The hidden underground city of Belum Caves

posted in: Andhra Pradesh, Asia, India, Nature | 42

Inhabited by the monks in search of peace, deep down under the earth’s surface, the 2nd longest caves of India in Andhra Pradesh turned out to be a secret town. Like any other town above the ground, Belum Caves had its share of pathways in the form of winding tunnels. As is the norm, each pathway (a tunnel in this case) led you to a locality in the form of a cavern. And what I found within each cavern is what will make my journey through Belum Caves a thrilling adventure that you would also, want to try.

Belum Caves – an underground citadel

I introduced Belum Caves as a cliffhanger in my last post on Gandikota. The single image of the caves would have hopefully got you curious about this underground journey. What were those things? What else can I see in Belum Caves? Who found these mysterious place? How can I get to Belum Caves?” If these are questions that are running through your mind, then you are ready for the quest that I am laying out for you in this post. As you read through, you will find your answers and attain enlightenment – quite like the monks who lived here. 😉 So, shall we get started?

About Belum Caves

With over 3229 m of networked underground tunnels, Belum Caves are the 2nd longest caves of India. Though they were discovered in the 1880s by Robert Bruce Foote, they remained unmapped till 1980s. It was a group of German cave specialists led by Herbert Daniel Gebauer who took up the challenge of mapping this labyrinth. Later, the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) worked their magic and made the place tourist friendly. After installing eclectic lights (and they sure are jazzy!) and air vents to pump in fresh air, the APTDC opened up 1.6 km of the 3 km cave system to the public in 2002.

The pathways of Belum Caves
The pathways of Belum Caves

While this is all recent history, evidence suggests that the caves existed prior to Robert Bruce discovering them. The geological process itself would have taken place over thousands of years. Somehow, someone did find them and used them for there found vessels dating back to 4500 BC. The caves were used by Jain and Buddhist monks as their living and meditation quarters.

Old Relics in Belum Caves
Old Relics in Belum Caves

It is believed that the current Belum Caves was connected to the other caves like Yaganti caves, Billasurgam caves and Sanyasula caves found in this region. Largely comprising of Quartz and Limestone, the Belum Caves have many wonders hidden within them – all of them making it one of the must-visit destinations of South India.

Descending to the Pillidwaram

Entrance to Belum Caves
Entrance to Belum Caves

Descending down a large sinkhole, my Minx remarked that this was a little more developed than what she had seen in Arwah Caves of Meghalaya. It was obvious from the well-constructed staircase that this was not going to be a raw experience like the Meghalaya one. However, at the same time, it was evident that it was definitely going to be one thrilling experience. After all, it is not every day that you literally climb down a hole to found a hidden place like Alice in Wonderland.

Enjoy my adventure through the shallow pools and dark depths of Arwah Caves of Meghalaya

Descending to Belum Caves through the sink hole
Descending to Belum Caves through the sink hole

We stared in wonder at the long passage in front of us at the end of that descent. The orange-lit cave the gently curved passage a very mysterious feel. As we walked along, a faint glow of colorful lights beckoned us to our first major stop in the citadel of Belum Caves. We had arrived at the Pillidwaram.

Pillidwaram at the end of the curved pathway
Pillidwaram at the end of the curved pathway
Pillidwaram of Belum Caves
Pillidwaram of Belum Caves

Pilli means Cat and Dwaram means a door or gate. This particular place got this name owing to its natural arch of stalactites. If you look carefully, you can see that they appear like an open jaw of a tiger or a lion. Welcome to the official entrance to what I term as the hidden city of Belum Caves. 😉

The winding passages of Belum Caves

Turns & Twists of Belum Caves
Turns & Twists of Belum Caves

From then on, it was all about exploring a maze. Quite like your own town, one road led to many more. Without an address, it was like trying to traverse every road to discover all the localities. Like in any well-developed town, there were markers on the walls of the caves indicating where those passages led to. Except that they were so small that in the quest to see the stunning textures of this world, you could miss them. They say that there are around 16 such pathways in Belum Caves.

The long passages of Belum Caves
The long passages of Belum Caves

Narrow passages through crevices exploded into high ceiling ones. Some of the wide ones had three different openings to follow. A couple of them had low ceilings that required a midget like me to bend over to and pass through. The one thing that was common among them was that they all led to some spectacular sights.

Caverns of Belum Caves

Cavern with a fountain
Cavern with a fountain

The end destination of each of those tunnels were unique caverns. Each of those had the cover of Stalagmites and Stalactites forming unique structures. Technically, these are like abstract art. One can imagine them in whatever shape they see there. In some way, caves like Mawsmai in Meghalaya were fun coz these structures let me make my own story. However, in Belum Caves, the stories were already written. The structures were named and the fun part was actually seeing them the way they were represented.

Keen to see some natural abstract art that you can interpret? Try this virtual tour of Mawsmai in Meghalaya

Dhyana Mandir

Saint's Bed in Dhyana Mandir of Belum Caves
Saint’s Bed in Dhyana Mandir of Belum Caves

This was the first of the interpreted design that we encountered. A slab of limestone with a sign – “Saint’s Bed” indicated that we had reached the so called meditation chamber. This is rumored to have been used by the Buddhist monks for their meditation time. They say that there were Buddhist relics found here which were later moved to a museum in Anantapur. While these historical facts might be true – whether the bed was actually used by the monk or not is a mystery. My personal guess – it is just a shape to make the tale of Belum Caves interesting 😉

Banyan Tree

Banyan Tree Cavern in Belum Caves
Banyan Tree Cavern in Belum Caves

If you were wondering about the teaser picture from my last blog post, well here is the answer. I am sure that if you look carefully, you can see the Banyan tree with its hanging roots and its widespread branches. The play of colorful lights make the structure quite gorgeous and in some ways, render the shape authentic. Personally, this was my favorite part of Belum Caves.

Mandapam

Mandapam of Belum Caves
Mandapam of Belum Caves

The Mandapam is a huge hall quite akin to the social events halls. For me, it was the journey to the hall that made it memorable. The long passage way leading here required us to go in a single file at times. At one point, it was almost like a slit – one that had me test my own size. Thankfully, I passed straight through 😉

Saptasvarala Guha (Musical Cave)

Saptasvarala chamber of Belum Caves
Saptasvarala chamber of Belum Caves

The name Saptasvarala literally means 7 musical notes. The stalactites in this chamber can be struck by hand and what you get is melodious sound. I did not try that for the simple reason that you must not touch the stalactites lest they stop growing and get damaged. However, the whole concept had me thinking of whether this was the possible explanation to the musical pillars of Vittala Temple of Hampi – the one that baffled the British who took them apart.

Pataalaganga

This is considered to be the deepest part of the cave. At 46 m from the entrance, the Pataalaganga is where an underwater stream flows towards depths unknown. It is a perennial spring and with the dim lighting, I could just about make out the water. Recent study has it that the stream emerges at the Belum Village that is 3 km from here.

Pataalaganga in Belum Caves
Pataalaganga in Belum Caves

Another unique thing about this stream is that unusual living species have been found here. These creatures thrive only in the caves and are called by their scientific name Andhracoides gebaueri – named after the German scientist who mapped the caves.

Kotilingalu Chamber

Kotilingalu Cave
Kotilingalu Cave

The word Linga should give you a clue to what you can expect to see in this chamber. Not one but many stalagmites and stalactites take on the shape of this symbol of Shiva. In fact, the center piece here has both the stalactite and stalagmite joining to form a column.

Mayamandir

Mayamandir in Belum Caves
Mayamandir in Belum Caves

Temple of Mystical Illusions” or the Mayamandir was possibly a cavern used for solitary meditation. Or maybe, they named it coz this is where you could imagine shapes around the caves – basically have illusions. The cavern was not as impressive as the others but again, it was the whole trail to it that made it interesting.

Thousand Hoods Cavern

Picture a cobra fanning out its hood. Now imagine there are thousands of these. And that they are hanging from the ceiling. The natural display in this cavern is exactly this picture. I almost missed this chamber. However, a small sign in the corner is what had me double back to capture this scene from its roof. To know what it really looks like, you will need to head to Belum Caves – ‘coz I accidentally deleted the picture of the same. Hopefully, I can join you there as I reclaim the picture 😉

Textures of Belum Caves

Textures along Belum Caves
Textures along Belum Caves

While the caverns may be the destination that you seek in those endless cave tunnels, you can’t but help enjoy the journey owing to the textures that you see. Every wall and stone within Belum Caves is an art piece of its own. The lines on the smooth walls might have actually been an inspiration for those textured paints that we add to our homes.

Close up of one of the stones of Belum Caves
Close up of one of the stones of Belum Caves

Exit to the Buddha’s statue

Buddha statue at the entrance of Belum Caves
Buddha statue at the entrance of Belum Caves

Even though my hubby assures me that I had been through all 16 passages of Belum Caves, I felt as if I had missed some. Or maybe I had missed seeing something. I was actually a little reluctant to leave but given the puppy and kitty faces made by my partner and my  minx, I had to exit. One last stop before we left the premises was to pay respect to the huge Buddha statue at its entrance. The serene face of this divine preacher acted like a cooling balm for my frazzled nerves. Kind of befitting for I did leave Belum Caves behind with a satisfaction – maybe of seeing it all!

How to get to Belum Caves?

  • Belum Village and Belum Caves are located in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. The closest train station to the same is Tadipatri and that is around 30 km from there. The station is a major one with a lot of trains from all the major cities of India
  • Gandikota – the place that is clubbed with a visit to Belum Caves is 60 km by road.
  • The closest airport to Belum Caves is at Tirupati. It is around 260 km with plenty of flights from major cities of India.
  • To reach Belum Caves from Hyderabad, you can opt for a train, bus or a car. There are enough tourist buses that take you to Belum Caves along with Yaganti Temple and Caves. By road, it is around 330 km.
  • You can also head to Belum Caves from Bangalore by road and train. Bangalore is around 295 km from Belum.

Where to stay at Belum Caves?

  • There is only one hotel run by APTDC in Belum. It is a basic one called Hotel Harita. There are no other home stays or inns other than this one.
  • The hotels in Kurnool are your other option. Most of these are 70 km away from Belum Caves. If you are coming in from Hyderabad, you might find these convenient.
  • Since we had clubbed our visit with Gandikota, we stayed closer to that at Prodattur. This too, is around 80 km but in the direction closer to Hyderabad.

Travel Tips

  • Belum Caves are open from 10 am to 5:30 pm everyday. The entrance tickets to the same cost INR 65 for Indians and INR 300 if you are a foreign national.
  • The best time to visit Belum caves is during the months of August to March. The summer here is quite harsh. Even in the winter season, you will find yourself sweating within the caves.
  • Wear comfortable and closed shoes as there is plenty of walking to be done. Loose cotton wear is advisable given the heat under the ground.
  • The pathways within the Caves are well-laid out. There are enough lights everywhere.
  • Carry a lot of water with you.
  • While food is not allowed within the caves, it is better to pack your food for this trip. You can leave it in the lockers or in your vehicle. As there are no restaurants around, you will need the same.
  • There are restrooms available here.
  • A small cafe is available here where you can buy cold drinks, water and some dry snacks.
  • A pro-tip for photography. Avoid using flash. Open up your ISO levels and carry a mini tripod to capture the caves.
  • Combine this trip with Gandikota and Lepakshi -especially if you are driving in from Bangalore.

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small    commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.

 

 

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42 Responses

  1. Christina

    I do love caves and always like checking out caves I’ve never heard of. Belum Caves looks mysterious and intriguing. It looks like it’s a fairly large cave system too.

  2. Saee

    Loved the write up and your description with pictures was gorgeous. Added to my bucket list.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hannah

    I can see why you make the comparison to Alice in Wonderland – you definitely disappeared down a rabbit hole at the Belum Caves! The different rock textures and how they were able to open so much up to the public are amazing. And to come out to that wonderful white buddha – wow!

    • Ami

      The Buddha is a perfect therapy for those frazzled nerves. You should get there soon. Thanks for the lovely comment, Hannah

  4. Julie

    Wow, the Belum Caves are definitely a geologists dream. Looks like a wonderful place to get lost in nature’s wonders. Love the photos.

  5. Christopher Rudder

    just by looking at the photos, i am not surprised this is a place for monks seeking for inner peace and all that. this cave has this divine aura on my mind. i wanna see this myself!

  6. Debbzie Leksono

    Belum Caves looks like something out from Indiana Jones the movie! My jaw dropped just by looking through your pictures and reading your story. I’m actually have a love-hate relationship with caves because of my Claustrophobia. But also like you, I love exploring the winding tunnels and wondering what I would see at the other end. It tickles my adventurous soul. And yes, I admire the rock textures too! 😀

    • Ami

      You have hit the right post then given your love affair with caves. This one is least bit claustrophobic but every bit thrilling! Thanks for stopping by

  7. Jean

    The Belum Caves look amazing. I can see why the monks would have chosen this place as a place to meditate. Does it get cold down there?

    • Ami

      It does not get cold here at all. In fact, it gets pretty warm down there – even in winters. Thanks for stopping by Jean.

  8. Ashutoush

    Informative Article, such a nice place the inside views of caves is looking so amazing and very attractive and peaceful keep posting.

  9. Rosemary

    The pictures are impressive the caves are magnificent. I can’t believe there are roots of the banyan trees. With some of the spaces so large, do they hold events in them? Incredible, no wonder you didn’t want to leave.

    • Ami

      I don’t think you can hold an event here given it is quite a few feet underground and despite the air vents, is quite thin. And the stalactites like a Banyan tree definitely makes it look real – doesn’t it?

  10. Vimal Bhatia

    You have some amazing pictures here Ami. Really fabulous. And the detailed description made it all the more engaging. However, I found that all the pictures don’t load at once when I open the page. It takes time for all the images to load. May be you would like to have a look at that.

    • Ami

      Thanks Vimal. I think when you visited the site, there was a bit of update happening which slowed the same down. I think you should not have a problem now.

  11. Vasu Devan

    This is an absolutely a must do stuff. I had not heard of this before at all, though I have been to a lot of them out side India. This looks fabulous and your photos make them even more enchanting. Happy travelling!.

    • Ami

      Thank you Vasu. It is amazing how much we have within our country itself. Definitely comparable to the ones outside.

  12. Medha Verma

    I like how they’ve put colourful lights to light up the caves! Bellum Caves look pretty amazing, and I haven’t heard much about them which is a pity because there is so much historical treasure in our country that is unexplored and not so famous. I remember visiting a similar underground city in Cappadocia in Turkey and it was an amazing experience, though some people began to feel a bit claustrophobic and didn’t enjoy it. Good to know about this place in Andhra, it’s yet another place that goes on my list of places to visit in India one day!

  13. Jane Dempster-Smith

    The photos are amazing and thanks for the tips on how to take the photos in the caves. How long would the visit take? The lights really make the whole visit come to life. I am not really a fan of caves but I think this one could be a good experience.

    • Ami

      Thanks Jane. You can take anything from one hour to around three – it depends on how long you want to go on. The lights do add a different dimension to the whole thing and am sure you will find it comfortable there.

  14. Shreya Saha

    Always intrigued by these caves! I love exploring caves and Belum caves always remind me of Antelope Canyon somehow – a bit of it, yes. Do you think this can be visited in a weekend’s time from Bangalore?

  15. umiko Silalahi

    The entrance to the cave is really cool! How many steps did you have to take? The rock formation reminded me of Longhorn Cavern in Burnet, Texas. Formed by underground river for hundreds of years. It’s amazing to see the lights at every chambers. A must-see cave when in Andhra Pradesh.

    • Ami

      I honestly don’t know how many steps but they weren’t too many. The caves are definitely a wonder that need to be experienced.

  16. Daniel

    I’ve always been intrigued by Belum Caves. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to visit during my last India trip. However, once I visit again, this will be one of the first places I’ll visit.

    • Ami

      That would be a good idea given that it is a little different from the other attractions in India. I hope you can return soon. Cheers.

  17. blair villanueva

    Wow this is a gorgeous cave. Those natural carving are very unique, indicating the flow of wind for thousand of years. Hope I could see this in person one day 😀

  18. Sandy N Vyjay

    What a spectacular underground world the Belum Caves is! But I was really impressed by the manner in which the place has been made over by Andhra Pradesh Tourism to ensure access to people for exploring these intriguing caves. The passages and caverns seem to hide a million untold stories within their fold.

    • Ami

      Indeed, kudos to the tourism department to make the caves accessible. However, I do hope people get a little more respectful of these formations and not attempt to spoil them.

  19. MEENAKSHI J

    The Belum caves look splendid and I am reminded of my trip to the Borra Caves near Arukku. It is nice that the APTDC has worked on indoor lightening of the caves which gives it an altogether different look. The pillidwaram actually does look like a rabbit’s hole.I hope to visit this place again soon!

    • Ami

      I have to yet see Borra Caves. I hope to do so this year. Am pretty sure that they would be as awesome. And yes, Belum Caves can do with another visit from you. Am sure you will love it.

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