Caves in India
Belum Caves Pictures

Belum Caves

The Belum Caves are the largest and longest cave system open to the public on the Indian subcontinent, known for its speleothems, such as stalactite and stalagmite formations. The Belum Caves have long passages, galleries, spacious caverns with fresh water and siphons. This natural underground cave system was formed over the course of tens of thousands of years by the constant flow of underground water. The cave system reaches its deepest point ( 46 m (151 ft) from entrance level) at the point known as Pataalaganga. In Telugu language, it is called బెల్లము గుహలు Belum Guhalu. Belum Caves have a length of 3,229 m (10,593.8 ft), making them the second largest natural caves on the Indian Subcontinent after the Krem Liat Prah caves in Meghalaya. Belum came to scientific attention in 1884 by a British surveyor, Robert Bruce Foote and from 1982 to 1984, a team of German speleologists headed by H. Daniel Gebauer conducted a detailed exploration of the caves. Thereafter in 1988, the state government declared the site protected, and Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) developed the caves as a tourist attraction in February 2002. Today, 3.5 km (2.2 mi) of the caves have been successfully explored, though only 1.5 km (0.9 mi) is accessible to visitors. There are 16 different pathways, including the main entrance and there are deposits of quartz in the caves. The caves consist of black limestone. The Belum Caves are located near Belum Village in Kolimigundla Mandal of Kurnool District in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Kolimigundla is situated 3 km (1.9 mi) from Belum Caves. The caves are an 8 km (5.0 mi) drive from Petnikota village. Belum is part of a larger complex of caves carved out of the limestone deposits in the Erramalai region. Other caves include the Billasurgam caves, Sanyasula caves, Yaganti caves, Yerrajari caves, and the Muchchatla Chintamanu caves (caves are called gavi in the local language). Even though the Belum Caves were known to local people, the first records of site come from the expedition report of British geologist and archaeologist Robert Bruce Foote, in 1884. Thereafter, the Belum Caves remained unnoticed for almost a century until a German team headed by Herbert Daniel Gebauer conducted detailed exploration of the caves in 1982 and 1983. Belum Caves are geologically and historically important caves. There are indications that Jains and Buddhists monks occupied these caves centuries ago. Many Buddhists relics were found inside the caves. These relics are now housed in Museum at Ananthapur. The caves was being used to dump wastes of nearby places until 1988. Local people of nearby settlements, notably Police men and residents of Belum Village co-operated with the Government of Andhra Pradesh and developed the cave site as a tourist attraction. Finally their almost two decade long efforts resulted in the Government of Andhra Pradesh declaring the entire area to be a protected zone. Finally in 1999, the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation took over the task of beautifying and maintaining the caves. The APTDC who has since been in charge for management, sanctioned Rs. 7,5 million to develop the caves. The APTDC has also developed the pathways of around 2 km (1.2 mi) length in and outside of the caves, provided illumination and has created fresh-air-shafts at the site. Inside the cave, APTDC has installed bridges and staircases, and a canteen, bathrooms and toilet facilities at the entry point. There is a sizeable Buddha statue near on a hillock near the caves. One of the caverns at Belum is known as the "Meditation hall", which was used by Buddhist monks. Relics of the Buddhist period were found here. These relics are now housed in a museum in Ananthapur. The tourists are charged an amount of Rs.50.00 for entrance. Foreign Tourists are charged Rs.300.00 per person for entrance. APTDC has installed electronic gates at entrance. After passing through the gates, one can reach the caves by a metal staircase installed by APTDC. The entrance pit was originally smaller than what one sees today. It has been broadened as part of development of the caves to install the staircase to allow visitors to descend and ascend easily. The entrance is like that of a Pit Cave. From the ground you can only see two pits side by side and third pit a little further away. After descending around 20 meters by the stairs from the entrance, the caves become horizontal. The first section one enters is called Gebauer Hall named after Speleologist Mr H. Daniel Gebauer, who had explored and mapped the caves in 1982-1983. The path to Gebauer Hall leads below the second opening, which lies next to the main entrance. The nearest railhead to reach Belum Caves is Tadipatri, 30 km (18.6 mi) away. There are daily trains from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Tirupati, Kanyakumari, Thiruvananthapuram, Coimbatore and Goa which halt at Tadipatri railway station. From Tadipatri, one can take a bus to the Belum Caves.


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