Belum Caves, 1 day , 700kms.


tadpatri, belum caves, gooty, ahobilam, stalagmites, stalactites, caves

This is a trip from 2007, dug up from the archives. I lost quite a few pics and videos from this trip when my laptop hard-disk crashed and only a few pics could be retrieved.

Going on to the travelogue: Ever since I moved to Bangalore in 2001, I have been doing the Bangalore-Hyderabad route atleast twice in a year. On several such trips I remember coming across a sign-board near Anantapur / Kurnool mentioning the distance to Belum caves. (The boards have now been taken out during the 4-laning work). Also, on a couple of occasions when we had stopped over at Kurnool, I remembered seeing tourism dept brochures mentioning Belum caves. So the thought of visiting this place was there for quite a long time…

One day we were drawing up our plans for the weekend and our thoughts steered towards Belum caves and I looked it up on the net. Since the distance was around 300kms+ from Bangalore, it would be a 5+ hour drive each way. The plan was to start at 5.30am on a Saturday, reach Belum caves by around 11.30am, spend 2-3 hours at the caves and start our return drive by around 2.30pm and reach Bangalore before 9.00pm. If we do get delayed, we could always halt overnight at Anantapur and return to Blr the next day.

We started off as planned at 5.30am and the drive up to Anantapur was quite uneventful. However the Anantapur to Tadpatri route was horrible and we got delayed quite a bit and finally reached Belum only by around 12.30pm.

We spent around 2 hours in the caves, had lunch at Tadpatri since there was no food available in the hotel/canteen near the caves. We started our return journey close to 4 pm.

Having no intention of driving back on the Tadpatri – Anantapur stretch, we looked into our maps and decided to go via Gooty instead. Though this would add to our travel distance + time, the guides at the caves had mentioned that the roads were far better.
It was quite late in the night by the time we came back home. I remember mentioning to Sangeetha that if we had covered a couple of more Kms, we would have driven 700kms to spend 2 hours at Belum! Was it worth it? Yes!!!

Ideally this should be done as part of a two day trip, including other nearby places worth visiting, such as Gooty fort, Penukonda fort, Lepakshi & Ahobilam temples etc.

Route taken to Belum caves:
Bangalore > Anantapur > Tadpatri > Belum caves (around 320kms)


Return route
:
Belum caves > Tadpatri > Gooty > Anantapur > Bangalore (around 360kms)



About Belum caves…
These natural caves are located in the midst of flat agricultural land in the limestone area close to ‘Kolimigundla’ village, in Kurnool district. Though the total explored length of the cave complex is around 3.5km, around 2 kms is open to the public. There are still several passages that are yet to be explored and cleared of debris. This is one of the longest cave systems in India. [The longest caves in India are in Meghalaya, with 'Krem Laitprah' topping the list at 22+ kms.]

Belum Caves gets its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Bilum’ which means ‘cave’. There are three well-like sinkholes in the cave complex, one of which has been converted into the main entrance.

Though these caves were known to the locals for 1000s of years and are supposed to have been used as shelters by monks even as far as 4500BC, they were not on the tourist map till the late 90s.

The first official records about the caves were written in 1884 by Robert Bruce Foote, a British geologist and archaeologist who conducted surveys in India for the Geological Survey of India. In the 1980s some local leaders and officials worked with a German expedition to explore and map the caves.

The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation took over the caves in 1999 for beautification and maintenance. They cleared up the mud and debris inside, built pathways, provided illumination and sunk ventilation shafts to make the caves accessible to the public.


How were they formed?

Limestone is a sedimentary rock that was originally formed millions of years ago at the bottom of the prehistoric seas. Due to tectonic movements, these formations were pushed above sea level in many regions of the world. Limestone is easily dissolved by weak acids. When rain-water falls through the atmosphere, it combines with minute quantities of Carbon-dioxide to form Carbonic acid. This weak acid can dissolve the limestone and work its way into the rocks to form caves. As water seeps into the rocks and forms pools or flows into the water table, underground chambers, caverns and passages are formed.

This process of the formation of such limestone caves, stalactites and stalagmites is an extremely slow process. So the formation of the Belum caves started probably much before the evolution of man.

However, many visitors who may not realize that these formations are 1000s of years old end up breaking the stalactites for souvenirs or just for the heck of it. I remember visiting the ‘cave of the winds’ in Colorado and someone from our group got warned off just for touching a drop of water that was trickling down from a stalactite… whereas at Belum, even the local ‘guides’ have ended up breaking a lot of stalactites while trying to show visitors the metallic sounds they produced when tapped hard :(

Apologies about the bad pics. We were using a relatively low end camera then, since it is quite dark and gloomy inside the caves, the pics were taken at low-light settings and did not turn out good.

By the way, though the guides will carry torches and most of the main passages are illuminated, it is still a god idea to carry a decent torch to explore the caves yourselves after the guided tour is done.

The Sink-hole that has been turned into the entrance to the cave complex…

The sign-boards at the entrance with some details about the history and significance of the caves…

The caves are now illuminated, cemented paths and channels for evacuating seepage water have been created…

Work was still going on in a couple of passages and they were not open to the public at that time…

There are also a couple of fountains set up by the tourism department…

Guides are available at the entrance to walk you through the caves…

A rock formation that resembles an elephant’s head. The guides / locals have painted the eye to add to the effect…

Different types of rock formations, caused by water erosion…

The path leading to the ‘Banyan tree’ formation, which is a pillar formed when the stalactite and stalagmite finally met…

The ‘Banyan Tree’ formation…

Over the years, most of the stalactites (which hang from the ceiling) have been broken off for souvenirs and the stalagmites (which are created from the floor-up) have been cleared to make the paths.

Steps have been provided to descend into the lower chambers of the cave. Even with the ventilation systems running at full blast, many parts of the caves will still be humid and hot…

Geometric patterns naturally formed in the rocks…

There is also an underground stream and a mini waterfall deep inside the caves, called ‘Patala Ganga’. There is a siva-linga carved into the rocks here. By Nov-Dec, the stream and spring would have reduced to just a trickle of water…

Another pillar formation. There are several passages that are too narrow to be opened to the public and you can only look into them and wonder what lies ahead…

The guide will point out several formations and talk about the local interpretations such as ‘Koti lingalu’, ’1000 hoods’, ‘Simha-dwaram’ etc.

In this pic you can make out the pipe coming down from the cieling. This is actually a bore hole drilled from the fields above the caves, air is pumped into the caves from such bore holes at several places in the caves to keep the atmosphere breathable…

The customary ‘We were here’ pix :-)

In some spots you can actually see the water seeping into the rocks and gaze at the process by which the caves were created. Water seeping through the rocks dissolves the limestone and drips from the ceilings. If the drop just stops there and evaporates, then the dissolved minerals are deposited on the ceiling to form a stalactite, which slowly grows over the centuries. If the water falls onto the ground and then evaporates, the deposits will form stalagmites, which will grow from the ground up. If a stalactite and a stalagmite meet, a pillar is formed…

Light strips have been used to provide low intensity lighting to preserve the eeriness of the caves…

As mentioned earlier, there are still quite a few passages yet to be explored and they have been barred for the public…

Tour completed, we headed back out of the caves…

The walls of one of the sinkholes…

The sinkhole…

The Buddha statue put up outside the caves. To signify that these caves were once used by Buddhist monks as a hermitage. The relics found here indicate that the caves were in use since 1000s of years…

We went back to Tadpatri to get something to eat and later turned towards Gooty to take the alternate route to Anantapur.

That ends this travelogue.




2 comments to...
“Belum Caves, 1 day , 700kms.”
Avatar
Aalok Sharma

nicely written…..and nice photos also….!!! a job well done indeed…. :-)


Avatar
tan

Nice post! And thanks for the pics! Sorry to know that you lost some of the pics.

Please find our experiences at Belum caves here: http://elusive42.windforwings.com/2011/09/magnificent-belum-caves.html




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