After starting my Southeast Asia trip in the lovely city-state of Singapore, it was off to Changi Airport to catch my Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur.
The day before, I met some travelers at my hostel who were from Kuala Lumpur, and they were puzzled why I was going to visit their city.
“Kuala Lumpur is just like Singapore but dirtier, noisier and stinkier,” one of the Malaysians exclaimed.
All three were true, but I got a real dose of the worst stench I've ever confronted when I visited the Batu Caves, located 35 minutes outside the Malaysian capital.
The Batu Caves are a sacred site to the Hindus in Malaysia. Every year in late January, early February, the Thaipusam Festival is celebrated at the caves. The festival can attract over 800,000 people and is noted for devotees piercing their flesh with hooks and skewers. The day I landed, the festival was already underway, so I would miss the event – but not the stench.
After a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur, I took a day trip to the caves. Of the three major caves, the most significant one requires a climb of 272 steps to get to. Once I got to the top, I was rewarded with a panoramic view of the city skyline and the stench that would pervade my nostrils and clothes.
Apparently, the foul smell was a result from the recently concluded festival and the celebrants depositing their waste (both human and manufactured) in the cave.
Nearby I witnessed other travelers in near–vomit mode; others took the wise route and simply turned back and left. After I left Kuala Lumpur and traversed through the rest of Malaysia, a common way other travelers would open a conversation with me went something like this:
“Did you visit the Batu Caves?”
“I didn’t visit the Batu Caves, I smelt it,” I would reply.
We'd share a laugh, then exchange our experiences of our day at the cave. At the caves you’ll make many friends... not human friends, but rather the long-tailed macaque monkeys that love to harass visitors.
What better way to get acquainted with these monkeys than sticking my wide-angle Canon 17-40 lens inches from their face?