This Weblog comes from Mindy McAdams and resides at It's a personal blog and probably not of much interest to anyone but me. You are welcome to read and comment as you like.

December 19, 2004

Visiting Batu Caves

All the guidebooks mention Batu Caves, but on my previous two visits to Kuala Lumpur, I never made the trip to see them. If I had known how cheap a taxi fare would be, maybe I would have done it, but on those visits I found the tropical heat pretty hard to take, and the prospect of climbing 272 steps to the cave entrance really daunted me.

So my friend Kiran wanted to take me to see them. She has visited the caves at least twice a year her whole life, even though she is not a Hindu, and she likes the exercise. She insisted we go in the morning to avoid the worst heat of the day, and I'm sure that was a good idea. Being used to Florida's humidity now, I don't mind the heat too much, but it can be intense after 1 p.m. The steps turned out to be concrete and not very taxing.

Cliffs just outside Kuala Lumpur

The limestone cliffs containing the caves make an impressive sight as you drive toward or away from the site. Lush green trees and brush cover the top and creep down the sides. Monkeys scamper up and down the cliffs and harass the step climbers.

Monkeys seek the tourists' attention

I had seen several photos of the interior of the caves, but it's hard to do justice to a huge space in a single photo. The vast entrance area leads to another, shorter flight of steps. You follow those to a kind of open amphitheater, with a view of the sky and trees far above. All the walls have the typical look of limestone formations (very familiar to those of us who live in Florida). Not the most gorgeous caves I have ever seen, but beautiful nonetheless.

Batu Caves

The site is dedicated to Lord Mugura (Lord Subramaniam), whose significance in the Hindu pantheon of gods and deities is unknown to me. Various altars and small temples punctuate the central cave area. After we left there, Kiran took me to a separate pair of caves where the Hindus have made an elaborate museum-like (or cathedral-like) display of brightly colored statues of gods and deities in scenes, all described in detail in Tamil text (it looked similar to the Thai writing system to me), which neither Kiran nor I can read. The caves housing these displays are much smaller, with much lower ceilings.

An altar in Batu Caves

Kiran told me that the cliffs are filled with caves, many interconnecting, and they used to be open for exploring. People then said you could walk so far into the Batu Caves, if you kept walking, you would come out in the next world. The caves are sealed off now, because some number of people who went into them never found their way out again; like Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, they got lost. With a laugh, Kiran said that gives another meaning to the idea that they would come out in the next world!

We ended our visit with a young coconut (one apiece), which a man hacks open for you with a big knife, providing access to the cool cococut water (sweet but not milky) and tender white flesh, which you scrape off the inner sides with a spoon. These cost 2 ringgits each, or about 50 cents.

Opening the young green coconut

After the caves, we stopped by Kiran's house. Kiran and her oldest sister, Raj (who is visiting from London for a few months), decided it would be a good experience for me to open up some durian fruit they had bought that morning at a local market. Two aspects give durian its fame: It is the most adored fruit among many Southeast Asian people, and hence the most expensive fruit you can buy here. It also stinks. The stink, while hard to describe, combines a kind of sweet rotting odor with a smell a little like a baby's dirty diaper. It's bad, in other words.

Because of the stink, I have never been able to bring myself to eat durian. Now I have. First, Kiran showed me how to open the spiny husk, which can painfully cut your hands. The fruit is usually about the size of an Amercan football; these were a bit smaller. There were five of them. The fruit vendor had split the husk with a short cut, which allowed me to stick my thumbs in and pull it open, using a dish towel to project my skin from the spines. I'm not saying it was easy, but it wasn't too difficult. Then you pluck out the meat itself, which is a dense slimy pod of a creamy pale yellow color. If you squeeze it even a little, you will have durian smeared all over your hand. Each fruit contained at least two of these pods, each about half the size of my fist. There's a hard seed in the middle of the pod.

To eat the durian meat, you suck the yellow part from the seed. It tastes pretty good, but I'm sure I don't like it as much as people here do. The flavor is nothing like the smell (and the pods themselves do not smell like that); it's intense, deep like banana, earthy like papaya, not overly sweet, thickly creamy like a milk pudding, but not gelatinous.

After my apprenticeship with the durian, Kiran and I went to the National Art Gallery, which is very new and not emphasized in guide books. That's unfortunate, because it's a very good gallery, and we saw some excellent work there. They had an exhibit of sculptures and 2D work by a Greek woman, and a retrospective of 50 years of Italian fashion design (many sequined dresses). What we liked most, though, were exhibits of work by two Malaysian artists. The work of Abdullah Ariff included a lot of political cartoons from the 1940s that appeared in a Penang newspaper. The other (work by Wong Hoy Cheong) had a lot of current political pieces challenging the Malaysian government, with a great deal of variety in the work itself. One impressive piece incorporates the thumbprints of thousands of people from several countries, in protest against Malaysia's Internal Security Act, which permits the holding of prisoners without charge and without trial. I left my thumbprint to be included, thinking that an American artist should undertake a similar projct in protest of the USA Patriot Act.

Posted by macloo at December 19, 2004 09:05 PM