Hindu Caves and Long-tailed Monkeys

Trip Start Jan 18, 2017
Trip End May 03, 2017

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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Day 62

Leaving Singapore was easy, as was getting into Malaysia. I’ve been here before, in 2001 as part of a Southeast Asia cruise. But we didn’t stop at Kuala Lumpur and so I’m rectifying that today.

The airport is about 60 km from the city center so the ride is long. But the driver is chatty (fairly good English), and the time passes quickly. There are palm plantations all over the place. They’re grown for palm oil and if I remember correctly, this is an environmental nightmare.

The natural forests are chopped down so that these rows of palm trees can be planted. The  biggest problem is the destruction of the natural habitat for the indigenous animals and the loss of carbon-sequestering forest land. And in addition, the palm oil industry has been named one of the top four worst industries for forced and child labor.

And as if the sight of all these palm plantations isn’t bad enough, the driver wants to talk about Trump. Way to piss me off, buddy. Whenever someone wants to talk about this, they inevitably want to know how he was elected. And since I can’t figure that out myself, it’s always a frustrating conversation.   

The population of Kuala Lumpur is around two million and I think they’re all on the road right now. And driving motor scooters. They are all over the place. You’d think I would be used to it by now but somehow the sight of all these people on scooters always amazes me.

I finally get to the hotel and get settled in with a little time to spare before being picked up for the tour I’m taking this afternoon. It’s supposed to start at 2:00, with my pick-up at 1:30. The pickup is on time but the rest of the tour is one big cluster. We didn’t leave the tourist center, where all the tours begin, until 2:45 pm.  I’m not exactly sure what the problem was but the woman who is to be our guide is saying something about the Chinese New Year holidays causing problems with the schedule. Whatever.

We’re supposed to be doing a city tour and ending with the Batu caves. The city tour ends up being a drive to a batik factory and a pewter factory, where we not only see how these things are produced, but get to spend 20 – 30 minutes shopping. Ugh.  

She does point out some buildings along the way, but we don’t stop to see anything. The batik factory is not nearly as interesting as the one I visited in Indonesia. All the designs in this factory are drawn free-hand, no templates used (which is different than the one in Indonesia). And most of the items are made of silk (also different). They have some gorgeous products, but I buy nothing.

The pewter place is pretty good. It’s the Royal Selangor pewter factory and they are like a well-oiled machine here. There are several large buses in the parking lot, but they are moving people around with some precision.

We’re met by a young man who will take us through several areas in the factory and give us a history of pewter making in Malaysia. When we get to the factory floor, all we can see is the finishing line. Much of the first few steps in the process is done by machine and that’s off limits. But the finishing is all done by hand, and its mostly women doing this fine detail work.

There is one station where the woman is hammering a design into a mug. She is just flying along, hitting the mug, giving it a little turn, hitting it again. Every strike of the hammer is spot on. Her impressions are perfectly even and all in a line, as if there were some kind of invisible guide being used. We’re asked if anyone wants to try and no one is stepping up so I volunteer. OMG. This is not as easy as she makes it look! My strikes are all over the place, and the depths are all different. Guess that’s the sign of a professional; they make it look so easy! 

Well, we end up in the store and as much as I don’t want to carry any pewter around with me for the next four months, I end up buying a small tea jar. I can’t get over how beautiful it is. The pattern I choose is called The Four Gentlemen and it has a different flower etched on each of the
four sides. Stunning! 

And finally, we’re off to the Batu Caves – the highlight of this tour and the real reason I’ve chosen it. Only 13 km from the city, there is a series of three caves, high up the mountain. The Temple Cave is the most famous because it contains a Hindu shrine reached by a straight flight of 272 steps. That’s the number they give. But I counted them on the way down, and I came up with 544. Exactly twice as many. I’m not sure how they counted those stairs. Maybe the strategy is to tell people only half the amount or no one would ever climb up there. 

The caves are guarded by a statue of Murugn, a Hindu deity. He stands at 42.7 m (140 ft) high and is the world’s largest statue of this god. The statue is made of 1550 cubic meters of concrete, 250 tons of steel bars and 300 liters of gold paint. Pretty impressive.

And, there are monkeys all over the place. These macaques are not afraid of humans and in fact, they’ll come right up to you to grab things from your hands or things hanging from your body. They do pose a biting hazard to tourists (especially small children) since they’re very territorial. I didn’t have any issues with them, although a few did get too close for comfort.

That’s as much as were going to see and do on this tour. Tomorrow I have a city highlights tour which will last most of the day. Tonight, I just find my way over to the grocery store in the mall next to my hotel and get a few things for a picnic supper in my room. One odd thing about the grocery store, there is no dairy section. No butter, no milk, no cheese. They have everything else, including a wine section and a bakery. But no dairy! Well, the wine is more important anyway.

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