It was a bright and fresh morning when we set out for our destination, Belum Caves. It was 35 kms from the town of Jammalamadugu where we stayed overnight after the Gandikota visit. We opted to hire a cab for this leg of the journey.
With some experience from an earlier visit to Cherrapunji, Shillong, I had a fair idea of what to expect. Basic idea, a hole in a rocky mountain side with calcium deposits of various size and shape hanging from above. After about 45 minutes, we stopped for breakfast. Had some hot and happening Puri’s with sabji and started again without much delay. We reached our destination in about 20 minutes from the place where we stopped for breakfast. And to my surprise, there was no mountain in close vicinity. I could locate some hills far away. There was instead a towering statue of Buddha which marked the entrance of the area where the caves were located. My heart sank. I remembered of all the pictures of the caves I saw in the internet and felt completely deceived. I was disheartened to even get out of the cab. There was garden, a canteen, cattle grazing and till the extent I could see paddy fields. No trace of caves or rocks or mountains.
After getting down from the cab, I noticed the place was actually well maintained with gardens and paved path. Suited to be a picnic spot I reckoned but not inviting any adventure of caves. The driver told us that the place was maintained by AP government. And we paid 50 each as entry fee. We got a guide who led our way. With a frown in my face I followed the guide. He took us through a circular podium structure with pillars and asked us to watch our head and step. I wondered why as there was no cave in view. And then suddenly the guide showed us our way through some stairs to a lower level of the ground. Huh! My heart skipped a beat. So the cave is under the ground? The lower level marked the entrance of the cave path. After a few more steps, we could see a wide area at the same level with a hole above like a sunroof. It looked very much man made and staged but to my utter surprise it was all natural. And then and there I thought, yeah, it is going to be an experience one of its kind.
The walk before us would have been pitch dark if not of the subtle lighting provided for easy access of tourists. And it was not a straight line walk. There were beautiful stalactites hanging not more than a few inches above us. The ceiling mostly looked like surface of the moon as they show in t.v. Rugged and had craters, only it was upside down. The walls were layered rocks with lines drawn on them. But to touch, they were as smooth as they can get. The guide told us how they were discovered and the significance of the place. After a few meters of walk, I realized that the temperature was rising and it was becoming pretty hot and humid. We were told that the temperature inside varies from 35 to 42 degrees Celsius. The stretch that was accessible to tourists were about 1.5 kms however, the total length of the caves discovered till now was of 3.5 kms. I was speechless when I saw the different rock structures on the walls and the paths the rock made. Before my curiosity badgered the guide with questions, he told that once upon a time, millions of years ago perhaps, water of some river flowed through the paths carving the cave into the structure that we see today. After most of the river dried up, the empty space became meditation houses for saints and sadhus. On early discovery, remains of Buddha’s relics and teachings on stone were discovered which established the theory and that is why the entrance to the place is marked with the huge Buddha Statue.
With every few metres, we felt the rising heat but the air shafts for fresh air were a relief. Then came the interesting part. We were almost 150 ft from the entrance level, and there was a stream flowing from a waterfall. It was an unbelievable sight. There was a formation like a Shivaling at the source of the fall. It was called Pataal-Ganga. There were many other spots where water trickled down from the cracks and the crevices and deposited on the cave floor. Throughout the cave passage we encountered long passages, spacious chambers, fresh water galleries, siphons, narrow stairways, meditation halls and many more. At some point, we literally had to crawl to get to the next part and there were some place which was big and spacious enough to accommodate a car parking stilt. There were enclosed paths, dead ends and many such paths (almost 16 pathways) to and from the cave. There were some adventure trails also, but we could not venture through them as they were obstructed at many places.
After a sweaty one and half hour tour of the cave we came out from the same path with soggy shoes. The bright sunny day almost blinded us as we walked up the stairs but the fresh air was an absolute respite. The frown with which I stepped in, was upside down by the time I came out. And as the saying goes, do not judge a book by its cover, the place truly gratified all the senses of a curious traveler. It was a treat to behold.
A tiny tip: If you are planning to visit, wear any footwear but shoes with socks. Else you will regret! Happy travelling :)