An Afternoon with the Religious Monkeys
I. The Afternoon Plan
It was a spur of the moment. “Why don’t we see it?” Rogue asked her partner. The two were having lunch and they were discussing how to spend their afternoon in a busy city. They were there for leisure and they have all the free time they need. “Why not?” Italo replied. “After all we have almost explored every corner of the downtown and it would be great to go somewhere unique,” he added. After lunch, the two hurried back to their budget hotel to prepare for their afternoon adventure. Rogue was excited about their plan. She was with Italo when two of their newly met acquaintances from this foreign country, Anne and Celine, told them about the place. “It would be a good retreat for the two of you. You would enjoy the monkeys,” Anne told. “Yes! I was tried to chase the monkeys. It was a real fun!,” Celine excitedly exclaimed. These remarks got the couple curious to see the place. They are tourists and they deserve to see what they like. They have crossed oceans to be wanderers and explorers in this place. Rogue loves to see new places and she loves adventures. On the other side, Italo hates restrictions when he goes around. He never dreamed of a package tour in all his life.
It was a peak season for western tourists and information booths were all over the country. Rogue and Italo were ready to start their afternoon adventure. “How can we reach the Batu Caves”?, Rogue inquired from the information booth agent. The kind Asian agent replied as he pointed to the direction of the bus stop. “You simply take a bus with Batu Cave on its sign board.” And so Rogue led the way. With their days of stay in the city Rogue can almost memorize every street and establishment around. It was a hot, humid and sunny afternoon in the “dusty administrative centre” (Sheridan, 2003, p. 16) of Malaysia and the couple was more than prepared for this weather conditions with their pairs of thongs, cotton shirts and walking shorts.
II. The Bus Ride
Although the bus has a “Batu Cave” sign board, Rogue wanted to be sure. “Is this the bus to Batu Caves?” she anxiously asked. The bus conductor smiled to both of them and gave an assuring look. Rogue was feeling both excited and anxious. “What will I see in this cave? All I know about are the monkeys that Anne and Celine told us,” she thought to herself. At the start, the bus had difficulty squeezing itself out the heavily jammed central district. At least “traffic pattern reflects closely the pattern of economic activities” (Ooi, 1963, p. 368). This is the only consolation for Rogue as she remembered the book she was able to browse months before. “Hey! It’s not your country! What do you care about!” She scorned herself in her thoughts. She was excited to reach their destination.
After “ thirteen kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur” (“Batu Caves,” n/d) and after an hour of jammed traffic in a busy city, the bus passed by the entrance of Batu Caves. It was not until 100 meters away before the two realized that they should have got down the bus. The next bus stop was another 100 meters away! The couple got down and walked back to the caves’ gate. “Are we there yet?” Italo asked Rogue. “Hmmmm… From the looks of it, I think, YES!” The first thing that caught the attention of the couple was the giant golden statue. They did not have any idea that the cave is also an Indian temple with 140 feet colossal golden statue. At the foot of the cave and right after the entrance, there is a wide square serving as parking space, food stalls space, souvenir store space and snack bars space, among others. Italo and Rogue were busy taking photos and looking around the place that did not notice the two Indian lads who were talking to them. The two were ushered inside a little air-conditioned room that serves as a little theater. There was a projector inside and before the two entered, they were required to pay ten Malaysian Ringgits (RM 10) each and to take off their respective thongs. They were the only audience inside that room and both were obviously anxious, especially after the lights of the room were turned off. “What are we supposed to do here?” Rogue asked Italo. “I don’t have any idea,” was the reply. It was not until the presentation of the Batu Caves Temple highlighting the attractions within, the Indian culture, and Hinduism, the two realized what they were supposed to do inside that room. Only by then the two became aware of the Thaipusam held every February, which is “the yearly celebration by members of the Hindu faith of the birth of Lord Subramaniam.” (Shemanski, 1985, p. 132) Moreover, the giant golden statue was also introduced in that short video presentation. It is the statue of Lord Murugan, a Hindu diety and god of youth and justice to whom “thousands of devotees pray, fast, and form a long procession to honor.” (Fong, 2002, p. 88)
III. The Thrill in the Temple
The couple thanked the two lads after they have finished learning what the place is all about. They were ready to go up the entrance of the cave to enter and explore. “I think we will need some drinks”, Italo suggested. The two entered the nearby snack bar and have a bottled water and a bottle of sprite. As for Rogue, she took a little bar of Toblerone to take with them at the top of the cave. “Sugar replenish lost energy fast” (“Sugar Gives You,”n/d) she was grinning as she naughtily whispered these little knowledge to Italo. The two shared drinking the bottled water and reserved the other bottle of Sprite in case they get thirsty up in the cave. Rogue took one bite of Toblerone and so did Italo.
Before one can enter in any of the major and minor caves at the Batu Temple, one must go up to the entrance using the 172 steps leading up the caves’ entrance. Rogue was thrilled with this idea as she has seen in the video presentation earlier that Hindu worshippers and devotees carry heavy weights in going up the steps. In fact, thousands of Hindus climb the 172 steps of the Batu Caves during the February Thaipusam, as they “balance milk pails on their heads and many with spears (or other sharp objects) pierced through their bodies, to pray at the Murugan temple atop” (Malaysia: Hindu Festival Declared, 2008) “Let’s start the adventure. It would be a great knee exercise!” Exclaimed the excited Rogue. “It’s a bit high and it would be a work. Sigh…”, Italo lamented.
There are at least a hundred other people around the place. They were either fellow tourists or Indian nationals maintaining the temple or vending goods and souvenir materials within the compound of the temple. The two continued their way up. Italo was always scores of steps behind Rogue. “Come on up! It’s really thrilling me.. Puff… Puff…” Rogue was catching her breath as she urged Italo to go faster. “Just go ahead and we see each other at the cave. Puff!… But better if you wait me and we take a little rest. Please give me the drink,” was the reply. Rogue paused from going up the steps and she took few sips from the bottle of Sprite. She waited Italo and as soon as he was at an arm’s length distance, she offered the bottle of Sprite that she have already opened. “Thanks. At least my throat is cleared now,” Italo told her after he took a gulp of the soda. She only smiled. They stayed at the middle of the steps for few more moments letting their fellow climbers overtake them. At the same time, the two took photos of the cityscape laid out down before them. The giant statue of Lord Murugan is now seen from behind and it did not look as imposing as seen from below.
“Let’s race to the top!” challenged the ever excited Rogue. “No. It’s a shame to not win over you,” replied Italo. “Hmmmp! Men of pride,” she murmured. They continued their way to the top and after few minutes of treading upwards, the couple reached the entrance. Italo was soaking with sweat. He took the last sip of the remaining soda. Soon, they were holding hands exploring the inside of the cave containing Hindu statues, symbols, and bass-reliefs.
“Where are the monkeys now? I don’t see any of them!” asked Rogue. “Let’s explore the cave further. Maybe they are staying there,” suggested Italo. The two roamed around the cave until they reached the other side where the light of the sun pass through the cave opening. Things are better seen at that side of the cave. There were fellow tourists taking photos and feeding monkeys with some food. As they reached the step leading up to that side of the cave, another monkey crossed their path. “Indeed there are monkeys around. Ha! Ha! Ha! Let’s take some photos,” Rogue remarked. They took more photos around. Italo, on the other hand, requested that his photo be taken with an Indian deity over a pedestal at his background. After few more minutes of wandering around, the couple was satisfied and decided to go back down.
Rogue decided to eat the Toblerone. She felt a need to replenish the energy she lost while going up the 172 steps. She took a bite. They were descending the little steps toward the entrance/exit of the cave when someone snatched the chocolates. “Help me! Oh my God!” She was almost out of her mind with what happened and she got a bit nervous. “What’s wrong?” Asked the bewildered Italo.. The surrounding individuals all looked at them and were alerted with Rogue’s scream. “There was something! I never saw it but someone snatched my chocolates. Where is our camera? Is it with you?” She was still a little nervous as she answered to her partner. They looked around and Rogue felt a sigh of relief when she saw that the camera was with Italo.
The couple tried to understand what really happened. It was not until they turned their eyes at one side of the cave where there were three monkeys. One of them was holding the Toblerone bar as it savors it while he was munching. The other two were staying on guard in case the former offer them some charity or in case the food fall down from its grip.
The couple could only laugh at the amusing reality that they have seen. It was the snatcher monkey! They went back to their budget hotel very contented with their afternoon adventure. As for Rogue, she never expected that simple afternoon to be so thrilling and be one of the most memorable experiences that she had. Thanks to the religious monkeys of the temple.
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