It was yet another weekend with no plans. As we crossed the border and drove to Andhra Pradesh, the entire view suddenly changed to one barren landscape. With the tiny hillocks paving the way to the next hill, the entire highway seemed like a brigade of hills, patrolling and yet welcoming.
My husband and I had set off from Bangalore on a whim after we came across Belum Caves. Renowned as one of the longest cave systems in India that are open for exploration, the caves were enough for us to ditch our weekend plans of doing nothing and setting off on a six hour road trip!
Although the caves are underground, there is no way one could miss them. You can find Belum caves written on the hill right above and a big white Buddha sitting at the entrance. We bought the tickets and started talking to some guys who were chatting outside the caves. One of them was a local with insights about the place that one could never find on Wikipedia pages.
The caves are in the Belum village of Kurnool district. The cave has a huge circular opening that could be easily mistaken as a giant hole in the ground. Decades ago, this was used as a dumping ground for waste products. In 1884, there was an expedition by British archaeologist Robert Bruce Foote, who first recorded the existence of Belum caves. The caves remained unappreciated for the next few decades, until almost a century later in 1982 or 1983, when another survey was conducted by a German team. They then explored the caves thoroughly.
This time the villagers along with the help of the local police and the Andhra Government worked extremely hard to clean up the caves. The government declared the caves as a protected site. It took 20 years of hard work to give the status that these caves deserved. In 2002, the caves were open for public and only in recent times have they gained popularity.
Now that was an anecdote that I kept in mind while exploring the caves myself for the next two hours. This cave was formed over thousands of years due to the constant flow of water. The entrance is a gigantic hole underground called Pataalaganga but even bigger than that is the cave which is 3.3 km metres in length.
I began counting the passages to find that there were about 16 different pathways inside the cave. In the beginning, I thought it was pretty big to be an underground cave but as I ventured deeper and deeper, the passages became increasingly small. There is a meditation hall inside and I am a tiny person who had to bend till my knee to get into the hall.
On excavation they have even found saint beds inside. There is also a natural source of water inside in the form of a tiny waterfall. Most of the cave is made up of black limestone and quartz deposits. It is indeed a natural wonder and has some tales of its own.
As you are not allowed to carry food or water inside, it gets difficult to concentrate after a while.
We walked around in search of a small dhaba, a restaurant or even a stall for food but in vain. There was no food anywhere near Belum Caves, so we decided to head back towards Bangalore, and stopped at a dhaba on the highway. The food here was a delightful amalgamation of Andhra and Kannada flavours. We were famished and so we gobbled plates full of white rice, pappu (dal) and vegetable fry. However, the clear winner was the aromatic bowl of Andhra biryani, a dish that I crave even today!
At Belum Caves, I unlocked the explorer in me. If you're looking for a similar experience, plan your next weekend to the caves already!
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