Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (CNN) — On the surface, Kuala Lumpur, city of 1.8 million people, is a modern metropolis filled with shopping malls and skyscrapers.
But beneath that urban buzz lies a city of cultural diversity, fueled by a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences.
For instance, just nine miles (14.5 kilometers) north of the city center lies a series of beautiful Hindu shrines set in dramatic limestone caves.
The Batu Caves are said to be about 400 million years old.
First brought to global attention in 1878, the Batu Caves aren't just a holy site for Hindu faithful -- they're also an Instagrammers' paradise.
The area features four main sites. Cave Villa and Ramayana Cave each charge a nominal fee of 15 Malaysian ringgit (or about $3.60) for entry.
The Dark Cave, once the site of adventure tours, has been closed since February 2019 and no reopening date has been set.
The main attraction though is the Temple Cave. The entry fee is not Ringgit but calories, as visitors must ascend 400 feet (123 meters) into the 400-million-year-old limestone caverns.
Twenty volunteers spent three days in 2018 painting the cave's 272 steps in a colorful gradient that leaves visitors staring in awe. Inside there are two Hindu shrines, colorfully adorned and completely dwarfed by the 300-foot high walls that rises up around them.
Up a set of steep stairs in the back of the cave, the rock walls give way to the sky, offering otherworldly views.
Thaipusam and Lord Murugan
Hundreds of thousands visit the caves during the annual Thaipusam festival, held to honor Hindu god Lord Murugan.
In late January or early February each year, the caves are a destination for hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshipers celebrating the festival of Thaipusam.
As part of the festival's rituals, many participants engage in various acts of devotion and control over their senses -- including piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks. This is done in penance, as a symbol of devotion to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. Not coincidentally, a 140-foot tall gold statue of Murugan stands at the base of the caves.
Know before you go
Whether it's monsoon season or not (generally March to April and September through November), the afternoons tend to be wetter than the mornings.
Plus, the city is on the 8th degree of latitude -- it gets steamy. With all of those stairs to climb, you'll be better off getting there right when they open the gates, at around 7:30 a.m.
Getting there is easy -- it's just a 20-minute ride from the city center. Take a taxi or use the Grab app to hail a ride, which will set you back only 18 ringgit (a little more than $4).
If you want to enter any of the shrines, you're required to remove your shoes.
If you bring any food to the caves -- or buy any from the vendors on site -- keep a watchful eye on it. Packs of monkeys roam the hills and climb the steps alongside humans, often begging for -- and sometimes stealing -- food.