Curious case of a cave

Curious case of a cave

Belum caves

Curious case of a cave

Imagine the surprise when these caves were stumbled into first. Someone walking on land that is vast and parched, sparsely vegetated, not too rocky, and rather nondescript. The person would not have expected to find caves running underneath. But they exist, and what kind of caves!

In fact, the entrance of the caves is just a pit that goes about 20 metres down. It is when I climb down to this level that I come face to face with a fascinating network of caves.

A whole new world

The Belum Caves in Seemandhra’s Kurnool district actually go down some 150 feet below ground level at its deepest point. These caves run along some 3-and-a-half kilometres, throwing up mesmerising spaces along the way. This includes huge chambers, flat and low passages, deep and narrow tunnels, fresh water galleries and siphons, besides stalactites and stalagmites and other curious sculpted shapes. Though there is no trace of a river in the vicinity now, millions of years ago, River Chitravati had flowed in the area. It was she who carved out these caves by piercing and eroding through the thick limestone layers in the region. At some point, the river supposedly emerged above the ground in a nearby village. Now, the Chitravati river is found flowing a good 30 km south of the caves.

These caves happen to be the second longest caves in the Indian subcontinent as of now, the Krem Liat Prah caves in Meghalaya being the longest. But this might well change, as the Belum Caves’ extensions and meandering passages are still being uncovered.

An ancient discovery

It takes me around 2 hours to explore the caves. Inside, my eyes gloss on the black limestone layers and quartz deposits, it is quite easy to look around and imagine, what the caves have been witness to. In 1884, a British surveyor Robert Bruce Foote officially discovered these caves, though locals in the area had known of their existence and would draw water from its springs during summer, including from the Patalaganga, a spring located at the cave’s deepest point. Wind back to a few thousand years ago, and one could encounter Jain and Buddhist monks meditating in the labyrinths of the caves, as evidenced by the unearthing of the relics and remnants of vessels used by them. These are now displayed in a museum at nearby Ananthapur. In fact, the Archaeological Survey of India found artefacts of pre-Buddhist era dating back to 4,500 BCE in these caves.

Historical thrills apart, the shapes and sights carved out in these caves by Chitravati are numerous. The breathtaking sights include the thousands of stalactites that look like Shiva lingas; the musical chamber or Saptasvarala Guha, where you can produce musical notes by gently taping the stalactites, the perennial stream at Patalaganga, the saint bed in the huge Dhyana Mandir cave, that must have given many a monk a naturally formed stone recliner, Pillidwaram or cat gate that is a natural arch of stalactites that emerges in the shape of a lion’s head, the huge banyan tree-like formation; the ‘Thousand Hoods’ stalactite formations on the roof of one of these caves, and of course a mandapam that has naturally formed pillars. Down the years, this intriguing network of caves is likely to become an exciting and popular natural retreat… rather like the Grand Canyon.

One can club a visit to these caves with the nearby Yaganti cave temples which are located 44 km away, and the spiritually poignant Mantralayam (186 km away) on the banks of River Tungabadra. Belum is quite deserted, and it is not advisable to travel alone within these caves or to it.