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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