A trip back in time to Batu Caves, 1914

The following is a write-up on Batu Caves in Gombak, Selangor, as featured in the tourism pamphlet produced in 1914 by the Federated Malay States Railways, the consolidated railway operator in British Malaya during the first half of the 20th century.

The 68-page document detailed hotspots and highlights for travellers around the Malayan peninsula.

All aboard!

“On the Padang, at Kuala Lumpur, behind the Selangor Club, is a wayside station (close to the Empire and FMS hotels) at which stop all trains to the Batu Caves, and there are five trains in the day there and five back.

The run is a little over half-an-hour through pretty country on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The line was built to serve the railway workshops half-way to and the stone quarry near the caves.

Looking to the front of the train after leaving Kent Station, you find it running straight at the base of the huge limestone cliffs which have gleamed white in the distance most of the way.

Batu Caves as featured in the tourism pamphlet of 1914, compared with 100 years later. (Great Malaysian Railway Journeys pic)

Leaving the station and following the road, take the first turn to the left and continue along a few steps until, again to the left, you find a path through the rubber plantations where, if it be early, you will pass coolies tapping the trees.

The trees and limestone in and around the caves were noteworthy even over a century ago. (Wikipedia pic)

This leads you to the steps for the caves, and a somewhat steep pull lands you under the outer arch of an ‘antre vast’. Turn and look out at the view from the cave mouth whilst you recover breath, and then descend into the great outer hall.

These caves are not inhabited and there are no temples in them, as there are in the Ipoh caves. The trivial graffiti of all races, nations and languages, disfiguring though they may be, have not availed to rob these caves of their native majesty.

The green-blue metallic shades painted upon the rock by some lowly moss contrast with the pure white of the majestic marble hollowed out in smooth depressions by the age-long action of water.

From the soaring top depend strange icicles in lime.

The cave is duplicate. The second hall is roofless and open to the sky. Here you shall look up and high, high on the brim of this great white cup, see monkeys scrambling.

The infamous monkeys of Batu Caves still inhabit the area to this day. (Wikipedia pic)

Higher and higher they go, hand over hand, swarming up the ropes of the creepers’ roots which hang over the dizzy edge, clambering over the rock cornices till they reach the dwarfed, ill-nourished bushes which nod into the air over the edge of the vortex where the swallow has made a nest.

Returning, as you mount to the cave-mouth, the ground rings hollow underfoot and argues other unknown depths beneath.

Half-way down the steps is a rough track to the right which leads to another cave inhabited by bats, white snakes, frogs, toads and a very vile smell.

This cave den extends 887 yards into the bowels of the rock before ever you come to the bottom. It is dark and dirty walking and should only be attempted with a guide and lights, but the entrance at least may be visited.

To see the caves takes about an hour, and unless you have a carriage or motor from Kuala Lumpur ready you must wait another couple of hours for the next train back.”

In contrast

Batu Caves is home to the tallest statue of Lord Murugan in the world.

A hundred years or so later, the station behind Selangor Club no longer exists, but KTM Komuter trains to Batu Caves depart from KL Sentral. The run takes 22 minutes and is through built-up suburbs, bringing commuters to the station right next to the caves.

It is interesting that there were no temples in Batu Caves 100 years ago. Now it has become a major Hindu shrine with a giant statue devoted to Lord Murugan, the tallest such statue in the world.

Even more fascinating was that they had graffiti even back in those days!

Trains from Batu Caves depart more frequently now, so there is no need to wait a couple of hours anymore.

Great Malaysian Railway Journeys

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