Safe passage

A clear path: Unlike previous years, there are no huge crowds at Batu Caves this Thaipusam due to concerns over Covid-19 and the new SOP in place. — S.S. KANESAN/The Star

VISITORS and devotees who brought along their children to the Batu Caves temple in Gombak, Selangor, for Thaipusam prayers were disappointed after learning that only fully vaccinated adults were allowed in.

Some of them were forced to turn back yesterday after they were informed that those below 18 years old were not allowed into Batu Caves until after Jan 19, as per the government’s standard operating procedure (SOP) announced on Jan 12.

K. Thilagavathy, 45, who arrived with two young children, said she had not been aware of the age restriction.

“We were stopped at the entrance but luckily several temple volunteers helped to keep an eye on my children while I quickly went in to perform my prayers.

“The temple management should make it clear beforehand that only adults are allowed in, otherwise many other families would be caught unaware,” she told StarMetro.

Caught in a similar situation was S. Pushpavalli and her husband C. Paramasivam who drove to Batu Caves from Seremban with their five children, only to be told they could not enter the compound.

“We are very disappointed and have no choice but to go home today. We will make a trip back here after Thaipusam,” she said.

Besides the age restriction, only those who are fully vaccinated can enter the compound, with a maximum of 6,000 devotees daily and only 500 individuals per prayer session.

Only the carrying of paal kodam, prayer activities and chariot procession are allowed.

Carrying of the kavadi has been prohibited and petty traders are not allowed to operate.

At Batu Caves, the temple management is providing tags as a crowd control measure.

For Jee Meng Po’s family, their first visit to Batu Caves proved to be an eye-opener.

The trio, who were on a five-day trip from Kedah, decided to stop by the temple as there was no crowd.

“We were staying close by and decided to make a quick stop at Batu Caves to perform our prayers.

“I have many Indian friends in Kedah, and they were the ones who introduced me to Thaipusam.

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, they would bring me and my Chinese friends to join the processions to the temples,” said Jee.

His wife, Wong Lei Yuong, 35, who is originally from Sarawak, said she felt welcomed praying at the temple.

“I am Buddhist and I can see some of the similarities between Buddhism and Hinduism.

“I am open to experiencing another religion as I think that it is a form of respect,” she added.

After missing out on visiting Batu Caves last year due to travel restrictions, Prathabnair Mohan, 32, took the opportunity to make a day trip from Seremban, Negri Sembilan, the day before Thaipusam.

Accompanied by his wife and sister, Prathabnair said they felt safe visiting the temple despite the pandemic.

“Compared to previous years, we feel more comfortable as there is no crowd and there is strict SOP in place.

“It is also easier for me to climb up to the caves this way, without having to queue up for a long time,” he said.

It was reported that some 1,300 police personnel would be deployed during the Thaipusam period until Jan 21 to control the crowd and monitor SOP compliance at Batu Caves.

Seven routes around Batu Caves are closed for the same duration, involving the traffic lights at Kampung Melayu Batu Caves, slip road from MRR2 to Batu Caves Temple and Jalan Batu Caves Lama to the temple’s main entrance.

Also closed are the traffic lights at the Sri Batu Caves T-junction in front of the Shell petrol station, T-junction at Jalan SBC 8/ Jalan Batu Caves Lama, slip road from MRR2 from Seri Gombak to the Jalan Perusahaan slip road and Jalan Perusahaan to the Batu Caves Temple.

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