I told myself to allow at least one month before expecting to really start enjoying my new surroundings, and like my previous experiences abroad, I think things are really starting to get better.
Last week I was finally able to be a tourist, something I had been struggling to do while in the midst of starting a new job, finding an apartment, settling into the apartment, etc. But last weekend I was able to escape Cheras for a few hours and headed to the Batu Caves, one of Kuala Lumpur’s main attractions.
Ok, so honestly, I am a bit embarrassed that I cannot tell you more about the caves, because there really weren’t a lot of signs and things to read about while I was there ( I am definitely the type that thrives on reading all the things posted in museums). But from what I understand, the Batu Caves are basically a big shrine to Lord Murugun, one of the Hindu gods. In fact, a 140-foot gold statue of Lord Murugun – the largest in the world – stands at the foot of the 272 to steps that lead up into the cave itself. It is actually quite a stunning sight to see.
Once at the top there are a few shrines where Hindus come to pray and make offerings. While there were mostly tourists everywhere, I did see a few people dressed in saris and religious clothing who came for other purposes. But the main event at the Batu Caves comes in late January/ early February when devotees from all over come for the Thaipusam festival to show penance by walking up the steps carrying things attached to their body by hooks. I will definitely be back for that.
With the big Lord Murugun statue and a few shrines, many criticize the Batu Caves for being underwhelming or just a tourist trap. I, on the other hand, found the trip amazing but mostly because of one, non-religious reason: monkeys! The Batu Caves are ABSOLUTELY SWARMING with them!
As many of you know (especially after reading some of my former posts) I was really looking forward to seeing monkeys here but have been a little disappointed that I have only seen a couple so far. Let’s just say after last weekend, I have had my fill for awhile…
After a lovely Indian lunch of tosai and curry, my new friends and I decided to trek up the steps to the top. I had heard about the monkeys (though I hadn’t seen any yet) and bought a bunch of small bananas to give to them when I saw them. I don’t why I thought I’d be so brave, but the minute I saw the first monkey walking across the steps I screamed! Everybody stared, but after not seeing any monkeys at the base of the cave, seeing them on the steps, on the handrails and in the trees nearby was overwhelming! I immediately started shouting at my friends to take my bananas away and started freaking out they would come and attack me, something the nice Indian women outside the restaurant warned me about.
Luckily, Arnaud (my new French friend) was able to give my bananas away without harm, and after I calmed down, the whole experience was incredible! The monkeys, at least the ones at the Batu Caves, are used to tourists and would come right up to people looking for food. At the top of the caves, the show was amazing! The monkeys were everywhere, swinging on rails, pillaging through garbage or playfully chasing each other around the cave. I watched one of them pull at this woman’s long skirt looking for food while another had to be shooed off a woman’s bag! The adrenaline rush of just being that close to them was incredible, and I finally started to remember why it was I came to Malaysia in the first place. I started to feel a sense of contentment…
That moment was short-lived.
After what might have been several hours at the top of the caves, I decided to climb back down and go home. As I approached the first set of steps, the steepest and most narrow of the bunch, I saw the monkeys had taken over the staircase, with at least six sitting on both sets of handrails (and one couple having sex on them). It was like looking at a group of bullies waiting to pick on the small kids as they walked home from school. The monkeys had mostly stayed away from me so far, and since I no longer had any food, I thought I’d be safe to walk down.
After just a few steps, one of the monkeys jumped right in front of me, looked me straight in the eyes and started hissing (or whatever it is monkeys do when they are ready to attack). It then ran straight at my legs!
I am telling you, I can’t remember the last time I felt that much terror. I immediately started running back up the steps (hoping to God I wouldn’t fall and break my neck) and this time, I really screamed! Though he chased me a little ways, the monkey left me alone, and I survived the “attack” with no physical harm done. Luckily, this nice English lady who was behind me held my hand on the way back down, because I was shaking so badly. It seemed like it took hours for my heart rate to go back to normal and to regain full motor functions, but the experience is one I will never forget.
Next time, I’m bringing a stick ;).