew that we were witnessing something sacred. We sat there speechless, taking everything in. It was great to witness an authentic cultural experience that you do not see everywhere around the world.
While we were watching this ritual take place, we were approached by the cave’s permanent residents, the monkeys. We followed the monkeys and noticed that was another set of stairs that went even further back into the cave. So we continued to explore. The monkeys were everywhere – leading up the stairs, walking on the back walls of the cave, and jumping around on the religious statues.
We noticed that these monkeys were even feasting on some of the food offerings as well. The monkeys were smart, and they were comfortable with the crowds of people. We had to watch them closely because they would beg or just snatch food out of your hand if you weren’t looking. We even witnessed a couple of monkeys going through the trash. The picture below is priceless and couldn’t believe it was happening.
After making our way to the very back of the cave, we came across another temple with a priest sitting on the outside. Being the curious person that I am, I walked up to the priest and asked what this structure was. He pointed to a plate with some money on it and pointed into the temple. I couldn’t pass up seeing what was inside, so I grabbed Liz, paid the priest, and he walked us through to an offering inside. He recited some Hindu verses that we didn’t understand, dabbed some ash on our foreheads and after said, “Good Luck and Good Fortune” in English. I wanted to proceed further into the temple, but he then told us that we could not because we were not Hindu.
We still appreciated the experience of participating in another religion. We looked at each other and just smiled, this is what experiencing different cultures is all about. Afterwards, we were ready to head back down the stairs, thankful that going down would be so much easier. On the way out we wanted to grab something that would remind us of the awesome experience that we just had in these caves. So we stopped by a local shop at the edge of the cave opening to grab a small souvenir. As we came to the shop, I noticed that there were 3 men struggling with a display case that they were moving in preparation for the big festival.
It was apparent that the case was quite heavy, and they were trying to prop it up so they could secure it from the bottom. Without much thought, I walked over and held my arm out to brace the case from one side so they could get the display just right. After a couple of minutes, we had it in place. Then I walked over to the register to make our small purchase, and we headed out toward the exit to take in one last view from the top of the cave out over the city.
As Liz and I were admiring the view from the top of the stairs, we were tapped on the shoulder. We turned around and saw the shop owner standing there with a smile. From behind his back he pulled out two ice cream cones and handed them to us. He said “thanks you” with a big smile. We were very humbled by his generosity and it was a perfect ending to our amazing visit at Batu Caves. We stood there enjoying the view while eating our ice cream gift.
We have had many wonderful experiences while traveling, especially in Asia. We are so thankful to be able to experience so many kind and generous people around the world. But this final moment at Batu Caves was extra special, and it capped our visit perfectly. Sometimes it is just the most simple acts of kindness that can be the most memorable connection with a culture, and that to us is the best part of travel.