Jul 4, 2015

Belum Cave - part 1

The first time I heard about Belum cave was from our vendor Zakheer, owner of a metal fabrication and machining unit way back in Y2K. We always spoke Kannada; he had told "Belum cave antha kelidira Saar? Anatapur hattra ide. guhe thumba doddadide, onduvare kilometer walage hogbek Saar." Here's the translation "have you heard of Belum cave? its near Anatapur. its a very big cave, its one and half kilometers deep." I couldn't believe his description but the curiosity to visit the cave had ignited. Though I planned couple times mid 2000, a trip never took off. It remained on my wish list. The day finally came.. Dec 23, 2015. My friend Gurudutt and I were travelling from Hyderabad to Bangalore. This was a good opportunity. I planned to visit 2 places on that day Alampur and Belum. We could spend the night at Gooty. The following day's plan was to see Ashokan edict at Yerragudi and resume our journey to Bangalore.

December 23, 2015
We left Hyderbad by 5-30 am, reached Alampur by 8-30 AM, spent 1 hr 45 min seeing Chalukyan temples and 30 minutes for breakfast, by 10-45 we were heading towards Kurnool. Getting our Kurnool took some time :( the town has grown! We took Nandyal road, about 40 kms from Kurnool was Banaganapalli cross where we turned right. Having driven on 6 or 4 lane roads, now I had to drive on a two lane road. The last time I drove this stretch was late 1990s. The terrain is interesting; roads pass through low hills and valleys. We drove through Banaganapalli and Owk. 15 kms from Owk is Belum cave entrance. It was 2 PM. The cave is open to public between 10 am and 5-30 pm. Entry fee for an adult is INR 50. Goverment appointed guides are available and they do not charge.

Belum cave is basically a natural underground cave, its entrance are a pair of 20' diameter holes in a rockbed. Through one of the holes descends a concrete stairway into a circular chamber which is used as a assembly point for groups. This is the last point where natural light is seen, beyond this point its artificial lighting.

Our guide Mr.Reddy gave a brief introduction of Belum cave:
Belum cave of Belum village in Kolimigundla mandal of Kurnool district is millions of years old. In the passages of this cave flowed an underground river. In this cave pottery  dating back to 4500 BCE were found which indicates the cave was inhabited by humans. It is also believed that Buddhist and Jain monks lived in these caves. The modern day existence of Belum cave was explored, surveyed and recorded in 1884 by H Bruce Foote. The cave was forgotten for a century. The latest exploration was done between 1982 and 1984 by a German speleologist Herbert Daniel Gebauer. His team explored and mapped the caves to an extent of 3 kilometers. In 1988 AP government declared Belum cave as a protected area and in 1999 APTDC took over for making it tourist friendly. A retired ASP M Narayana Reddy and few other local people had strived years to get Belum protected and developed. Belum cave is known for its stalactite and stalagmite formations. Belum cave's have long passages and spacious chambers makes it the second longest cave in the Indian subcontinent. Its deepest point known as Pataalaganga is at 150 feet from ground level.

Some noteworthy spots:
Dhyan Mandir:  this chamber s said to be used by Buddhist monks to meditate. One of the rocks here resembles a bed with a pillow
Kotilingalu Guha: from this chamber's ceiling hang stalactite formations resembling thousands of Shiva Lingas
Mandapam: this chamber has magnificent stalactites on its sides creating a look of a pillared hall
Pillidwaram: pillidwaram means cat's entrance; an arch of stalactites in the shape of a lion’s head
Saptasvarala Guha: Saptasvara means the seven notes of music. Stalactite formations when struck produce musical sounds
Banyan tree: hundreds of stalagmite have taken the form of a tree with a large trunk having a wide canopy with aerial roots resembling a Banyan tree
Thousand Hoods:  a group of stalactites shaped like Cobra's hood.
Stalactite and Stalagmite pillar: this is said to be a rare formation. a pair of perfectly aligned stalactite and stalagmite of equal diameter and hieight have joined to form a pillar
Patalaganga: said to be the deepest point of  this cave at 150 feet. here a perennial stream disappears into the ground.

The other hole is directly above the entrance hall. A wall surrounds the pair of holes to keep people from trying any adventures.

The opening passage is wide and high. Sodium vapour lamps light up this part.

A limestone wall. These lines has been etched by flowing water millions of years ago.

This reminds me of a line from the book "Lao-Tzu's Whispers of Wisdom" describing water. "Water is the most plaint of things, yet it can erode away mountains and carve out canyons." I was not thinking only about these etched lines but the entire passage in these rocks.


The caves height increases to nearly 30' at this point. I was trying to imagine how it would be when water is flowing through this passage.. many forces and pressures.

With due respect to the engineers who installed the lighting system, I wish lighting was softer. Diffused light creates a uniform illumination. The cave is not entirely in its original form because of the changes made to make it tourist-friendly. Floors have to be levelled out, free from obstructions. But the caves ceiling are more or less original, I think.

A perfectly flat surface with a concave dome. Notice the perfectly circular perimeter except for a small notch? Amazing creation.

Another wall with predominantly parallel horizontal and irregular vertical grooves. Its simply beautiful!

Lot of rocks have been moved to a side to make way for people. Notice the criss-crossing grooves all over the rock's surface.

The wall looks as though it was built by arranging blocks systematically.

Deeper we went it got warmer, especially parts which did not have air vents. BTW, the cave has a number of air shafts connecting the cave to the ground level above us. Fresh air was pumped in through these shafts. The downside of the air shafts was noise, sounded as though we were in a mill.

This looks like a beasts mouth, the stalactite formations looks like fangs bearing down from the upper jaw.

Turning towards the walls again, we have a pair of French loaves here. I think water might have flown in right-left direction. Notice the parallel lines and one vertical line. What would be the cause for their formation??

On the ceiling- a concave dome surrounded by grooves.

Here we have a set of three concave domes.. they seem like nostrils of a demonish creature. If you look at the right side of the picture you can see gorilla face. As far as I remember such domes usually found only on the ceiling.

This is a good example of water carved tunnel. The horizontal grooves create an illusion of speed. In fact water flowing at high speed would have carved such grooves. Wonder what direction water had taken in this tunnel?

A tiny arch but large enough for a adult human to pass through.

Another high speed tunnel. Ever since water flow ceased dripping water formed a pair of perfectly aligned stalactite and stalagmite. Both grew and grew for centuries and then joined together to form a pillar. This stalactite-stalagmite pillar is a rare formation.

The spot from where we saw the stalactite-stalagmite pillar is a junction of three tunnels. We reached the junction from one tunnel and went into another tunnel. The third tunnel is where the pillar formation is and that tunnel is blocked - no entry. This tunnel below is very curvy, like a snake's path.

Here we have blocks.. The corner piece is missing.. probably fallen off long time ago.

Nature had its own way of producing dressed stone blocks. This is the fourth type I've seen so far. The first one was on the way to Srisailam, we could see stone quarries. In the pits we could see layers of slabs arranged neatly. Quarry workers had to break them into required lengths and widths, no need to work on the thickness. The second one was at the dolerite dyke on Hiregudda near Bellary. These are very hard stones exposed to Sun through the day. The cyclic heating and cooling had caused the stones to blast producing perfectly straight edged blocks. The third being lime stone blocks near Shahpur near Gulbarga. These are soft stones found in neat layers. Nature has produced spheres, cylinders, cones, squares and hexagons. We humans learn from Nature and turn against it :(

This is first half of  Belum cave tour. Do check out the following post - Belum Cave - part 2.
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Jun 27, 2015

Chalukyan temples at Alampur

Kurnool was a regular business destination through out 1990s and early 2000s. Mid 1990s was my first trip to Alampur, with two colleagues. That day it had rained, the sand-stone structures looked beautiful. Back then I hardly paid attention to who or when these temples were built. years later having seen countless Chalukyan temples, I realized the Chalukyan connection with Alampur. During my first visit, besides the temples and sculptures there's another object which caught our attention; the black granite bowl with Arabic inscription. The presence of a Dargah within a temple complex was something I'd never seen until then. I also remember two more sculptures- a large coiled serpent and a woman in birth-giving position. It was rather embarrassing to see that sculpture in women's presence... ancient social life was a lot different. Then it was pure Hindu tradition.

December 23, 2014
A college day friend and I were driving down towards Bengaluru for a vacation. Our plan was to visit three historical spots on the way- Alampur, Belum Cave and Ashokan rock edict near Gooty. As drove down NH44, the first historical spot was Nizam Konda, an island fort in river Krishna. This is one fort on my list for a long time. Alampur village is about 200 kms from Hyderabad, 20 kms from Kurnool and 12 kms from NH44. By 8-30 we had reached the village, parked close to the museum.

The main attractions are  are Nava-Brahma Gudi the nine Chalukyan temples dedicated to Shiva and the Jogulamba temple. These nine temples were built by Chalukyan rulers during 7th Century CE. All structures are similar, made of similar looking sandstone, built on platforms and having a Rekha-Naagari Shikhara i.e. curviliner towers. One of the temple's Shikhara is missing. Architecture of these temples are exactly the same as of Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami in Bagalkot district of Karnataka state. Accoring to Chalukyan inscription found here, Alampur was known as Hatampura.

The nine temples of Nava Brahma complex are-
  • Vishwa Brahma
  • Veera Brahma
  • Arka Brahma
  • Kumara Brahma
  • Bala Brahma
  • Garuda Brahma
  • Taraka Brahma
  • Swarga Brahma
  • Padma Brahma

We started with Kumara Brahma Gudi, bang opposite the museum. Its design is similar to Huchimalli temple of Aihole. Built on a 3' platform the temple has a Mukha Mantapa, Sabha Mantapa and one Garbhagudi. The outside walls are plain; it has windows only on the side walls. This temple has signs of being restored recently.
Kumara Brahma temple
To the left are Bala Brahma and Garuda Brahma temples, they are enclosed in one premises. Rituals are performed in Bala Brahma temple. The temple is completely surrounded by material such as wooden stands, metallic barricades and other stuff which create an eye sore.
Bala Brahma and Garuda Brahma temples
This must be Garuda Brahma temple Mukha Mantapa.
A slab with Kannada or Telegu inscription is found close to Bala Brahma temple.

Next is Swarga Brahma temple. The very look of the temple made this my favourite here. Probably this is the most grand of all temples here. The Mukha Mantapa looks solid, its eight ribbed pillars create a rich look.
Swarga Brahma temple
The pillars are unique in design, their tops and bases are cubical. The entire pillar is decorated richly with flower vases and floral art.  The rectangular block between the column and pillar have fierce looking keerthimukhas, they are staring our with popping eyes; expanded nostrils indicate the degree of anger.

Unlike the other eight temples, Swarga Brahma temple's exterior is completely decorated with art of various forms- temple models, sculptures of gods and goddesses, images depicting stories of Hindu stories and even humans. A set of man-woman couples shown standing in various positions are simply beautiful, especially the one with a palm tree. On the right hand side of this picture is the scene depicting the story of Indra hiding in lotus stem.

Padma Brahma temple's Shikhara is missing. This temple might have had a Mukha Mantapa in its original form. Since other 8 temples are all east-facing, even this temple must have doorway on its eastern face. If this, probably this is the only temple with more than one doorway.

Padma Brahma temple
Taraka Brahma Gudi is probably the smallest of nine. Its a stubby little structure with a Mukha Mantapa; its Shikhara is missing. The extra pillar in the Mukha Mantapa is an extra support to the beam above it.

Taraka Brahma temple
Next to Taraka Brahma temple is the stone bowl with Persian inscription. The boat-shaped bowl is about 4' long x 1½' wide x 2' deep. The bowl's overall height above the ground is about 4'. There's no info as to when or who installed it. This bowl is taken care of by the Maulavi of a Dargah here. The Dargah building is also painted in the same green/red combination.

Stone bowl with Arabic inscription
Besides the nine temples, there are several other structures of the same period. This gateway like building is known as Kanchi Kamakshi temple.

Kanchi Kamakshi temple
Other side of the gateway is a fort like wall.. wonder if Alampur had a fort. While the gateway is is a sandstone structure, the wall is a relatively new structure built of Shahabad stones.

A small temple with stepped Shikhara used as a garbage dump. The tamarind  tree besides it seems pretty old, perhaps 300 to 350 years.

Close to Taraka Brahma temple is an open ground with a tower in the center. It is built of the same stone as Chalukyan temples, so I guess its of the same period. I did not bother to check the other side if it had a staircase leading to its top.

Alampur Burj
Adjoining the open ground are the last three temples. All these temples are similar in design, size and built on platforms. None have Mukha Mantapa. I guess Arka Brahma temple's Shikhara has gone missing.. that brings the total to 3 missing Shikharas. Opposite Arka Brahma temple is a badly damaged Basavanna.

Arka Brahma temple
Veera Brahma temple's exterior has more number of niches modelled like temples.
Veera Brahma temple
Vishwa Brahma temple has even more number of niches than Veera Brahma temple. This structure seemed to be well preserved. The Shikhara's lotus shaped crown is intact. Of these nine temples rituals are performed in may be five.
Vishwa Brahma temple
Jogulamba temple is a new building, probably the old structure was replaced with the new one. In fact most tourists' intention of coming to Alampur is for Jogulamba temple. It is considered as one of the eighteen Shakti peethas. Jogulamba is also known as Yogulamba or Yogamba.

Jogulamba temple
Done with temples. The historical museum wasn't open yet and we were not ready to wait. We had barely driven 200 meters from the parking, I saw a small eatery "Hotel Padma." I liked the place by the first look. Guru was hesitant, I urged him to try.. yes, food and service was good. Guru was surprised seeing the bill :) In the restaurant was a photo dated October 4, 2009 showing the place submerged in flood waters.

My plan was to see Sangameshwara temple on the way back towards the highway but we completely forgot about it. This picture below was shot during another trip. During my maiden visit, the care-taker had told this temple was relocated. I guess it was situated near the confluence of Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers. Since a dam was constructed and the reservoir would submerge the temple, it was dismantled moved to Alampur. Great job by those who carried out the project.

Sangameshwara temple
Our journey continued.. towards Belum Cave.
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