Monday, September 24, 2012

Kuala Lumpur: Batu Caves

The attraction I most wanted to see in Kuala Lumpur was the Batu Caves. This is a limestone hill riddled with enormous natural caves, about 8 miles outside of the city. It's one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India and a focus for religious worship for most Hindus in the region. The Thaipusam festival held at the caves attracts more than a million pilgrims annually.
Temple at the foot of the mountain

Temple decorations with Hindu iconography
Many shops there, selling snacks and flower offerings
So immediately after breakfast on our first full day, I rented a taxi for the morning and R and I were off to view the caves (B had to work). It's a very lively and crowded place, even relatively early in the morning.

The caves are at the top of almost 300 very steep steps. It was a good workout for me, as I had to walk the whole way carrying R (it was too steep and precarious for her to do it herself), while wearing 2-inch wedge sandals (because I am vain).  I was so tired by the time we got to the top!
There's the entrance!
Looking up from the bottom
The caves themselves are impressive, naturally hollowed out by countless years of slow water-caused erosion, covered in stalactites and stalagmites, and really, really big. They are also kind of creepy, shrouded in semi-darkness (even with the electric lighting), and dirty (like every other Hindu temple I have visited, not sure what's up with that).
The main cave
R exploring the cave in a rare moment of freedom
 They are also full of wild monkeys (monkeys are sacred to Hindus, and thus like cows are not allowed to be molested). The monkeys are sometimes fed by the visitors, and sometimes just steal their food. While relatively tame, I was very wary and therefore for the most part didn't let R walk around on her own. She was sad but since monkeys are filthy (full of human-contagious diseases like incurable hepatitis) it was for the best. They actually did mug another (Indian) toddler while I was there, so being cautious was the right call.
The end of the series of caves has this natural skylight:
you can't see but the forested sheer walls were crawling
with dozens of wild monkeys
Beyond the monkey issue, R had rather a hard time at the caves thanks to the other (mostly Indian) visitors. It's almost inevitable that whenever we go anywhere, she becomes the center of attention in SE Asia thanks to her appearance (white skin, red, curly hair and cute face). Everyone wants to take her photo and otherwise interact with her. But the Indians went further, constantly coming up and touching her without asking or giving any warning. Somebody even tried to grab her out of my arms! R posed for some photos but then got overwhelmed by all the side-swiping. I had to carry her for her own protection.
R posing and not liking it
Side swipe! Poor R.
After admiring the main cave area, I carried R back down all the steps (a rather dicey maneuver: they were really steep!) and we visited the temple at the foot of the mountain. It was packed with families picnicking and receiving blessings from the priests (many of the receipents were babies with shaved heads covered in some kind of white paste). 
Temple carvings
Blessing ceremony underway: note that the priest is bare chested
R investigating the carvings
Some Hindu gods
I really enjoyed our visit despite all the steps: it seemed to give a really authentic glimpse of Hindu worship in action, and the caves were like something out of a movie (swarming with malign monkeys and all). R didn't, though, and was rather grumpy by the end. The problem with being a toddler is that you can't pick the destination! 
Us right before leaving: I'm happy but R is over it.