Last week we went to Kuala Lumpur, since my mum was flying home from KL and I needed to do a visa run. I hadn’t done any research for the trip, but soon after we arrived we realized that the next day was the celebration of the Hindu Festival of Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur in the Batu Caves, which we were going to visit anyway.
It seemed like it was meant to be, so I packed my camera and we jumped on the train to the Batu Caves at around 11am. The train was full of Hindu’s wearing beautiful sari’s in gorgeous colours, armfuls of gold bangles, sparkly earrings, and pretty shoes. I wish I could pull off a sari but sadly I’d just look ridiculous.
We elbowed our way off the train and were immediately enveloped in a huge crowd of people. The Batu Caves are an important Hindu religious site, and the huge golden statue is of Lord Murugan, which is the largest statue dedicated to a deity in the world.
The festival starts in Chinatown, where the procession begin their 15km walk to the Batu Caves. Those who are walking are either doing it in thanks or penance, and once they get there they still have to walk up the 272 steps into the caves.
This is what the walk up the steps looked like:
It’s hard to put into words just how crazy the festival was. Every year the festival is jam-packed with over a million people, so if you’re in Kuala Lumpur in time for Thaipusam it’s well worth the trip out to the caves.
The heat was almost unbearable, and garbage was strewn all over the place. The air was ripe with the scent of spicy food and BO, but it was all worth it to experience one of the biggest Hindu celebrations in the world.
People carried huge offerings (kavadi), and attached them to their bodies with hooks. Some even had spikes through their faces, and there was so much going on that at times I didn’t know where to look.
A lot of people in the procession were wearing yellow and orange, and a few had pierced themselves and had different Kavadis attached to their bodies.
Devotees carry offerings, and many had fasted for almost 50 days before the event. And it was hot. I could barely carry myself around, let alone a 100kg kavadi up all those stairs (and I’d had a huge breakfast that morning).
Many people also shave their heads in preparation for the festival.
Unfortunately we didn’t make it up the steps into the cave, as the line was crazy long and we were on a strict time schedule. I’m also quite claustrophobic and simply being in the crowd at the bottom was overwhelming at times.
When we decided to leave we had to line up for around an hour for a train ticket. It was absolute chaos. People were pushing and cutting in front of us, and in the end we were glad to get on the air conditioned train.
I hate to say it but the sheer amount of garbage everywhere was revolting. Apparently the government made a conscious effort to make it a cleaner experience this year, but all the rubbish bins ended up overflowing and surrounded by piles of garbage.
Over 100,000 free meals were given out, which is a huge effort considering that there are usually only around 10,000 provided, and after all the fasting and carrying those huge kavadi I’m sure they were appreciated.
While it was a bit chaotic at times, I’m so glad we got the chance to see this amazing festival. It was just a happy accident that we were in Kuala Lumpur in time to see it, and that’s one of the things I like most about traveling without any fixed plans-you can adjust them and have experiences like this on a few hours notice.