Article: Visit to Batu Caves and Thaipusam Festival in Malaysia
With the Thaipusam Festival occurring next weekend, we thought of writing a few tips down for you. Thaipusam is a Hindu ceremony which is held each year during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu Calender (January/February). Thaipusam is a very colorful festival and most tourists come to see the devotees carrying ornamental structures (called kavadi) attached to their bodies by hooks and steel spikes.
In the past a lot of kavadi wearers suffered from serious health issues as there were too many parts of the ornaments pierced through their body. I was at the Thaipusam Festival at the Batu Caves last year and didn’t see any extreme kavadi structures like the ones I had seen in 2014 when I saw the Thaipusam parade in Singapore.
The offerings are made to many different shrines with the most famous ones being located at the Batu Caves. Batu Caves is a hill that contains a series of caves and temples. When you reach the Batu Caves, the first thing you will see is the giant 42.7 metre golden coloured statue of Lord Subramaniam and next to it is the giant staircase where you have to climb 272 stone stairs to reach the main cave area. Here you can see our video of Thaipusam 2015 which gives you an insight into the visit during Thaipusam.
Paul and I had been to the Batu Caves prior to the Thaipusam Festival. It is a beautiful sight to visit, however, if you don’t like crowds then we advise you not to visit it during Thaipusam because there are thousands of people there during the festival.
Tip if you are visiting the Batu Caves Not during Thaipusam
It usually rains in the afternoon and so if you want to avoid that visit it in the morning. In the afternoon on the other hand there is a special spectacle that is worth seeing. We were there around 4.30 and that is when they started the prayers. When you walk into the Batu Caves area at the top of the staircase, you will look into a giant cave area.
It is filled with shrines, a big temple and then there is another staircase that leads you up to the main temple. At first they started the special ceremony at the temple at the top of the last staircase and then they moved down to the temple below the inner staircase where all the devotees received their blessings. They also played some beautiful live music with it and the acoustics were magical within the cave.
Our video here, gives you an insight into the normal visit during the rest of the year
How to get to the Batu Caves from Kuala Lumpur?
Getting there by KTM Komuter Trains
The best and cheapest way to get there is via direct KTM Komuter trains from KL Sentral to the Batu Cave station, that run frequently at about every 30mins or so (the journey takes about 30 minutes). During Thaipusam the trains run 24hours and every 15minutes. The trains were modern and air-conditioned…although at Thaipusam very packed!
Important! When planning your day, make sure you add time to line up at KL Sentral to purchase your ticket. When I got there, there weren’t any machines working and there was a long queue in front of the ticket counter. Do make sure you purchase your return ticket at the same time so you don’t have to line up on your return journey from Batu Caves into the city.
For your return journey, do not leave later than 4pm because the trains get very busy. I left the Batu Caves at around 5pm and it really got busy. I usually have no problem with crowds but my return journey was something else. It took ages until we actually got onto the train and the time beforehand you have to wait in the heat. It felt more like I was an animal on my way to the slaughter house and near the end people get very close to each other (make sure you go to the toilet before you line up and you have water and perhaps a snack with you at all times).
Getting there by taxi
During Thaipusam, I advise you to avoid the taxis. It is so busy and I don’t even want to imagine how much the taxi drivers will try to charge you. Some of them are sharks and you really have to watch out.
When Paul and I visited the Batu Caves prior to the festival, so during a normal time of the year, we took a taxi. The drive was fine, although you have to negotiate. If you go there by taxi later in the day, make sure you have the driver waiting for you and agree a price beforehand, because when it starts to rain your negotiation point is quite different and there usually is a lot of traffic later in the day.
When to visit the Batu Caves during Thaipusam?
Go there early in the day, especially as it is not so hot and you may avoid the worst crowds on your return journey.
What I loved about seeing the Batu Caves during Thaipusam
Once I got to the Batu Caves, I really enjoyed watching all the crowds and how the festival brought the Caves to live. When you get off the train you immediately see the hair shaving stations. There was lots of hair on the ground and then you walk past food and other sales stands to the Batu Caves. The staircase at the Batu Caves was constantly filled with people. It seemed like ants crawling up to it. As I had seen the caves previously, I didn’t go all the way up there. I spared my energy and headed to the main entrance gate to admire the kavadi bearers on their arrival at the caves. Some of them seemed completely out of it and only their gods know how they managed to get there.
I also purchased a ticket for the Ferris wheel where I was accompanied by two sweet girls who were happily posing for me and I was able to watch the entire theatre from above.
There was also a giant market underneath a tent. On the one hand it was great to get out of the sun and on the other hand you could leisurely purchase some colorful clothes and other items.
Thaipusam 2017 is held on Thursday, 9th of February 2017. I would say the day before and Thursday are the main days for the celebrations but you can see devotees arriving there the entire week leading up to it.
Thaipusam 2018 takes place on Wed, 31st of January. Thaipusam 2019 will be held on Mon, 21st of January 2019.