Up in the caves of Kuala Lumpur, talking to a backpacker, on a rainy night
It was raining in Kuala Lumpur. After staying in my room the whole day, I called Ranie to ask if he could accompany me to the Batu Caves. I changed my mind when I saw the downpour still going on outside. I told him, I’ll just walk around the block. Since I couldn’t go any farther without being wet, I bought an umbrella. I reached the monorail. There I decided, I’ll go to the caves anyway.
I reviewed Ranie’s message:
…take monorail from bukit bintang to kl sentral, walk to kl sentral…ride ktm to batu caves via sentul line
I had no idea what Sentul Line or KTM is or what ‘kl sentral’ looks like and how long should I walk, and to what direction, to reach the Sentral. At the monorail station, I stared at the ticket machine like a true clueless tourist. I figured it out, tapped the monitor many times, put some coins, and failed. I lacked a few cents, so I went to the ticket counter to change a bill. Where do you wanna go? Batu Caves. The lady gave me a ticket to KL Sentral. What a clueless tourist I must’ve appeared—it goes without saying that I could’ve bought the ticket there instead of playing staring games with the machine.
Up in the crowded platform, I had to let two trains pass by because the trains were packed like cans of sardines—just like in Manila and Bangkok and Singapore and anywhere else during rush hour. Clearly, the world’s population of 7 billion people can be best felt around 6pm in train stations.
The treasure hunt continued as I stepped out of the monorail and followed signs and arrows to this KL Sentral. It took me about five minutes of walking, crossing the road, left-right-left-right-left-right before I reached the Sentral, where buses and trains can be found and KTM is one of them—it goes straight to the Batu Caves. Ranie is simply a genius in giving directions.
I bought a ticket (2 ringgit) and had the slowest train ride I ever had in my entire life. I could run faster. Only after 15 minutes did it take up speed. It was almost 7pm when we reached the last station.
When I reached the caves, the sun has set and—Holy Mother of Pearl—the caves, they are giants looking down at me, as if to say, what is your business here, little girl, at this time of the day? So I quietly answered back, please don’t scare me, I am generally a good person. I walked some more and found myself standing in deep awe at the sight that greeted me.
In front of me were the mouth of the caves perched on top of a rocky hill and before it was the plight of stairs, which reminded me of Mt. Tapyas’ 700 steps (Palawan, Philippines). There was also the giant Hindu deity, shimmering in gold, mysterious and intimidating. I was dwarfed by the sheer size of it all.
There I was standing and hesitating under the rain after snapping some photos. That time, three persons were climbing down the steep path. An old man, perhaps in his 60s, wearing marathon shorts, took his first steps up. That was enough motivation to go.
Every now and then, I would pause after about 70 steps so not to stress my leg muscles and to take photos. Upon reaching the mouth of the cave, I hesitated once more because inside I didn’t see anyone but a monk. It was getting dark and the rain gave the place an eerie feel to it. Then I noticed some shadows moving—signs that there are people there.
I walked down the steps deeper into the cave, which was well lit, showing the Hindu temples and altars and deities and statues and curious rock formation. My mind started to entertain scary thoughts. What if a cave in happens? Nobody would know I was up there all by myself on that rainy evening—not even Ranie. I wouldn’t see Mike forever. What if I fall in a crack straight to hell, and get trapped between rocks just like in 127 Hours? I wouldn’t even be able to cut myself free. All I had with me was my wallet, hotel key card, iphone, tissue paper, and umbrella. Perhaps I could use the iPhone in sending SOS, that is, if it doesn’t break after the fall.
Scary thought left me alone when a sight beheld me. From up above the cave’s ceiling (which was so high and dark I couldn’t see it) came trickling water. Drops of it seemed to defy gravity as they fell like feather on a free fall, performing some theatrics on a, slow motion, touching the ground gently like kisses planted on a forehead. A monk was chanting from afar while this was happening and steady rain can be heard bathing Kuala Lumpur outside.
One local family was preparing to leave and two Caucasians were silently standing on top of the stairs at the farthest end, probably taking in the whole scene and committing it to memory, while I walked farther and deeper into the cave. The rest of the world appeared to have become a thing of the past. Irrelevant. Time stopped.
As I walk back to the opening of the cave, one of the Caucasians stood beside me when I stopped to consume with my eyes Kuala Lumpur’s skyline under an early evening drizzle. Beautiful, isn’t it? he said. The tiny lights forming a network of terrestrial stars under the navy blue cloudy sky was indeed beautiful.
Pete from England, he introduced himself before I did. We exchanged information about ourselves and talked about our recent trips. We talked some more, and I bid goodbye a new cave friend, a backpacker who hasn’t returned to his country for four years.
I felt like running to the train station that cold evening so I did. The train station was empty when I arrived. Bought my ticket and went back to my hotel room.
It was a beautiful experience.
(My Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 3, 3pm)