Belum Caves – A Stone Age Heritage

11.12.2016:

Wrapped up our shopping at Dharmavaram and left for the bus station. The day is going to be long! We had our lunch around 13.00 hrs in a small restaurant near the bus station and got into the Tadipatri bus. Our destination is the famous “Belum Caves”, located in the Kurnool district. The district of Kurnool is located in the western central part of Andhra Pradesh and its capital is the town of Kurnool. This is the perfect town for people, who enjoy exploring ancient architecture and historical monuments. Kurnool has plenty of them.

The caves are about 120 kms from Dharmavaram and when we asked the locals how to reach these, they asked us to travel to Tadipatri and from there we would get number of buses going to Belum Caves. We reached Tadipatri and when inquired at the bus station they asked us to get into a bus that goes to Kovelakuntla. After a while, we got into another bus which dropped us at Kovelakuntla. The twist is that everyone told us that time to visit these caves would end at 17.00 hrs and it was only around 15.50 hrs, we reached Kovelakuntla and the caves are another 15 kms from there. After all the auto-rickshaw drivers denied us a ride, we could do nothing but wait for a bus which can drop us there.

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Finally at 16.15 hrs we got into a bus going to Banaganapalle and is full of school children. When we asked the kids about the visiting hours of the caves, the response was positive. They told us that they would allow visitors upto 18.00 hrs and this filled us with a new energy. The bus took 15 minutes to drop us at the entrance of the caves. We bid a bye to the children and started walking towards the ticket counter, which is again another 10 minutes walk from the entrance. The first things that welcomed us are a huge Buddha statue and a hill in it’s background on which the name Belum Caves is written.

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The Buddha here is a super attraction here. The huge idol nestled in the nature looks serene and beautiful. Though I immediately wanted to go and click some photographs of it, caves are the first thing and I don’t wanted to be turned down simply saying that I was late for the entry! So, we walked fast towards the counter and bought two tickets and started walking towards the entrance of the caves. These are underground caves and we left our luggage with the security there and climbed down the concrete staircase into the cavity which is about 30 feet below the ground level. My heart skipped a beat when I entered the caves! They are magnificent!

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Nestled in the hinterlands of Andhra Pradesh in the midst of a rocky terrain abounds in limestone formations belonging to the Kurnool series of the Cuddapah system, which comprises shales, slates, limestones, sandstones, and quartzites, a prehistoric site, called Belum caves in Kolimigundla Mandal (Kolimigundla village) of Kurnool district, is uniquely preserved. These rock shelters tell us the stories of Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) era and exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India. Belum Caves derives its name from the Sanskrit word Bilum (meaning ‘cave’). These caves have long passages, fresh water galleries, siphons and spacious chambers. These caves have been formed naturally due to constant flow of underground water.

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The Belum Caves were originally discovered in 1884 by a European surveyor Robert Bruce Foote. Nearly after a century, a team of German speleologists headed by H Daniel Gebauer conducted a detailed exploration of the caves. It is said that ‘Belum Caves, running a length of 3229 mts, is the second largest cave in Indian subcontinent and the longest caves in plains of Indian Subcontinent, known for its stalactite and stalagmite formations’. As the remnants of vessels discovered in the caves were scientifically dated to 4500 BC, the Belum caves are stated to be thousands of years old.

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The locals named the entrance of the caves as ‘Simhadwaram’ as the natural arch-like formation where the stalactites look like the head of a lion. We were spell-bounded at the sight of these caves. Thanks to the Government of Andhra Pradesh laying down the pathways, providing illumination and oxygen shafts. The well-planned illumination rids the caves of its claustrophobic feel and creates a brightness that enhances their grandeur. As we started walking deep into the caves, the passages became narrow and led us into a narrow passage which led us into a large chamber known as the ‘kotilingalu’, so called because it has thousands of stalagmites and stalactites that look like lingas.

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One should be careful while passing through some of the real tight passages as there are chances of your head to one of those stalactites and they should also ease themselves as the passages are very narrow. As visitors get lower, the stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations awe them to no end. These caves are famous for their stalactites that hang from the ceiling of the cave like icicles and the stalagmites are found in myriad formations on the cave floors. But, it was too hot inside the caves and at times, we used to feel as if we were deprived of air! In the meanwhile, a guide came along with a group of members and started leading them into another chamber, and we followed them silently! 🙂 🙂

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It is the deepest point of the cave system and is a descending passage to Patalaganga. At Pathalaganga, there is a small perennial stream flowing from the southeast to northwest, disappearing and believed to be heading towards a well at the Belum village, located 2 km away from the caves. We saw the water there, and it is said that the level of the water remains constant. There is also a linga just above the rock adjacent to the Pathalaganga. After reaching almost the end of the caves, we started walking back where we came across the unique feature of Belum Caves!

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The unique feature is the metallic sounds that its stalactites make when tapped on. Saptasvarala Guha (musical chamber) has this feature, as the metallic sounds the stalactites make when hit with a wooden stick or one’s knuckles.  That’s thrilling and one should experience it by themselves. Once out, we sat there for quite sometime to relish the fresh breeze blowing there and walked towards the giant Buddha statue to click some photographs before we leave!

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