My friends insisted I go to Batu Caves. It’s amazing. Stupendous. Astounding. Well, it wasn’t a mall. Batu Caves were discovered (according to my guidebook) 120 years ago and the Hindus decided to make a shrine of them. When you get off the train, you follow the crowd to a gate lined with people selling stuff. The gate, which is large enough to accommodate a car, is closed, but there is a man door open in it. Nothing to write home about. Stone, wrought iron, not snazzily decorated. Kinda disappointing considering that we’re talking about a Hindu temple. Inside is a huge statue of the monkey good which starts to make up for the lack of deco on the gate. Then there’s a little temple where you are invited to take off your shoes so you can go inside. As the temple has no walls and there was no way I was walking barefoot in a tropical tourist attraction, I chose to observe from a distance. A bit further along you get into the truly fabulous Hindu architecture. There’s even a koi pond and some lovely little bridges.
And then you get to the temple. Or rather to the steps at the bottom of the temple.
Ever since I was in Korea, steps have made me breathless. Not sure if it’s leftover asthma which I got from living there or my hypochondriacal memory of it. Caves have always made me claustrophobic. I’ve gotten over a fear of manmade tunnels, but caves? I don’t care how long they’ve been there or how many people walk in and out perfectly safely everyday, those suckers are just waiting for me to step inside so they can collapse on my head. (I got panicky watching The Molly Maguires starring Sean Connery.) Between the two, standing at the bottom of the immense number of stairs leading up to the cave made me a little dizzy and I had visions of being carried down all those steps by some poor Malaysian Hindu when I freaked out and collapsed.
So instead I went shopping. I found a very nice blouse at the first store I stopped in which I knew would solve a couple of holes in my school wardrobe, but I chose to wander around to see what else was there before buying. There was a lot of stuff there. Guys splitting open coconuts before your eyes. Rainbow wigs. Bubble guns. Unidentifiable fried foods (what is it with the unidentifiable fried foods. Can you just fry anything and that makes it good?)
Eventually, I circled back to the first store and started checking out my desired purchase to see if it would fit. The clerk said I could try it on and led me to a – I kid you not – broom closet, complete with a broken mirror and a sloping ceiling. The shirt fit, but as I was taking it off, I banged into the fluorescent light, which blinked out leaving me half dressed in a pitch dark broom closet with a sloping ceiling and a broken mirror. I tried tapping the light back to life to no avail and ended up getting dressed in the dark. Fortunately, it occurred to me to feel for seams so I didn’t put my shirt on inside out.
On the way out I encountered the monkeys. The travel book had promised monkeys, but I forgot until I saw one. At that point I remembered that it said not to get too close as they bite.
Travel is so enriching.