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Belum caves on the tourist map

Ch. Prashanth Reddy

The Belum caves are stated to be thousands of years old. Remnants of vessels found in the caves have been scientifically dated to 4500 BC.

Tourists at the Belum Caves in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh.

KURNOOL, April 30

A NEW destination has been added to the tourist map of Andhra Pradesh with the Belum caves, a natural wonder, coming alive for the intrepid explorer.

Extending up to 3,225 metres in length, and 10-29 metres in depth, the Belum caves constitute the longest cave system in the country in the plains. However, only 1.5 sq km area of the caves is currently accessible to the public.

Nevertheless, it is a breathtaking experience to walk through the caves that were opened to the public recently. One can see numerous artworks of nature both on the ceiling and floor created by stalactite and stalagmite formations. This apart, the caves have a number of spacious chambers, passages, fresh water galleries and siphons.

Located in limestone area that abounds in Kurnool district, the caves have three well-like cavities in the earth with the central one being the main entrance. Steps have been laid out at the entrance for easy descent. The main passage, at a depth of 10 metres from the ground, is a horizontal one.

The local villagers familiar with the caves named some of the landmarks inside the caves as Simhadwaram, Kotilingalu, Mandapam and Pathalaganga. 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.

In the middle of the Belum village is natural but artificially enlarged well with vertical walls. The well extends into a cave.

The fluctuation in the water table of the well is linked to water table in the Belum caves as the invisible spring formed due to percolation of water is said to feed the well too.

Belum caves are stated to be thousands of years old. Remnants of vessels found in the caves have been scientifically dated to 4500 BC.

There is an indication that Jains and Buddhists were occupying these caves centuries ago.

The modern day existence of the caves was recorded by a European, Mr Robert Bruce Foote, in 1884. In the recent times, a German team headed by Mr H. Daniel Gebauer conducted detailed exploration of the caves in 1982 and 1983. The German expedition was assisted by the locals Mr B. Chalapathi Reddy, Mr Ramaswami Reddy, Mr Boyu Madduleti, Mr K. Padmanabhaiah, Mr K. Chinnaiah and Mr A. Sunkanna.

As the caves have great archaeological as well as geological importance, the Andhra Pradesh Government has declared the entire area as protected in 1988.

The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation took charge of the caves in 1999 for beautification and maintenance.

APTDC cleared up the slush inside, created pathways, provided illumination and laid oxygen shafts before making the caves accessible to the public.

The well-planned illumination rids the caves of eeriness and creates a brightness that enhances their splendour.

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