Believe it or not, some of Malaysia’s most iconic attractions lie in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The city may have its wealth of mega-structures, sprawling shopping malls and nocturnal hotspots, but travel a few miles away from the capital and you will find some pretty fascinating attractions that are as inspiring as they are unique.
Batu Caves and Royal Selangor Pewter are two such attractions. Put simply, there is nothing quite like them. Located approximately half an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, these world-renowned points of interest are never short of visitors, no matter what the season.
The Magnificent Batu Caves
The highlight of the tour is the legendary Batu Caves in Gombak. A popular place of worship for Hindu devotees in the country, it is all made up of a series of limestone caves said to be over 400 million years old.
It is already drizzling by the time we arrive. The massive golden statue of Lord Muruga - the tallest in the world - guarding the entrance of the main cave glints ethereally against the cloudy sky. The temple grounds are filled with fat pigeons, but no signs of monkeys anywhere, which is quite odd as the caves are well-known for their long-tailed inhabitants. Two cave temples, Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, also are contained in the main complex, as well as a Tamil school, a few souvenir shops and several vegetarian restaurants serving South Indian cuisine.
To the left of the main complex is a 50-foot Hanuman statue marking the entrance of Ramayana Cave. The well-lit cave features depictions of the chronicles of Lord Rama and his loyal monkey aide, Hanuman, along its walls. As you walk deeper into the cave, don’t be alarmed if you feel as if you are moving along the intestine of a giant demon.
The Temple Cave can be seen high up in the distance from the ground. To reach the main cave, one has to climb 272 steps up the steep slopes. Being rather unfit, we have to stop a few times along the way, panting and gasping for air. On the way up is the entrance to the Dark Cave, which is well-known for its amazing rock formations formed over thousands of years.
When we finally reach the top, the sight that greets us makes the exerting climb well worth the effort (and pain). The biggest of all the caves, the Temple Cave is characterised by a cathedral-like cavity with a vaulted roof that reaches 100m high from the cave’s floor. There are several temples and shrines within the cave, making Temple Cave the focal point for the Thaipusam celebrations in Malaysia, with thousands of devotees climbing up the steps every year carrying kavadi and all sorts of offerings. The air is significantly cooler inside the cave; you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is fitted with an air-conditioning system.
As we make our descent from the mouth of the cave – significantly easier than the ascent – we marvel at the breathtaking vista spread out before us. Even though our legs feel like jelly by the end of it, it has been an exciting day for us all - starting the tour off with a man-made wonder and ending it with a natural one.
The Royal Selangor Visitor Centre
Our first stop is the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre in Setapak. Known the world over for its fine pewter products, Royal Selangor is the world’s largest pewter company and has been around since 1885. Consisting of three main areas – the gallery, the factory and the retail space – the visitor centre enables you to learn more about the history of this precious national commodity as well as how pewter goods are made.
A giant pewter tankard greets us at the entrance beside the pool. Named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Largest Pewter Tankard in 1987, it weighs at 1557kg and stands at 1987mm tall. A tour guide has been assigned to our group to take us through the exhibits and displays in the gallery, starting with the Heritage Zone. Old black-and-white photographs documenting the beginnings of Royal Selangor adorn the walls near the main entrance. Further inside is a mini-museum showcasing various traditional pewter mining and pewter making tools as well as archaic pewter-based goods such as ancient currencies made in the shape of animals and antique pewter wares.
We move along to the Experiential Zone, where visitors get to experience this versatile alloy in various ways: by touch and sight in the Hall of Finishes, by sound in the Chamber of Chimes, and by scientific facts in the Science of Pewter. Also featured in this zone are the giant numbers 1885, with each number covered in varying pewter finishes, and the traditional Yong Koon’s touchmark Yu He Zu Xi (Jade Peace Pure Tin), which was used by Yong Koon and his brothers in the late 19th century to mark their products.
We move on to the final part of the exhibition gallery, which is the Contemporary Zone. Here, a monumental replica of the Petronas Twin Towers made of 7,062 pewter tankards takes centre stage. There is also the charming Wall of Hands, featuring the pewter handprints of Royal Selangor’s staff, marking their fifth year with the company.
A trip to the factory area ensues. Upon our arrival, we are presented with chilled drinks from little pewter cups. We are then taken around the demonstration stations where pewter smiths show us the various processes involved in the making of some of the goods, including how a particular surface pattern is achieved and how a smooth, shiny finish is obtained.
We are then taken to the most exciting part of our tour, which is the School of Hard Knocks. Guided by an experienced pewter smith, we turn a plain piece of pewter disc into a simple bowl personalised with our names marked at the bottom, using a few simple tools. Taking approximately half an hour, we get to keep the handmade bowl and the apron, as well as a certificate to mark our ‘graduation’ from the School of Hard Knocks.
Our final visit takes us to the retail area of the visitor centre. Featuring 18,000sqf of retail space, it is filled with a wonderful collection of exclusive Royal Selangor gift items and souvenirs, as well as some collections from its sister companies, Selberan and Comyns. We make a pit stop at the adjoining café for some refreshments before continuing our journey to the tour’s next destination.
The Batik Centre
We stop by at a local batik centre en route to Batu Caves. Upon entrance, we are shown a batik-painting method called ‘canting’, where motifs of plants and flowers are hand-drawn onto a piece of plain white silk or cotton using a canting pen filled with candle wax.
Our guide then demonstrates the various ways to wear a batik sarong, which includes as beachwear and fashion accessory. We then walk around the shop admiring the batik items on sale – scarves, clothing, paintings, accessories and decorative ornaments – before heading out for our journey to the tour’s final destination – the Batu Caves.