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Batu Caves ‘aka’ Breathtaking Charmers

Realistic sculpturing is indeed something special – a divine art perfected by geniuses like Michelangelo, Rodin, … But when it comes to who is the ultimate sculptor, the greatest sculptor of all time, it leads to endless debates. Whatever be the conclusion, after seeing naturally sculptured spots such as the Batu Caves in Malaysia, almost all will arrive at a single answer: the greatest sculptor of all time is no one else but the ‘nature’!

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A place that has to be seen to be believed, Batu Caves is located around 13 km from Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur. For majority, in Malaysia and abroad, Batu Caves is a place of worship – ‘Sri Subramaniyar Swamy Devasthanam’, one of the very famous Hindu temples that are located outside the hub of Hinduism, India. But this place is more than just a temple abode – a location that blends the air of holiness with the thrill of natural beauty and adventurous excitement. Perhaps there will be no other location in the world where one can find holy temples consecrated in an array of perfect naturally carved caves.

Dating back to 400 million years, Batu Caves are actually limestone caves formed within three sandwiched hillocks – the name comes from the Malay word for rock and/or from the neighboring Batu River. Centuries ago this location was the transit place for indigenous Malay tribes for their hunting trips. Later the then-Chinese settlers made use of these caves to make fertilizer from bat-droppings for their agricultural needs. But this spot remained ‘hidden’ to the outside world until ‘discovered’ by British explorers in the late 19th century.

At that time the Tamil communities from India were prominent settlers in Malaysia. A noted Tamil merchant, Thambusamy Pillai, after experiencing a holistic touch at this place, decided to build a temple in the caves. It is also believed that the ‘Vel’-shaped main cave entrance (‘Vel’ – a divine spear – the chief weapon of Lord Subramaniya) inspired Thambusamy Pillai to consecrate a temple for Lord Subramaniya, also known as Muruga / Karthikeya, the most revered deity of Tamil communities worldwide.

At present Batu Caves is regarded as the ‘Mecca of Hindus outside India’ – particularly famous for the annual festival ‘Thaipooyam’, a much revered occasion in the Malaysian capital. But this God-made wonder is much more than a pilgrim’s spot… a canvas of natural sculptural beauty.

A must see spot for Kuala Lumpur visitors, what greets you first on arrival is a 140 feet tall gigantic gold-painted statue of Hindu God Subramaniya, the tallest statue of Subramaniya in the world!

Of the main caves here, the first, right near the basement is ‘Valluvar Kottam’ (Art Gallery Cave & Museum Cave) where you can see many fascinating mural paintings and statues of Hindu Gods; not to mention that of a ‘five-legged-bull’. In this cave Lord Subramaniya’s story, from birth to marriage and subsequent slaying of demon, is pictorially narrated thru murals.

Another cave located near the hill-wall leading to Subramaniya temple-stairs is the ‘Ramayana Cave’, guarded by a big statue of Hanuman (the monkey god, a staunch devotee of Lord Rama).

Apart from the temple of Lord Rama and Hanuman here, what catches attention are the beautiful murals on the cave walls that illustrate the story of Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’.

Then starts the long climb of 272 steps towards the biggest cave of the lot .… which contains the Lord Subramaniya shrine. When you reach half way; the entrance to ‘the dark cave’ can be seen – a marvel of natural architectural brilliance! As the name implies, it is a long gloomy tunnel-like cave infested by bats.

Inside the dark cave, the ageless limestone formations that pops out from the floors, cave-walls and ceilings elegantly decorate the whole structure. These peculiar formations are really hard to believe whether manually sculptured or not! But they only add up the fact that nature is the ultimate artist. This cave also houses some wild species that are too rare to be seen. (As it is too pristine, special permission is needed to visit Dark caves).

Finally comes the largest cave – the Temple Cave or Cathedral Cave. After watching the naturally carved walls that are towered by a very high dome-like ceiling, which is also naturally lighted up by sunrays entering thru holes atop, you will be sure that ‘Cathedral Cave’ is the apt name for this as there can be hardly seen such a naturally built Cathedral elsewhere !

What makes a major difference here from a manmade Cathedral may be the rush of macaque monkeys, a brigade of their own.

Inside this naturally-created cathedral that steal a match between the best manually built ones, anyone will stand gazing the unparalleled artistry of the supreme self for long, before proceeding to the main temple.

Besides the major shrine of Lord Subramaniya, few other shrines can also be seen here – wonderfully complimenting the Dravidian temple architectural style – something that can’t be seen outside South India.

In fact, other than the state of Tamil Nadu (South India) the mother land of Tamils, this is the pilgrim place where the ‘Thaipooyam’ festival (which signifies the triumphant of good over evil, as well as an auspicious chapter in the life of Lord Subramaniya) is celebrated in full grandeur. The festival is one of the largest gatherings of its kind, participated by the Hindu communities from Southeast Asian countries.

This natural wonder provides magnificent panoramic views of Kuala Lumpur neighborhood as well…

Last but not the least, is the ‘Reptile Cave’ the newest opened cave in Batu. Here you can see varieties of snakes, with the reticulated python being a major one – ‘thrill for the daring’.

Rope climbing is another means for enjoying this nature’s precious creation. It is estimated that Batu caves offers more than hundred & fifty climbing routes! Thus not only the devotees, but adventurists too can relish this spot to the fullest.

Nature’s prowess continues to amaze mankind… whatever may be the advances in sophisticated arts & crafts; seems there is no match for the artworks of the creator.



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A trip to World’s Rooftop !

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Tibet with its formidable mountain ranges which makes even motoring almost impossible is aptly titled as the ‘roof of the world’. In such a place where lofty inaccessible mountains and risky permafrost soil consist most of the landscape can anyone imagine a rail route that connects it to the mainland china? That’s the Qinghai-Tibet Railway the miracle project of the people’s republic of china.

What makes the Quinhai-Tibet railway stand out among other railway lines all over the world is, it’s constructed across terrains where none can dream about transportation – about 17,000 feet tall mountains to climb, tens of kilometre-wide valleys, five hundreds of kilometres of unstable permafrost soil, etc! No wonder this is considered as China’s most costly rail-project till date, and arguable the most costliest of its kind in the world.

Starting from china’s capital city Beijing, the highlight of this train journey is the passing through the astounding Kunlun Mountain Range (the ‘Mother of Thousands of Mountains’) that virtually isolate Tibet from the rest of the world.

Most of this region is dubbed as the ‘Forbidden Zone’ or the zone-of-death as its unpredictable weather… where the average temperature is minus zero, fierce sandstorms and high UV radiation, make living impossible! Here the average altitude of rail track is 13,500 feet above sea level, with the highest point at 16,700 feet – the most elevated rail track in the world!

But for the passengers the incredibly high altitude won’t pose any problems as all the train carriages are fully air-conditioned and pressurised, plus, oxygen masks are available in sleeping cabins as well as all the train corridors and washrooms. With lavish facilities including western / continental cuisines, it’s more like an Aeroplane ride for the travellers.

More than three-fourth of the entire Qinghai-Tibet Railway is thru this majestic mountain range that includes the ‘Tanggula Pass’ (about 16,640 feet / 5072 metres above sea level) – the world’s highest rail track, and the ‘Fenghuoshan tunnel’ – world’s highest rail tunnel.

Even the highly unstable permafrost is well taken care of … the Qingshuihe Bridge, that extends over eleven & half kilometers, is the world’s longest bridge built on permafrost.

To protect Tibet’s fragile, sensitive eco-system that accounts for many rare & endangered flora & fauna, the railway track is aptly elevated at many spots… otherwise, it utilizes fencing and tunnels cut under the tracks; so that the natural wildlife continues, practically unperturbed by the moving train.

Most importantly, the train is equipped with garbage compacters and vacuum toilets, so that no garbage is allowed to be left behind… to protect the unspoilt natural environment.

Covering almost two thousand kilometers, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway opens up to the visitors the undiscovered bewitching beauty if Tibet.

When the climax comes – the final destination of the train – “Lhasa”, it is more like ‘exploring the unexplored’ for the passengers !

This praiseworthy railway project has now thrown up new avenues for exploring the pristine Tibet for the foreign tourists and people from mainland China alike. A trip to world’s rooftop in every sense !!!



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Info Courtesy:  E Cheong, New Huaren Federation