One of nature’s most awe inspiring creations lies in the Indian subcontinent. A cavernous world of limestone formations, deep pits and interconnecting tunnels, Belum Caves is indeed a marvel. Located in Kurnool District in the state of Andhra Pradesh, Belum Caves was first brought to the limelight in 1884 by the British surveyor Robert Bruce Foote. Later, a team of German speleologists headed by Daniel Gabauer explored the caves. Till date 3.5 km of the cave has been explored but only about 2 km of the cave is open to tourists. Belum Caves is believed to be the second longest cave in the Indian Subcontinent and it is one of the few places in India where one can find beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
The entrance to the cave is as dramatic as the cave itself. From afar one can just see a pit. One has to descend a flight of rudimentary steps to reach the floor of this pit cave which is called the Gabauer Hall. From this hallway, a dark passage begins on side which looks rather unwelcoming. As you enter this dark passage, hanging bats with glistening red eyes welcome you to this magical yet eerie world. The humidity is so high that in a minute you will be dripping wet. The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation has installed air vents throughout the caves to counter the humidity and to maintain oxygen levels.
From the moment you enter the cavern, you become aware of the power of water. Flowing water created these caverns. There are ridges on every stone testifying this. The first limestone structure that you will come across is a huge arch aptly named the Simhadwaram (a stalactite formation that looks like the head of a lion). A guide beckoned us deeper as we stared with open mouths at the unusual environment that surrounded us. The main pathway has been paved and railings have been put for the usual tourists. But for the adventurous tourists, there are detours along which there is no lighting and no railings. Our guide took us along many such detours in which we had to crawl in the dark, squeeze through small openings and just grope around in the dark to find a way. These small pathways have not been fitted with air vents and one can become breathless and feel dizzy.
The wandering route through the caves leads through chamber after chamber with names such as Kotilingalu (a thousand lingas), Saptaswaralu Guha (seven notes cave), Meditation Hall, Thousand Hoods, Banyan Tree and Mandapam (pillared hall). The names attempt to describe their most distinctive formations. The most fascinating among the chambers is the Banyan Tree Hall and the formation is such that one feels like he/she is under a Banyan Tree! The Patalaganga is the deepest point of the cave which is 150 feet below the entrance. There is a naturally formed linga there (maybe a stalagmite) and a perennial stream flows quietly around it and disappears into the earth.
In the caverns, delicate stalactites pierce through the cave from the ceiling. Some grow in dense clusters while some hang in soft folds. The bizarre lime stone formations were built up millimetre by millimetre, over thousands of years by dripping of water through fissures filled with calcite. There are many places where water is still dripping down and the stalactites are just forming. Due to the artificial lighting, these strange formations cast twisted shadows on walls tinged orange and red by iron oxides. There are quartz deposits also which glisten in the dark. In spite of the abundance of stalactites, I came across just one stalagmite.
The Archaeological Survey of India found indications that Buddhist and Jain monks occupied these caves. Relics found in the caverns are now housed at a museum in Ananthapur. A huge, white statue of Gautama Buddha has been erected near the entrance of the cave to pay a tribute to its Buddhist legacy.
Do visit Belum Caves for an experience like no other. Don’t let the challenging conditions put you off. The humidity, the crawling, the scraping is all worth it in the end. A visit to Belum Caves can be planned as a weekend trip from Bengaluru and Hyderabad. There are many historical places nearby like Lepakshi and Yaganti which are also worth a visit.
- Belum Caves are open on all days between 10 am and 5 pm. Visitors are not allowed to venture into the caves on their own. Guides take groups of 10 to 15 people at a time.
- Belum Caves are located in Kolimigundla Village of Kurnool District, Andhra Pradesh and is about 270 km from Bangalore and 320 km from Hyderabad.
- There is a dormitory and a canteen maintained by the APTDC. It is better to carry food and water.
- If you are travelling with kids, it is better to stay at Ananthapur.
Plan a weekend trip:
Day 1: Leave Bengaluru —- Visit Lepakshi —- Stay overnight at Belum Caves/Ananthapur
Day 2: Explore Belum Caves —- Visit Yaganti —- Return to Bengaluru