I was in search of a Lord Buddha statue after traversing almost 300 Kms across the barren plains of Rayalseema in Andhra Pradesh. The search was not to see the statue of Buddha but to make sure I was on the right path. The statue was the landmark and the destination was Belum Caves in Kurnool district. The charming lord invited me to the longest underground caving system in the Indian sub continent. 3.5 Kms of the caves have been excavated and 1.5 Kms of it is open to the public. First discovered in late 1800's by a Britisher, the caves are presently under the Archaeological Survey of India and Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. When these millions of years old caves were explored again in early 1980's, speleologists found Buddhist relics and remnants of Lord Buddha's times. There are claims that the caves were occupied by Buddhist monks, sages and Jains.
|Going down 40 feet
I went down 40 feet from the ground level with my guide. The steps led me to the entrance hall which had a low slanting ceiling and huge opening to the sky. My guide then explained to me how and when the caves were explored, what the excavators found and about the different kind of formations of stalactites and stalagmites. He also warned that the humidity level would be 80% in most places. Except for a few bats, he claimed the caves were devoid of animal presence. Supposedly millions of years ago, water flowed through these caves and the formation of the passages and the smoothness of the cave-walls are all a result of the flows.
The caves have been lit up along the passages for visibility and this yellow light made the caves even more attractive. As we trod ahead, the smell of earth was so apparent and I also realised that I was sweating profusely. The further I went, higher became the humidity levels, deeper became the caves from 40 feet to 100 feet below ground level and heavier became my perspiration. All these difficulties did neither distract me nor make me tired. I was lost gawking at the natural formations of stalactites,stalagmites, pit holes on roofs, animal paws, snake hoods, god look-alike and many many more formations. It took me some time to regain my senses as I was spellbound gazing at this heavenly wonder. Even as my guide kept explaining in detail about the caves, I was lost and transported to aeons back.
As we kept walking along the fairly wide passages, my guide stopped and said we will take a short cut. To save 200 meters of walk along the passage, he literally made me crawl for 15 meters in pitch darkness. The ceiling was hardly two and a half feet high and that was indeed a mind blowing experience. For the first time in my life I felt I was a true cave explorer.
The major sightings inside the caves are meditation room, mantapam, maya mandir, pathal ganga, banyan tree hall and musical chamber. The tourism department has done significant initiatives to promote these caves by placing bridges, cutting steps, lighting, air supplies at frequent points and excellent guides to help the visitors understand the history behind these extraordinary caves.
|Can you see a Ganapathi here?
|Bridges laid by tourism department
|Formations on the ceiling
|Banyan tree hall
After walking, crawling, gaping, clicking, posing and listening to my guide's geography classes for 1.5 Kms we reached Pathal Ganga. This is the point where there is a small spring and a stone in the shape of Shivalinga. The water was not cold as I expected it to be. Pathal Ganga is almost 120 feet below the ground level and is the last point up to which the cave is open to public. Even though explorers have gone much further ahead, it is not advisable for the visitors to follow their foot steps. My guide also mentioned that there are chances of animal presence further ahead of Pathal Ganga.
|Pathal Ganga and Shivlinga
|Pits on the ceiling
Belum caves is definitely one of the best caving options available in the whole of India. It is slowly but significantly gaining importance on the tourist map and is sure to attract many more visitors in the coming times. Please make sure to carry lots of drinking water when you enter the caves.
Signing Note- Go down the caves and transport yourself into a magical world...!!
Route- Bangalore- Chikballarpur- Anantpur- Tadpatiri- Kolimigundla- Belum Caves
Distance- 320 Kms