Batu Caves ~ Selangor Malaysia
In 1878, the expansive jungle encapsulating the tiny town of Kuala Lumpur was impenetrable to most except the 'orang asli' (local tribes) and a few local Malay folk who entered the area in search of food, attap, wood, rattan and medicinal herbs to trade. Batu Caves, about 13km North of the city centre (reachable only by a gruelling pony track in those days) was left to its pristine, undisturbed slumber. One day out hunting, the intrepid American Naturalist, William Hornaday noticed an undeniably strong odour, a mixture of guano and durian. Intrigued by the stench he followed the trail to a towering limestone ridge. His guides of several local aborigines (called Jakun) and an elderly Malay led the hunting crew up the 40foot(12m) face cliff. The climb was made easy by a pile of angular rocks that over the years of wear and tear had chipped off the cliff. Soon after they arrived at a huge cavernous mouth. The pungent odour must have been overpowering as they trudged into the darkness of the cave, sinking into the dry, loose guano covering the cave floor. The Jakun were more than familiar with the area, using the cave as a shelter from wild, marauding elephants and other dangerous creatures and also to trap bats for food.
Hornaday was awestruck by the size of the cavern and the creatures living within. For the next few days, the group spent much time exploring other caves in the area. There they found Gua Lambong (Lambong Cave). He described his find, 'We found ourselves in a grand cathedral. We walked along a grand gallery with clean and level floor, perpendicular walls and gothic roof, like the nave of a cathedral, 50feet(15.2m) wide and 60feet(18.3m) high. At the far end, the roof rose in a great round dome 90 or 100feet high perfectly resembling St.Peter's in Rome.'
This perfect setting was indeed a place of worship later - the worship of Lord Murugan.
Hornaday and his crew returned to town with wonderful stories about the 'find' and soon picnic parties to the caves were the 'rage of the month' for the colonial socialites. Guests were transported to the caves on elephants. While the servants laid out a sumptuous spread of food and drinks, the guests lazed in the shade of the forest canopy and marvelled at the glorious backdrop of the limestone cliffs.
Then the Hindu devotees began making pilgrimages to the caves, clambering up the jagged rocks to the Temple Cave in 1890s. They turned the cave into a shrine for Lord Murugan. In 1955, two British employees from Sime Darby and Company, fervent cave explorers stumbled upon an intact skeleton in the deep crevices of the Dark Caves. On the wall was an inscription scribbled in Chinese introducing the dead as a Chinese man from Lok Wooi District in South China and signed off 3rd February in the 28th year of the Chinese Republic (1940). On further exploration, the cavers found another four skeletons not far from the first one. They were believed to have used the caves to hide from the British and Malayan soldiers during the Emergency Period and had committed suicide, perhaps to evade being captured and imprisoned as communist terrorists. If you are interested in caving exploration, the Malaysian Nature Society has frequent caving activities in the area.
The Legend of Si Tenggang
The local story of the filial son is a popular story passed from one generation to the next. This story began in the jungle surrounding the caves. There was once a local boy called Si Tenggang whose daily chore was to accompany his father into the jungle to sharpen his skills in hunting, building traps and shelter. He could hunt stealthily under the cover of the darkness like a black panther and could sniff danger from a great distance away. When the time came, he built a steady boat and with the loving approval of his devoted mother, he sailed off to foreign lands. There he prospered, assumed the status of royalty and even won the hand of a local princess.
After a time of blissful marriage, Si Tenggang now known as Nakhoda (Captain) Tenggang, sailed again to far off lands - this time accompanied by a crew of able bodied men and his wife. Due to the splendour and fairytale-like life he had woven for himself, Si Tenggang had forgotten about his humble origins and his mother.
After a time at sea, the captain found themselves low on supplies and were forced to drop anchor at a tiny harbour carved into the edges of a thick jungle. (Then Batu Caves were much closer to the sea than it is now). The whole village turned up to greet the handsome Captain and his beautiful princess. As it were, the mother recognised her long-lost son and called out to him, 'Tenggang! My son, I knew you would come home!' Not willing to reveal his origins and be ridiculed by his crew and wife, Si Tenggang ordered the villagers to remove the 'mad woman' from his sight or he would get his crew to fire the cannons and kill them all. On hearing his commands, Si Tenggang's mother sadly whispered, 'I'm sorry. Do not harm them. I was mistaken. I see now that you are not my son.' As true words were spoken, the dark clouds loomed over, blackening the sky and the waves rose to great heights. The villagers - shocked by the strange phenomenon were at a loss as what to do, but as they turned to the ship's direction, they saw the ship, Si Tenggang, his wife and the entire crew turned into stone!
Si Tenggang's sin for not acknowledging his mother was inhuman and unnatural; punishable only by eternal suspension, forever sealed in the cliff of the limestone hills as a warning and a lesson to others.
There are daily tours conducted by MNS( Malaysian Nature Society) into the dark cave.
Here we have it - Batu Cave has the potential of becoming a 'world- class' rock climbing venue. (We do like to clock up on those 'World-class' points, we do....) This, however, is as good as it gets.
Somewhere in Gombak, high on a sheer limestone cliff, hanging literally by their fingertips - are brave souls, extreme sportspeople, cliff hangers - in for another challenge. And as Sir Edmund Hillary had once replied to one of those repugnant gossip columnists' questions - Why? Because it's there.
It's of course, more than that. It's the pure adrenalin rush of challenge and of victory. It's almost death defying! It's maniacal?! And after all that, one develops a beautiful, lean, taut, lithe body that can contort, stretch and touch places once was thought beyond reach. Takes a while to get the hang of things admittedly but many have taken the challenge and have loved it.
Being able to scale the face of a limestone cliff is simply indescribable. As long as one keeps to the safety rules, and play his/her part in the team then it'll be a breeze. The most important rule to rock climbing is the communication between the climber and the partner. The partner will be the climber's safety line. So bring a buddy with you for the climb cos your life will be in his or her hands!