The jeep's headlights penetrate the night to reveal granite blocks bearing carved and weathered inscriptions. Thousands of graves half sunken in the hilly grassland stand at the foot of Mount Erskine.
At last the jeep takes a turn off the road and begins climbing up a steep lane.
Nobody is sleeping tonight in the town of Jalan Air Terjun, which means "Waterfall Road" - an Indian enclave west of George Town on the island of Penang - as it's the beginning of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, the biggest festival of the year.
Thaipusam lasts for three days and is held in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar of Thai when a star called Pusam is at its highest point in the sky. In the Gregorian calendar that's at the end of January or in early February.
Singapore, India and the Mauritius Islands all observe the festival, while in Malaysia, apart from Penang, Thaipusam is also held in Kuala Lumpur.
The central figure of the festival is Murugan, the god of war and also known as Subramaniam, who was the son of the god Shiva and whose most important emblem is a trident.
According to the Hindu religion, anyone who follows Murugan is regarded as having dedicated themselves to overcoming egoism, greed and lust.
During the festival, devotees perform acts of loyalty such as piercing their tongues, cheeks or brows with metal skewers. Some also hang pieces of metal from their skin using hooks.
It's 2 a.m. and a priest is about to perform a ritual at a small temple in Jalan Air Terjun. He pierces bananas with joss ticks, lights a candle and arranges some flowers on an altar.
Then he prepares a basket of tin cups that look like cowbells. His portable radio is playing some loud drum music as the temple's vestibule fills with men, the relatives and friends of the devotees.
It is said that the men are in a trance when they perform their act of devotion.
Ganesh, 20, however, appears fully aware of what's happening. He's perspiring, looks concentrated and replies quietly to questions.
Friends rub rice powder onto his back to act as a disinfectant and then the first skewer penetrates his skin. He doesn't jerk but he's beginning to look more tense all the time. Everyone else has begun to sing and move in rhythm.
Outside, the crowds have grown and there are also western tourists who have come to see the spectacle.
Malaysia's tourist board has been trying to publicize the Thaipusam festival but the number of visitors who come here is still relatively small.
Nevertheless, Europeans do look out of place in the flickering candlelight and surrounded by the devotees.
The spectacle is not for the faint hearted: "Oh, my God", says an Englishwoman and turns away as a skewer is slowly driven through Ganesh's tongue and cheek. Other tourists look on mesmerised.
According to tradition, the pain the men experience is vanquished by the power of the spirit but not every participant is as relaxed as Ganesh whose generous body fat appears to have saved him from at least some pain.
Another young man has to rest for a while. He's thinner than Ganesh and the hooks are sticking right into his flesh.
Half way through the ceremony he sinks to his knees shaking. His friends gently sit him on a stool.
As dawn arrives, four young men are prepared for the penitential pilgrimage. Their friends surround them dancing and singing as they make their way to the temple.
No-one knows why they have decided to take part. "But there's one thing they all want," says Ravi, a taxi driver. They're allowed to make one wish: good health for a relative, a girlfriend or a new motorbike. Many of them, however, just want to pay penance.
Thousands of Hindus have assembled at the temple. A constant stream of people leads up the steep stairway to the building atop the holy mountain.
There are men and women carrying pots of milk, animal blood and orange juice on their heads.
Others carry portable altars weighing up to 60 kg that are decorated with offerings. When they arrive at the top, they pour the contents of the pots over a statue of Murugan and return down the hill.
By 7 a.m ., the mysterious atmosphere that had enveloped the town is slowly dissolving.
The road is strewn with flower petals and pieces of coconut meant as offerings. The air smells of joss ticks and curdled milk. A family prepares a picnic on a grassy area and traders erect their stands.
The English woman is sitting on a horse, still looking a little pale.
Taxi driver Ravi gathers a group of customers round him. "Everyone stick close to me on the way to the car," he says. Murugan, after all, is also the patron god of thieves.