Dark & dingy.. slimy & slippery,
Crevasses so slim and deep…
Slithering through the spine
a sense of fear, like a spear
Underground cave!!! and I freaked… have you gone mad, it would be suffocating. Have you seen the batman movie, no way!!! A few days later, as my partner nudged again, I took solace from the wired world trying to find out more about this place called Belum, close to 400 kms from Chennai. To my surprise, many from the Andhra belt were not even aware about any such place… Well the net was of help and did give me some solace. The biggest kick was to the photographer side of me, which was mesmerised by the beautiful pics by the earlier travellers. That bolstered my confidence. plus the other biggest motivator was the 400 kms drive into the state of Andhra Pradesh. This was the first time I was going to be driving in Andhra. Just before the d-day, I got my car filled with nitrogen & also tank up. As a ritual, kick off started at 6 am with the plan to leave the city as early and enter the road to Tirupati and the from there on to Kadapa. Folks told me that the roads are very good in Andhra but unfortunately that was not the case. The road till Tirupati was good but the moment I left Tirupati, I was struggling to keep the car constantly at the top gear. The roads would either turn out to be single lane or filled with pot holes. I was desperately missing my Tamilnadu Roads. Well could not complain more as my mission was now to reach Belum by 3 pm.
It was around 3.40 pm finally that we crossed the Kolimigundla village and inched closer to Belum caves. As we rolled down the windows, a very strong sent of dhania (Coriander) us and we were wondering are we at the right place. But what a sight… any direction that one would look at it is just small green plants with white toppings.. I have never had seen or heard of such lush flourishing fields of Coriander…
As I turned the car into the huge entrance saying Belum Caves, i was wondering where the caves are, there was no signage saying this way. Well I must say we humans do rely on networking and guessing :).. As I inched further we reached the mouth of the of the caves.
One would be invited by the hum of motors and strong scent of Coriander as you get to the ticket counter. The surprise was when I was said that there was no charge for my camera. Off course the charges for us was really nominal. As one looks around, the first thought is where is the cave… There is no cave to look around. Curiously I asked at the counter, where is the counter.. “Sir, down there”.. Puzzled I again asked What, where?? He seemed infuriated and he said, “Please go there sir.. Just go ahead, at the gate the man will help you..” and he turned to attend to the next customer. Well help myself and headed to the gate..
Behold right there in front of me was the man and the ticket checker… “Sir, down here you will reach the place come sir, the place will be closed in an hour’s time”. Come quickly. He said all that in his beautiful broken english. We asked him, for a guide and he again said, sir I come no problem. Well we looked at each other before we alighted the steps.The rocks were extremely smooth as we got down to see this natural wonder. This lovely place was discovered way back in the 1884 by the then geologist, Robert Bruce and then was completely unnoticed for the next 100 years till it was rediscovered by a german team in 1982 by Herbert Gebauer. The entrance hall has been named after him. Well as you get inside the cave, you are welcome by smooth limestone tunnels. These are as big as 25 ft high and a width of 40 ft. They are are very smooth like that of a baby’s cheek.
A total of 3.5 kms of beautiful intricate tunnels have been discovered and mapped but only 1.5 kms have been made accessible to the public. There are crevices that are extremely narrow while some are very broad for an easy passage. The pathway have been well lit artificially. There is no way that the natural lights could pass through. As I walked through the undulations of the places, I was mesmerised and captivated by the way nature has these hidden treasures. There seems to be a history that river Bhadravati used to flow through these tunnels but I have not been able to find any literature with regard to this. One theory that I could correlate is that of a place that is named as “Patalganga” where water does flow through but only during a rainy season. The water there has cut through the rock so beautifully that it has given one of the rocks the shape of a Shiva Linga. We were not that lucky to actually see any water filled channels. Patalaganga is the deepest point that we had gone down to in the cave.
There is a place, which is called the meditation centre where one had to literally crawl to get into that place. It is said that the Buddhist monks used to use these places to pray and meditate. The place does give you a feel of being in a trance. As we walked through, we saw the beautiful art work of nature, The lime drops have created some beautiful Stalactites and Stalagmites. At one place the two have come together to form an amazing banyan tree structure.
Thanks to the pressurised air vents that the government has put it, which let’s fresh air get circulated into these caves. Am sure one could otherwise have a sauna bath down there. These air vents were the reason for those pump sound when we were at the entrance.
We came out and had made a plan to stay in the dormitory there. It was a ok stay for Rs 600/- per night for the whole room that we took. Very functional in nature and no other support. APTDC really needs to do something to better the amenities there.
Though there are no decent restaurants where one could go and have food. We enjoyed the starry lit night and the evening walk to the road side place to have some food for the night. Well, will not complain as I had some authentic spicy Andhra food. Thanks to Ramadevi & her hospitality. The beauty was in the simplicity of the food that we had. It was really nice!!
As we were leaving the next day morning, it left us in a very mystic feeling. I was in mixed emotion of happiness and awe. But what ever said and done, “India is really Incredible!!!”. There are so many beautiful man-made and natural treasures that one will never be tiered off…
Belum is well etched in my memory….