Caving, or Spelunking, as its known is the thrilling activity of exploring (un)known cave systems. This encompasses not just nature and adventure, but also religion and philosophy, here in India. Caving, an adventure that found a new resurgence in Europe of the early 1930s, is easily one of the most accessible and fun activities.
But India had a love affair with caves far longer than that.
From wandering ascetics who’ve engraved inscriptions thousands of years old, to tantalising natural bounty of sacred ecosystems, the experience in India is a different discovery than its global complement.
The best time for caving is from October to March and here are the destinations that should be made for the ultimate caving experience –
The abode of clouds is the best place for caving. This adventure hobby is becoming popular in Meghalaya, as there are more than 1500 caves here. Jaintia hills and Khasi hills consist some of the deepest and longest caves in South Asia. Caves like – Krem Liat Prah (the longest natural cave in India), Krem Puri (the longest sandstone cave in the world and India’s second longest cave) and Mawsmai Cave (one of the most accessible caves in Meghalaya) provide the opportunity to explore the beautiful world inside.
Another cave – Krem Kotsati has few river passages and 24 entry points. Cavers will have to swim to enter the cave through some entry points. For beginners, Krem Umthloo cave is ideal, as it is one of the smaller caves in Meghalaya. While for the expert spelunkers, there are trickier and complicated caves like Krem Chympe and Krem Sim Thabalong – a vertical cave.
One can approach organizations like Meghalaya Adventure Association and Kipepeo for caving expeditions in Meghalaya.
2) AJANTA ELLORA CAVES, MAHARASHTRA
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ajanta and Ellora caves date back to 200 BCE. Ajanta is a group of 29 caves. These caves house paintings and sculptures representing Buddhist philosophies. On the other hand, Ellora is a group of 34 caves and is well known for huge sculptures and stone carvings. These caves not only represent Buddhist philosophies, but also Hindu and Jain philosophies.
3) BORRA CAVES, ARAKU VALLEY
Located in the Ananthagiri hills of the Araku Valley, Borra Caves are the deepest caves in India. These limestone caves are as deep as 80 meters and are well known for numerous naturally formed and odd shaped stalactites and stalagmites. Anthropologists have also unearthed here stone tools of Paleolithic age.
4) UDAYAGIRI AND KHANDAGIRI CAVES, BHUBANESWAR
These partly natural and partly man-made caves are known for rock – cut Jain temples consisting of chambers and cells. The doorways of the cells consist of animal figures carved by Jain monks. Udayagiri is a group of 18 caves, whereas Khandagiri is a group of 15 caves and Hathigumpha (Elephant Cave) is the most well known cave of Bhubaneswar. These caves date back to 10th Century BCE. The cavers can explore the ancient Jain art of India in these caves.
5) BELUM CAVES, ANDHRA PRADESH
Belum caves are naturally made underground caves, which extend over 3km and are 46 meters deep. This cave system is open to public and is known for stalactites and stalagmites that are formed by the underground flowing water, over thousands of years.
6) BHIMBETKA ROCK SHELTERS, MADHYA PRADESH
With cave paintings dating back to about 30,000 years, Bhimbetka Rock Shelters are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are about 243 rock shelters and the cave paintings found here have a striking resemblance to the rock shelters across Australia, Africa and Europe. These paintings depict the earliest traces of human life and their cultural evolution.
7) PACHMARHI CAVES, MADHYA PRADESH
Pachmari caves are believed to be the caves that were once used as shelter by the Pandava brothers and their wife Draupadi during their exile period. These caves date back to 6th century and the interiors consist of various ancient inscriptions. Many Buddhist monks also meditated in these caves.
8) UNDAVALLI CAVES, ANDHRA PRADESH
Undavalli caves are sandstone caves near Vijaywda, which date back to 4th century AD. The largest of these caves is a four storied cave housing a huge statue of Lord Vishnu, which is sculpted from a single block of granite. These caves depict the Gupta architecture and initially were also shaped as Buddhist monasteries.
9) SITTANAVASAL CAVE, TAMIL NADU
‘Sittanavasal’ means ‘ the abode of great saints’ and many Jain monks meditated in these natural caves. The murals of the caves are made up of mineral dyes and the paintings have a striking resemblance to Ajanta Caves. Pigments of only colours like white, black, orange, yellow, blue and green are used in these paintings.
10) JUNNAR CAVES, MAHARASHTRA
Situated in Aurangabad district, Junnar caves were discovered between 2nd century BC and 3rd century AD. These caves are divided into three parts – Tulija Lena Group, Manmodi Hill Group and Ganesh Lena Group. The Tulija Lena Group has a beautiful circular dome ceiling, The Manmodi Hill Group is known for its splendid architecture and The Ganesha Lane Group consists various Viharas and cells.
11) KHANGKHUI CAVES, MANIPUR
Dating back to Paleolithic period, Khangkhui limestone caves are one of the oldest caves in India. The caves consist various chambers and a Durbar (throne room) of King Mangsorwung. The caves also consist a 30 meters deep pit with a diameter of 5 meters, known as Shirata.
12) BARATANG LIMESTONE CAVES, ANDAMANS
The journey to the caves is as beautiful as the caves. One has to pass through blue waters and mangrove creeks to reach the Baratang Limestone Caves. These caves were formed centuries ago by continuous flowing water and hence, beautiful stalactites and stalagmites are naturally formed.
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