Murugan's Cave

Although Asian blood is running through my veins and I have been to the Islamic World before when I was a kid, as a man who was born and grew up in the West, I do expect to experience a little bit of a cultural shock in the upcoming destination. There is another reason why I am excited, because in the third country on the third continent of this journey it is the first time that I am all by myself, no relatives who are waiting for me at the airport, and no friends who conveniently drive me around to show me the best spots. The adventures in Asia begin in Malaysia.

 

Upon my arrival I understand very quickly, just why Kuala Lumpur's airport has been called the best airport in the world so many times. It's clean, modern, convenient and even gives you a small taste of Malaysia's natural assets in form of an artificial Jungle that has been prepared in the main hall. The airport seems professional enough to me to leave my luggage here until I return for the next flight, since I will only stay here for a short time.

 

The KLIA Express that takes me to the city center also leaves a good impression on me, being fast, comfortable and reliable. From a distance I see the two huge, illuminated towers that I have seen on pictures in the last couple of months while anticipating the beginning of my journey. Since this is only the second time that I see huge twin towers in my life, it reminds me of the World Trade Center. But, of course, even in the dark and from a distance I can see the most obvious differences, most notably the pinnacle design as well as  a bridge that connects the two towers.

A little bit more than half an hour passes until the train stops at KL Central, where I need to get off. Here in Kuala Lumpur, I plan to stay at a so-called hostel, where you can share a room with other travellers for very affordable prices. I have never been to a hostel before, but since I am on my own, maybe it is not a bad idea to go to a place where I can meet other travellers. Inside a taxi I try to communicate with the driver, but he doesn't speak any English, so I just say in Malayan: „Saya mau pergi ke Chow Kit. Berapa Ongkos?“, asking for the price to get to Chow Kit, the district where the hostel is located where I want to stay. In my final phase of studies I could freely choose to visit all kinds of seminars, and among the variety of courses that I visited was an Indonesian language course, which I knew would be helpful here in Malaysia, as Indonesian and Malayan are basically the same language.

 

Although my dad has given me a cell phone for the journey, I haven't really used it, but it doesn't seem to work properly anyway. Since a few years smartphones have become a thing, and people can use those phones to conveniently get around. I never had a smartphone in my life, not because of any ideological reasons, but I just don't feel like I necessarily need it. Maybe one day. But here in Kuala Lumpur, getting around by just memorizing the streets and directions here without any help is somehow fun to me. I just hope that there is still a bed free in the hostel where I want to stay. Since I don't use any credit cards or anything similar, much like in all other destinations on this journey, I have not booked any hotel or hostel in advance. If the hostel is fully booked, I have two nearby alternative places that I checked in advance, just to be on the safe side.

 

While walking in the streets of Chow Kit, I begin to understand why the price of the hostel I chose is so cheap. The closer I get to the hostel, the stronger is the odor on the streets, and the creepier the people that I spot on the streets look. Eventually I find the street where the hostel is located. To my surprise, the hostel itself is clean and those working in the hostel are friendly. Down the stairs I have a smoke with some English travellers, who are ready to go out soon. I decide not to stay out for too long and just have one beer at a nearby karaoke bar. Tomorrow, early in the morning, I plan to reach what I consider to be one of the sightseeing highlights of the journey.

Inside the taxi I distract myself by looking at the unfamiliar Tamil architecture, and although mosques are not unfamiliar to me, some of their architectural features in this region are. It is quite a short taxi ride, as the caves are located only 13 kilometres outside of Kuala Lumpur. Still a little bit sleepy, as the driver tells me that we have arrived, I pay him, open up a can of Pepsi and get out of the car, when I finally notice this huge golden statue of the Hindu god of war Murugan, son of Shiva, the biggest staue of him in the world, standing right in front of the many stairs that lead to one of the several caves of that limestone hill. My uncle and aunt from Virginia did not exaggerate with their descriptions.

 

As I walk past the golden guardian of the caves, who is also known as Karitreya, and begin to climb the stairs, I try to get a glimpse of what is on top, when suddenly a monkey appears, standing in front of me, startling me so much that I try to keep my balance in order not to fall down all those stairs. As an inexperienced traveller from Germany you are just not used to see a free maqaque walking around all the time. He looks at me with a big grin on his face, while at the same time I notice that he is not the only one. Many other macaques begin to appear. An Indian man walks down the steps with his wife, and before he passes me, he warns me: „Beware of your soda“, pointing first at my can of Pepsi and then at the macaques. The one in front of me climbs further up and then looks back at me, as if he was expecting me to continue walking. I don't keep my new „tour guide“ waiting and follow him, while some of the other macaques look at me curiously.

 

Once I climb the final step of the 272 steps, I see the sun rays shining through the holes of the cave. The main cave of the so-called Batu Caves, known as the Temple Cave, tells the story of Murugan defeating a spirit called Surapadman. According to this legend, Murugan spared Surapadman's life after he accepted to be his Vahana, an animal that Hindu deities use as a transport means. Too distracted by the temple and the exotic environment, within a split second the macaque that I saw first snatches my Pepsi away and drinks it. I surely underestimated just how fast they can be.

Because I always wanted to know what a snake feels like, I give a local some money to put a snake around my neck, before heading back to the city, where I soon stand in front of the Petrona Towers. Amazed at the height I try to imagine how it will feel like, if I make it to Dubai and if I reach Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, which is more than twice as tall as the huge twin towers in front of me right now. Once I get inside and cross the Skybridge that connects the two towers, I enjoy the view on the city. However, from the top of the KL Tower that I visit right thereafter, one of the highest TV towers in the world,  you even have a better view on Malaysia's capital. In my final moments of exploring the city, I decide to use the monorail to briefly explore Bukit Bintang, known for its malls and nightlife. However, I the exotic vibe that I experienced at the Batu Caves is still in my head, only increasing my anticipation for the next destination, which I expect to give me even a much bigger cultural shock.

At the railway station, ready to head to the airport to reach the next country,  a group of taxi drivers inform me that the KLIA Express is no longer running, because it is almost midnight. For a moment I think that maybe they just want me to pay for a way more expensive taxi. Once I ask how much a taxi ride to the airport costs, it is clear that they are overcharging me. It makes me wonder if they are lying with regards to the KLIA Express not running. As they see that I am ready to take the elevator up to the railway station, the drivers point at a KLIA Express stand, where you allegedly buy the ticket.  The stand is obviously closed, and it does indeed say KLIA Express. They seem to be right. I look at how much money and start to negotiate with the drivers. They agree to lower the price, albeit the amount of money they ask for is still ridiculous. But do I have a choice? It's better than to miss my flight. So, I get ready to put my luggage in the trunk of the taxi. While doing so, however, I see this Malaysian man looking at me, as the elevator is taking him up to the railway station. He shakes his head while looking at me, apparently giving me a signal that I should not listen to the taxi drivers. I look at the taxi drivers, then at him, and then again at them. "We can help you and take your luggage", one of the drivers says. The more often I look at the man using the elevator, the more desperate the taxi drivers' call to enter the taxi sounds, prompting me to take my luggage and to take the elevator up to the railway station.

 

Even if for some reason they say the truth, which I highly doubt, taxi drivers can wait, trains don't. A guy in front of the ticket counter who looks like he is working here lets me know that the KLIA is no longer running. But I still remember the man in the elevator, a guy whom I would never see again shaking the head. He had no reason to be untruthful, which is why I still head to the ticket counter, where I finally get the certainty that the taxi drivers lied, the guy upstairs pretending to work here lied, and even the closed KLIA ticket stand downstairs was fake.

 

On the way to the train I see the local that I saw in the elevator. "How much did they ask for?" - “100 Ringgit”, I reply, thanking him for his signal, as we enter the train and have a nice chat until we reach the airport and wish each other good luck for everything. In the main hall of the airport, after checking in, I have a seat and look back at my stay here in Kuala Lumpur, happy that I got to do all I planned to do all by myself in such a short amount of time. For the first time I got an idea of how it feels like when you are travelling all by yourself. However, this was just a small taste of what it feels like to travel all by yourself, only a little preparation for what I believe to be the biggest challenge of all the countries I have chosen.

Travel Projects

I.    Around the World (2010)                                                           

II.   Stairway to Heaven (2011)

III.  Travelution (2012)

IV.  Era of Epicness (2013)

V.   Emergency Exits (2014)

VI.  The Slippery Path of Uncertainty (2015)

VII. Age of Turbulence (2016)

VIII. Against All Odds (2017)

IX.  Evasive Maneuvers (2018)

 X.  Home is Everywhere (2019)

XI. ??? (2020)