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 in Andhra Pradesh 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.
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 places? 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 with this travel guide to the Belum Caves in Andhra Pradesh??
History of 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 the 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 the fresh air, the APTDC opened up 1.6 km of the 3 km cave system to the public in 2002.
While this is all recent history of Belum Caves, evidence suggests that they 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.
It is believed that the current caves were 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 in Andhra Pradesh have many wonders hidden within them – all of them making it one of the must-visit destinations of South India.
Descending to the Pillidwaram of 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
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.
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 of Andhra Pradesh
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.
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
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
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 😉
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 my trail through the Belum Caves.
The Mandapam is a huge hall quite akin to the halls of the social event. For me, it was the journey to the hall that made it memorable. The long passageway 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)
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.
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.
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.
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 centerpiece here has both the stalactite and stalagmite joining to form a column.
“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 the destination itself – ‘coz I accidentally deleted the picture of the same. Hopefully, I can join you there as I reclaim the picture 😉
Textures of 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.
Exit to the Buddha’s statue
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.
- The caves are open from 10 am to 5:30 pm every day. The entrance tickets to Belum Caves 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.
- Booking.com is useful for booking your stay in Kurnool, that is close to the caves. These can be booked in Kurnool using this link .
- For any travel or photography gadgets, consider clicking through to Amazon
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Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.