At the Belum caves VISHNUPRIYA BHANDARAM is spellbound by the beauty of Nature
If you were the kind who looked forward to geography classes and if the words stalactites and stalagmites brought back fond memories, it is perhaps time that you visited Belum Caves. Located in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh it is the second longest cave system in the country. First things first, do not go wandering in the caves by yourself, you could get lost and no one would realise it even if you scream your lungs out. The caves lie beneath agricultural land and are 3.5 km in length, of which only 2 km are open to the public. Get your entry tickets, pick a guide and embark on a journey that will literally and figuratively take your breath away, it can get quite stuffy inside, so be prepared to sweat it out. Luckily for us, the APTDC authorities have installed a system of ventilation in the caves which circulates air, bringing relief at certain points.
Climb down from the ‘sink-hole’ into the Belum Caves, and you’ll see that it is an enormous network of inter-linked chambers. The caves were formed because of an underground river which washed away the soft limestone. A complete natural formation, the cave system boasts of beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. At a few places in the cave, you can see water seeping through the rocks — this is in fact how the caves were created, water seeps in through the rocks, dissolves the limestone and drips from ceilings, as the water evaporates, it leaves behind minerals which slowly become stalactites. If the guide is to be believed, Belum derives its name from the Sanskrit Bilum which means tunnels.
The caves can leave you exhausted because there is a lot of walking, crawling and bending to do on rough terrain, so make sure you have the right kind of clothes and shoes on. The caves open up to three different places on the ground, two of those however have been sealed off. There are passages in the cave where you have to crawl through. The deepest part of the cave is 150ft below the ground and is known as ‘Pathalaganga’ — it is here that you see a perennial stream. Another chamber in the cave system is known as ‘Kotilingalu’ where you can see a horn like formation of the limestone. Another chamber is called the Saptaswarala Guha (Seven Notes Cave), where the limestone formations make a metallic noise.
If you can manage it, while coming back, take an ‘adventurous’ path and crawl through the dimly lit passage and crawl back up through a small crevice, this will definitely add a little more excitement to your trip. There are many such unexplored passages and crevices in the caves, so there is some truth to the statement that the caves are unending. The guide says that these caves were known to locals for over 1,000 years and were used as shelter by monks sometime in 4500 B.C. The first recorded entry about the caves was by Robert Bruce, a British geologist and archaeologist in 1884. It is sad however, that a few of the tourists try to scratch at the surfaces of these century-old formations to take home a souvenir!
From Hyderabad, Belum Caves lies at a distance of about 330 km. Take the four-way from Hyderabad to Kurnool; pass through Mantralayam, Nandyal and Mahanandi.
WHERE TO STAY:
There is no accommodation near Belum. Instead extend your trip to Gandikota, a scenic valley with heritage temples and stay at the Gandikota Haritha Hotel set up by the APTDC.