Ankalagi Caves (Chandravali)

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80ft below the surface, a thought that can send shivers and goosebumps.. many channels to one room can confuse but at the same time, can also be a safe bet.

The Ankalagi caves, at Chandravali is a delight to be. We had driven all the way from Chennai and reached there by 2.30 in the afternoon. The sun was bright enough even on a winter afternoon. Wondered how hot this place would be in summers.

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The place was ambiguous as we parked our car and walked. All the sign boards were in Kannada and it was a struggle for a stranger like us. We asked people here and there who directed us towards the caves. As we reached the spot saying Ankalagi caves, we were not sure if the caves were the same as Chandravali, only to realize later that this place has a relation to the saints of Belgaum from Ankali Mutt. A flight of stairs under construction took us to an opening of the well structured rock place.

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A team of so-called guides seated there suggested they could help us and the moment we stepped into the cave we realized why. One could get lost in the darkness and the many chambers without a guide.

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Salutations as you enter the cave

Chandravalli caves have a huge significance as they seem to have covered times from Pre-historic to the Hoysala dynasty. These caves have been known for the sages who had visited this place for meditation.

From a Geography point of view, these caves are in the valley between three mountains, the Kirabanakallu, Chitradurga and Chollagudda. There is a lake right before you enter the caves that adds to a beautiful sight. There are rock structures that would make you feel like you are looking at Elephants at the water body.

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Elephant drinking

Now, as the guide took us in our biggest challenge was that of language. Most of the guides are Kanada speaking and they speak in broken Hindi. Our guide got inside and went on a ramble. We had to stop her many a times and reiterate what we understood. There is so many more things that one needs to soak in the darkness down there. The only that helps is the torch lights.

As one steps in one does realize that, the place is airy and not stifling at all. The heights of the passages are quite short may be around 3.5 ft so one has to be watchful. With the clean shaven head, I had to be more careful. ūüôā

Secrecy and escape routes were of paramount importance. As we entered down a flight of stairs, the space opened up into a meditation center with the entrance being adorned by two elephant like structures. Then we moved into the sleeping and the bath chambers of the caves. Even though we were in the cave, the bathing chambers had a space for rain water harvesting and ensuring that the water was let out properly. There were spaces for keeping the Diyas which was the only source for light in the caves in those times.

We also happened to walk through smaller passages to reach a space where the king and his key members along with the sages had discussions. That space was so dark when the lights were off that, if there was any emergency they could escape quickly without anyone knowing. There is also a belief that there were underground passages connected to the Chitradurga fort. These caves also were used to store the treasures of the kings (It is so believed).

What really was breath taking to observe was the carvings and sculptures that were created and still available for us to see after thousands of years. Just imagine, how those fine artisans would have sculpted just using the light of diyas. What a craftmanship it was during those times. The walls are adored with creepers, designs and idols. A treat to the eyes even in such darkness.

Lord Shiva seems to have been a prominent deity to be prayed to. There were too many a sculptures and graphic images that adorned the walls too.

As we came out it took time for the eyes to adjust to the light. Once out, you could see the other structures that were built on top of the caves, though mostly in broken condition.

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After we left the guide, we took time to just soak in the feeling of a history that was not only mysterious, historic but also architecturally brilliant. As we left the place, it felt there is much more than what we saw and the place needs more time for art and architecture lovers.

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The lake in front of the caves

Few points definitely to note.

  1. The road leading to caves is not that great.
  2. Ample parking space to park your vehicles.
  3. Do take a guide as you step in or else you would get lost inside.
  4. If you are not from Karnataka, negotiate well with the guide before getting in.
  5. Torches are the best, not cell phone ones. Carry them. (We missed to get ours ready).
  6. Take your time, if you like something. The guide would ask you to hurry up all the time as they are running their own agenda.
  7. Stay at the place before you leave, breath in the freshness of the place.

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Belum -underground wonder

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 Andhra-178solace 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…

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Just as one enters

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.

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The entrance

 

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 Andhra-102quickly. 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.

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Smooth walls

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.

 

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Towering smooth tunnels

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.

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Well lit path ways

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.

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Smooth holes give you a feel of an UFO structure

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….

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