Last week I promised to tell you about the sights in Kuala Lumpur. We visited two:
- the Batu Caves, a Hindu holy place
- KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre), home of the Petronas Twin Towers as well as a science centre and a shopping mall
The Batu Caves
This was our first adventure as tourists (i.e., sightseers). The trip was also a good way to ease into being travellers in Malaysia. The caves are way out in the suburbs of KL, so we got to take the monorail from Bukit Bintang, change at KL Sentral, and then take the surface LRT — both great ways to see the city as well as learning to manage public transit.
The Batu Caves themselves were…a fascinating and strange experience. Maybe you’ve been to a big church that’s a tourist destination in itself — Notre Dame, or St. Paul’s Cathedral. Picture the mixture of worshippers and gawkers, with a certain amount of kitschy religious paraphernalia being sold nearby (plastic Jesus and the like).
Now translate all of that to a Hindu temple.
Arriving at the caves, you pass by a lot of little stalls selling cheap paraphernalia and souvenirs, along with some amusement park rides. You also pass some small temples and a giant pastel-coloured statue of Hanuman, the monkey god. Then you emerge at the bottom of a giant flight of steps. As my guidebook explained it, the steps are because it isn’t easy to enter Heaven, so entering a temple should also be a challenge to some degree. Thus, climbing the steps to make an offering is a spiritual Good Thing.
The 273 brightly coloured steps lead to a cave set in a limestone cliff, past an enormous golden statue of the god Murugan, worshipped mostly in southern India and places with a high population of emigrants from there. (Most of Malaysia’s Indian population are descended from Tamils from the south.) Inside the cave are more stalls selling paraphernalia, a small temple, and some shrines. The deepest part of the cave is open to the sky, and with the light falling through, you can imagine why people might have decided this place was sacred.
We saw plenty of tourists like ourselves and also plenty of worshippers, climbing the steps barefoot with offerings. One couple was bearing up a baby in a sling hung from a long branch (maybe bamboo?). Another older woman was climbing one step at a time, supported by two younger men, clearly in pain but determined to reach the top.
I took pictures inside the caves, but not of the worshippers. I’m trying to be mindful of my role as a tourist, and trying not to be obnoxious. It’s a work in progress, I think.
KLCC and the Twin Towers
Our purpose in visiting KLCC was twofold. First, we were there to meet a friend — someone I’d met on the Internet, had known for many years, and had never thought I’d be able to meet in person. (A fascinating experience, by the way. It went so well that we managed to squeeze in another two visits before we had to leave Kuala Lumpur.) Second, we were there to see the famous Twin Towers and the other sights in the area.
We started off at Petrosains, a curious mix of science activity centre and oil industry promo. (Offshore oil drilling is big in Malaysia. The Petronas Twin Towers belong to an oil company.) There were lots of fun hands-on experiments, but the highlight for me was a special exhibit called Sultans of Science, all about science in the medieval Islamic world. The tenth through fifteenth centuries seem to have been a golden age — everything from astronomy to exploration to the foundations for engines came out of that time. We got to play with working models of some of the early technology. The show isn’t that large, but is packed full of interesting tidbits. It’s a travelling exhibition that has already been through North America, Singapore, and Thailand…if it comes to a location near you, I highly recommend it.
We rounded out the day by going up the Petronas Twin Towers, among the tallest buildings in the world (though, my Canadian citizenship compels me to add, not taller than the CN Tower!) Our tickets included a trip across the Skybridge between the towers and a visit to the observation deck, both with grand views across Kuala Lumpur and down to a fine urban park at their base. It’s a tourist trap, of course, but we enjoyed ourselves.
Side note: KLCC also includes what I’m told is a fine aquarium, along with an upscale shopping mall and an urban park.