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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Batu Caves, Selangor

Batu Caves
Despite being commonly associated with Kuala Lumpur, the Batu Caves are actually located in the Gombak District of Selangor. It is approximately 13km north of the city of Kuala Lumpur and is located within a massive limestone hill formation that is said to be more than 400 million years old. The word "Batu" means "stone" in the Malay language, and the caves take its name from the nearby Batu river, a tributary of the Gombak river which meets with the Kelang river further downstream at the point where the city of Kuala Lumpur was founded.

William Temple Hornaday
It is believed that the Batu Caves were originally inhabited by the Temuan, an indigenous Orang Asli tribe.The Batu Caves were then "discovered" by westerners in 1878, although undoubtedly chinese tin miners would have known about the caves earlier, as they used guano from the caves for agricultural purposes. The "discovery" is usually credited to William T. Hornaday, an American taxidermist of the United States National Museum in Washington and Harry Charles Syers, who was the British Superintendant of Police in Klang. On an expedition to the area, they were shown the caves by the Orang Asli, which included Gua Belah, Gua Lada and Gua Lambong.

Map of the location of caves by T.W.Lim, S.S.Yusof & M.Ashraf.
Gua Lambong, which was given the name Cathedral Cave by Hornaday, is widely believed to be the present day Temple Cave and is indicated as "1" in the map above; with "1a" being the Rift Chamber opening at the end of the Temple Cave. Gua Belah is believed to be cave "2" in the map above, and is also known as the Double Cave, Sett's Hole or the Ganesh Cave system. The present day Ramayana Cave is part of this system.The location of Gua Lada remains a mystery, possibly located at "3".

A few weeks after Hornaday and Syers explored the caves, Dominic Daly, accompanied by Captain Bloomfield Douglas and Lieutenant R. Lindsell visited the caves and also took credit for "discovering" them. However there is not much doubt that Hornaday and Syers were first to "discover" the caves, a fact which Daly later acknowledged, but Daly took credit for actually exploring the caves proper in detail.

Many subsequent exploratory visits were made by other Westerners such as Isabella Bird, Frederick Weld, Frank Swettenham and H.N.Ridley. Eventually a road was constructed in 1883 and a coffee plantation established in the area around Batu. Indian immigrants, primarily Tamils from South India, were brought in and settled in the area. When the coffee industry eventually failed, rubber subsequently replaced coffee as the main growth.

The Temple Cave

In 1891, Gua Lambong/Cathedral Cave was turned into a Hindu place of worship by a prominent leader of the local Tamil community called K.Thamboosamy Pillai and called the Sri Subramaniam Swamy Temple. This Temple Cave was founded to honour Sri Murugan Swami or Lord Murugan. Lord Murugan is often referred to as "Tamil Kadavul" or "God of the Tamils".

Thamboosamy Pillai
The Temple Cave is noted for its very high ceiling and its location 100 metres above the ground. In the twenties wooden steps were built up to the Temple Cave and this was subsequently replaced by the modern 272 concrete steps that you see today.

In January 2006, a 42.7 metre high statue of Lord Murugan was unveiled besides the staircase leading up to the Cave Temple. Taking three years to build, it is believed to be the tallest statue of Lord Murugan in the world. The statue is made of 1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of gold paint brought in from neighbouring Thailand.

The staircase to the Cave Temple.
There is no entrance charge to go up to the temple. If you are a lady though, you may be asked to wear a sarong (small charge) if your knees are not covered.

Lord Murugan statue.
Climbing up the 272 steps is not as daunting as you might initially think. Just take it slow and easy; pause as much as you wish on the landings. Even if you are seriously unfit, it should not take you more than 15 minutes to get to the top.

On the way up, you will more than likely come across the macaques. These monkeys have learned to associate humans with food. Try not to carry any food or drink in your hands; some of the monkeys can get quite aggressive and may attempt to steal your food.

Macaques will try to steal your belongings in search of food!
Ignore them & they won't bother you.
Eventually you will come to the top. Take a breather and look back for a view of the surrounding area.

Finally, the 272nd step...








 
Look back for a view of the surroundings.
Souvenir shops at the top.
Icon at the cave entrance.
Upon entering the cave, opinions are mixed. After all the effort to climb up the stairs, some people may be underwhelmed. The tacky commercialism at the top of the stairs, the litter, the brutalism of the bare concrete floors, the metal railings, pole lights and the messy temporary structures and leftover construction materials may put some of you off.

But look beyond that, and the immense size of the cave passage and the ceiling above, with pigeons fluttering above and appreciate what nature has created. At the far end of the cave passage in the Rift Chamber, streams of sunlight filter down and illuminate the vast cavern through an opening in the roof.

The Rift Chamber at the end of the cavern.
Devotees in prayer.
Walk pass the shrine and up to the final set of stairs, which lead up to the Rift Chamber.

Up to the Rift Chamber.
At some point in its long history, the cave roof must have collapsed, creating this opening to the sky.
The final shrine at the chamber.
Spend some time here admiring the natural opening to the sky which Hornaday saw all those years ago, before returning back through the Temple Cave to go back down the main staircase.

Sri Subramaniam Temple
Address: Kawasan Perusahaan Ringan Batu Caves, 68100 Batu Caves,Selangor Darul Ehsan.
Opening Hours: 8:00 am - 8:30 pm

The Dark Cave

As you walk back down the main staircase, you will notice a set of stairs to the right marked "the Dark Cave".

Staircase to the Dark Cave.
The Dark Cave, which is marked as Cave "4" in the map above was first recorded as being explored by H.N.Ridley back in 1896. Henry Nicholas Ridley is of course now mostly known for developing the rubber industry in the Malay peninsula.

The Dark Cave is made up of many chambers, with Cave "4i" being the skylight to the Great Chamber and Cave "4c" the opening above Chamber C; both mapped by Heynes-Wood and Dover in 1929. 

Map of the Dark Cave.
In contrast to the Temple Cave, the Dark Cave is a conservation site which is in the care of the Malaysian Nature Society. MNS via the Cave Management Group runs educational tours of 45 minutes in the caves and is a great way to get an appreciation of cave ecology and the animals that live in them. No bookings are necessary and tickets can be bought at the entrance.

Buy your tickets at the entrance.
Tickets cost RM35 per person. Children under 12 pay RM25. Being Malaysia, holders of MYKADs get a discounted price of RM25 (RM20 for kids).

Ticket.
The Dark Cave tours operate from 9:30am to 5pm from Tuesday to Sunday. It is closed on Mondays.

You will be given a helmet and a torchlight at the beginning of the tour, and the guide will explain to you the do's and don't in the tunnel. Especially not to shine the torchlight at the bats in the tunnel, as it will hurt their eyes.

Briefing.
Leaving the entrance behind.
The tour will take you on a concrete pathway through Chamber A until you reach the Great Chamber. Along the way, the guide will stop and explain about the fauna in the caves including about the 2 species of bats, the centipedes, the milipedes, tiny cave snails, and the trapdoor spider Liphistius Batuensis which is believed to only be found here in the Dark Cave and nowhere else in the world.

Trapdoor Spider.
Visitors can also see limestone formations such as stalagtites, stalagmites, cave columns and cave curtains. In the darkness, the squeeks of the bats can constantly be heard, and huge pits of guano litter the ground.

Guano pit.
At a certain point of Chamber A, the guide will instruct you to switch off your torchlights and total darkness envelopes you. You see nothing, nothing at all but pitch darkness. Not for the nervous or those afraid of the dark.

Eventually you will reach the Great Chamber, where light streams in through the "skylight" in the roof of the chamber. This marks the end of the tour, and you will return back to the entrance via the same route.

Skylight at the Great Chamber.
The Dark Chamber to me is an under-rated part of the Batu Caves experience. For those who like nature, this should be a must-do on your list. It provides a great contrast to the Temple Cave and to me is a much better activity to do. For those who crave adventure, there is an Adventure Tour option, but this requires booking 1-week in advance and takes you to wilder sections of the cave.

View of the city, upon exit from the Dark Cave.
Address: Batu Caves Temple Complex c/o Cave Management Group Sdn Bhd, 2-63, Jalan Prima SG 3/1, Prima Sri Gombak, 68100 Batu Caves,Selangor.
Telephone: +(603) 6186 7011
Opening Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9:30am - 5pm

Cave Villa

The Cave Villa is a commercial enterprise with the main attraction being two caves which have been fully decorated with dioramas and statues describing Hinduism.

The caves here are believed to be the Small Dark Cave which is Cave 9 marked in the map above and now known as Valluvar Kottam or Cave Villa Cave Entrance 1.

The other cave is the Art Gallery cave, or also known as Cave Villa Cave Entrance 2. It is believed to be part of the Ganesh Cave System of which the Ramayana Cave (see below) is also part of.

To enter the Cave Villa, look for the entrance at the left hand side of the base to the staircase up to the Temple Cave.

Cave Villa.

As a commercial enterprise you would need to pay entrance fees. Two different rates for locals and foreigners.

Entrance Fees.
 
Walk across the koi ponds to enter.
Artificial waterfalls flow into the koi pond.
Valluvar Kottam is the first cave entrance that you will come across. Walk in under the legs of the elephant or the cow to enter.

The Small Dark Cave, now known as Valluvar Kottam, or Cave Villa Cave Entrance 1.
Enter...
The walls of the cave are covered with statuary exhibits, murals and inscriptions of couplets of the Tirukkural, a 3rd-1st century B.C. work of the poet Thiruvalluvar.

The exhibits are used to illustrate relevant couplets touching on every aspect of good conduct.

Couplets.

More couplets.

Dioramas.

I'm red in colour...

... now I'm blue.

Attached to the back of Valluvar Kottam is another cave called "Reptile Galore" or "Hall of Reptiles". Bizarrely somebody must have thought it a good idea to put a mini-zoo full of snakes and other reptiles in a cave in a temple complex.

The less said about this politically incorrect mini-zoo the better.

Leaving Valluvar Kottam, head pass the cultural stage to the other side where there is the entrance to the Art Gallery cave.

Art Gallery or Cave Villa Cave Entrance 2.
The Art Gallery is a well-lit cave that displays carved statues of the gods and goddesses in the history of Hinduism. Important happenings and chronicles depicting the Gods as well as the life story of Lord Murugan from birth to marriage and to his triumph over evil are explained.

Gods & Goddesses.
Gods & Goddesses.


Gods & Goddesses.

Gods & Goddesses.

Kalinga.

Ganesha.

Besides all of the above "attractions" in the Cave Villa area, there is also a bird sanctuary - again which is more like a mini-zoo. Not really politically correct in this day and age.

Cave Villa

Address : c/o Jaya Krishna Holdings Sdn Bhd, 17, Jalan Temple, Batu Caves, 68100 Selangor, Malaysia.
Telephone : +(603) 6154 2307
Opening Hours: 9am - 6:30pm

Ramayana Cave

The Ramayana Cave is believed to be Gua Belah which was discovered by Hornaday back in the day and marked as Cave (2) on the above map. Today it is also known as Geetha Upadesha

Entrance to the Ramayana Cave beside the Anjeyanar temple.
Pay RM5 at the entrance in order to enter. Upon entry you will see a 43 ft high statue with 13 horses pulling a chariot.

Statue with 13 horses.

Entrance to the Cave is next to the statue.
The cave is brightly lit with LED lighting, and statues depicting stories from the Ramayana.

Well lit cave.

Stories from the Ramayana.

Sleeping Kumbarnan statue.

Final diorama.
A man-made flight of staircase leads steeply upwards to a higher cavern next to the final diorama.

Man-made staircase leads upwards to a higher cavern.

From the staircase you can look down on the statues below.
When you reach the top, you can look down and see how high you have ascended.
A fenced off area at the top shows further cave passages going inward into the mountain.
Suyambu Lingam
At the top you will also see the Suyambu Lingam, a naturally formed phallic looking stalagmite.

The lingam is a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship in temples. In traditional Indian society, the lingam is seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of God, Shiva himself.

Ramayana Cave (Geetha Upadesha)

Entrance Fee : RM5 per person


How to Get To Batu Caves

To get there by train, you would first need to get to the KL Sentral train station, the main transportation hub for Kuala Lumpur.

Map of Level 1 of KL Sentral.
 At the Transit Concourse of Level 1 of KL Sentral, look for the KTM Komuter entrance.

The KTM Komuter Entrance.













Go to the ticketing counter next to the KTM Komuter entrance. Buy your ticket here, not at the ticket vending machine. At the time of writing this article you cannot purchase a ticket to Batu Caves at the vending machine.

KTM Komuter ticket counter.
KTM Route Map.
The ticket to Batu Caves costs RM2 per person. Buy a ticket on the Sentul-Pelabuhan Kelang line. Batu Caves is the last station on the line.

Update 15 Dec'15
KTM has switched the train line on a trial basis. The train now runs from Batu Caves to Seremban instead of Pelabuhan Kelang. The updated route map is as follows:

 

RM2 from KL Sentral to Batu Caves.
After purchasing your ticket, enter the KTM Komuter entrance. At the time of writing, it appears that KTM is operating on the honour system. There are no turnstiles where you have to flash your ticket in order to enter. You just walk-in and no one checks whether you have a ticket or not. You can see the potential for abuse by passengers who just sneak in without paying and really have to wonder why KTM or its auditors do not seem at all concerned at potential loss of revenue. If you have a "Touch N'Go" card you can tap in here at the turnstile. Remember to also tap out when you exit your destination station!

For Batu Caves head towards the escalator going downwards to Platform 3.

Look for signage to Platform 3.
Go down the escalator to Platform 3.
Wait for the train to arrive at Platform 3. The KTM Komuter trains have 2 ladies only carriages in the middle of the train. So if you are not female, don't make the mistake of entering those carriages!

Platform 3.

The train arrives.
The KTM train will pass through several stations on the way to Batu Caves, including the colonial era moorish style Kuala Lumpur train station. Eventually you will arrive at the final KTM Komuter station at Batu Caves.

Exit here and walk pass the vendors towards the side gate into the Batu Caves Temple Complex.

The Batu Caves KTM Komuter station exits directly into the Batu Caves Temple Complex.
Walk through the gate and you will be inside the Temple Complex, next to where the Hanuman statue is and, with the Ramayana Cave to the left hand side. To get to the main Temple Cave, walk straight ahead along the interlocking paviour path for about 3 minutes.

View of the KTM Komuter gate from inside the temple complex.
Hanuman Statue next to the KTM Gate.
Walk straight pass this temple.

Walk along the paved path.

After 3 minutes, you will reach the main staircase.
The Batu Caves have undergone many changes over the years. Once a small village and estate, the area around the caves has undergone rapid development and urbanisation. It is now surrounded by housing estates, industrial areas and an elevated highway.

Some people may find the Batu Caves lacking spiritualism by being too over-developed which detracts from the overall experience coupled with some of the commercial and tacky elements introduced by the temple management. Litter also tends to be a perennial problem as well as ad-hoc development and construction.

Nonetheless, love it or hate it, the Batu Caves remain one of the main attractions listed on the tourist trail for visitors to Kuala Lumpur. You cannot say you have visited Kuala Lumpur if you have not ticked this off your list.

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