Caving in Meghalaya – Closer to the core
Do you know: Meghalaya has the subcontinent’s longest and deepest of caves and is in World’s top 10 caving destinations? Every year expert cavers across the globe visit this place to explore, research and find newer caves. Although not experts, we thought of exploring one of the caves near to Cherrapunji.
Harshit tells you more:
“We reached Krem Mawmluh at around 10.30 AM on 29 September, 2014. It has been more than a month since we left that place but the place hasn’t left us yet. We are still thrilled and satisfied.
This post is about our caving experience. ‘Closer to the core‘ because at some point while going in I felt I was actually walking towards the core of the earth. We started out at 9.30 AM from lower Sohra, a little later than was planned. Gregory had reached exactly at 9.00 AM to pick us up. He heads Meghalaya Adventure Tours and is an expert caver. We were lucky that we went with him.
About Krem Mawmluh – It is a seven kilometers long cave in Cherrapunji, Meghalaya. It’s not a show cave or a tourist cave. People do not go there for sightseeing. Entering the cave requires proper gear and supervision. Adventure seekers will go to any height (or depth) for that thrill and experience.
On reaching Mawmluh Cement Factory, we got off the car, and were given our gear. I got excited by just looking at the gear.. It was a jumpsuit, more like what miners wear along with superb rubber boots. I realized its importance once I got into it. We got suited and felt great in dirty, ragged clothes for the first time. We took a customary selfie before the start. And the next moment we were walking towards the cave.
It’s a long walk to the entrance of the cave. First half is just walking along a hill through thick grass, second half is like going into the Amazon forest. It was challenging but fun! The rocks were huge. Throughout that time I felt like Bear Grylls from Man vs Wild. It was a hot day and the walk was a little tiring. But I forgot everything about it the moment I saw the entrance to the cave. We decided to take a little rest and some more preparations before entering the cave. We put on the lights on our helmets cause that’s the only way you can see anything inside the cave. Took water, some food and put our valuables inside the Darren Drum (An air tight container, which can float in water logged areas in the cave). The cave has a narrow tricky entrance. Seeing it made me think how tricky will the ways inside be. A narrow way through which one can only enter if they turn to the right and bend forward.
It can be difficult for people who are fat. Right after that narrow space between rocks, there is suddenly no ground. Flexibility, fitness and energy are very important. Rocks and walls have to be used for support at places and move forward. After one or two climbs and falls, we started getting a hang of it. Strategically placing legs to shift body weight and using hands to grip the rocks were what it was all about. If I think too hard I might also be able to explain how we crossed every drop and climb from the beginning but I’m not writing a DIY Caving blog post.
Some portions of the cave were very small and narrow. We had to bend down and walk or else our head would hit the ceiling. Without the helmet you’d come out with a part of your skull in your hands. Cavers are extremely careful not to break or spoil any sandstone or limestone formations in the cave when they enter. Those formations take hundreds of years to form. I made it a point not to hit my head anywhere and not break anything. You can only see in one direction at a time. As far as your light range allows. Everything else remains pitch black. For some this could be an uncomfortable situation. Surrbhi at first thought she was claustrophobic. After a few minutes she felt like she was a cave dweller in her previous birth. There are many phobias we think we have, most of those are because it is something we have never really tried before.
Along with adrenaline I think some other brain fluids too start flowing when you’re doing something adventurous for the first time. While calculating and analyzing every step I was taking to move forward, I started realizing something. I get weird ideas all the time. I realized we are all very used to living in a controlled environment and we try to make it more controlled every single day. It was when I was out there in an environment so different and I had nothing under my control, I realized that the life I’m living is narrower than the cave. Everything is huge and vast but still it is all controlled and restricted. In the cave anything can go wrong any moment. If you love the controlled environment you live in, cave is a hostile place for you . If you love freedom, and if you like being vulnerable then the cave is action packed. As we walked in we came across many interesting formations. Just water, limestone and sandstone work in mysterious ways to create exquisite formations. We saw cave pearls being formed. Water droplets fall into a bowl and somehow create small white pearls. We saw white shiny marble inside brown sharp rocks. Due to some minerals, some of the rocks were sparkling and shining. We saw a huge Swiss Cheesecake. It is a rock formation that is white and brown, looks like a cheesecake due to the texture and color.
As we kept moving forward we saw more interesting formations. It’s hard to believe how things like that are formed over the years. But a human in his entire lifetime will hardly see any changes in the cave. The changes are slow and difficult to find. That is why it’s all so precious. We soon reached the Gold Fish Pond. There is no fish inside the cave, but cavers give names to different sections of the cave, just for the sake of reference I suppose. The gold fish pond was dangerous. The darkness didn’t allow us to see how big the pond really was. But we were supposed to walk into it.
We had to walk from extreme left because on the right the pond had much more depth. A sharp drop. We had to walk on the extreme left, holding the wall, in waist deep water. That was scary. The real challenge was to get out of that pond. We were half inside water and had to climb around 6 or 7 feet using the rocks to move to the other section. Our boots were full of water and if we would fall back, we would have to swim with those non-existent gold fishes. Definitely none of us were in the mood to swim, we climbed up like champs! Surrbhi and I didn’t have anything to take care of except for ourselves. Anirban had his hundred thousand rupees camera hanging from his neck. Before entering the cave he calculated that if anything goes wrong he would save the camera before himself. His medical expenses would still be less than the cost of his gear. He took good care of his camera throughout. He himself also came out in one piece at the end of it. I wanted to see a bat and I thought we’ll see them hanging out somewhere. But they were all busy flying from here to there. Didn’t get a chance to see one properly.
Some sections of the cave were huge. There is no evidence of any human inhabitation inside these caves. We were the first ones to enter the cave this year. That added to the excitement. There was water at many places in the cave. At some places the water was flowing like a stream. There was a big section in the cave where we walked on false floor. It is called false floor because that is not actually the ground. Under that floor there was a stream of water. The floor had numerous holes and gorges.
We could see the ground a few feet below. I had only heard about stalactites and stalagmites before and didn’t know what they were. Gregory showed us all the different kinds of formations and also told us how they are formed. Stalactites grow from the ceiling and stalagmites grow from the ground. A rare structure is formed when a stalactite meets a stalagmite to form a pillar. We saw that when we reached our destination, our picnic spot. The Hanging Gardens. Almost two kilometres inside the cave, was our final stop. This place had many more formations everywhere. We were asked to be extra careful and not walk anywhere without watching. There were cave curtains, that formed from the ceiling. And there was a structure that looked exactly like a ‘Shiv-ling’ – sacred stone.
Coincidence or miracle of Lord Shiva is upon you to decide. There were many stalactites and stalagmites at this place. Gregory went in a little deeper to take some readings. We could also go in deeper but usually only those who have special interests go further. We took a closer look at the formations, drank water and ate some biscuits to regain energy. And of course clicked some pictures. The cave wasn’t being very kind to Anirban’s camera. There were sand inside his lens and water vapor condensed on the lens. The buttons didn’t work properly also. But he managed to shoot somehow. Gregory and Anirban found that spot, two kilometers inside the cave, a perfect place to discuss cave photography and try a few things out. We tried light painting but it was a failure.
We spent some time at the picnic spot and decided to head back. We were taking the same way back. All the way in and back out Surrbhi walked ahead of us. She is someone who would trip on completely smooth and flat surfaces but surprisingly the cave dweller was doing a good job that day. Anirban seemed exhausted and walked slower. I walked with him. All the drops were now climbs. There was awesomeness flowing everywhere in our bodies and we crossed everything just as easily as before. Crossing the same places we had crossed before, when I looked back there was complete darkness. If your lights stop working two kilometres inside the cave, you’re as good as dead. If you’re deep inside the cave and it starts raining very heavily outside. The water starts flooding the cave and again you’re as good as dead. It was around 4 or 4.30 PM when we finally saw daylight again. We got out.
I screamed my lungs out. I had never felt like that in my entire life so far. It was easily the best experience of my life. We talked, stretched, relaxed and drank water. It was a trek back up to reach where the car was. It was hot again. From the top of that hill when we looked down, we only saw the jungle. Not a hint of the cave. You can never guess there is a huge cave in there. We stopped for a while. No one said anything. We all had something going on in our heads. If you’ve watched Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the Bollywood movie, you’ll understand what feeling I’m talking about. We were so lost that we didn’t even care what way we were taking to get back to the car. Just kept walking. Anirban dropped his lens cover but luckily found it. It was right behind behind him. Surrbhi dropped her spectacles, didn’t bother to try finding it. We got into the car and headed back to our cottage. I only told people it was a great experience. I had no words to explain that feeling. Anirban asked me to write this and I think it’s a little too long but I had to include everything I could. When that feeling and memory will fade away, this post will help me re-live that day all over again. Though I plan on going again whenever I can. If you read this till the end, I think you’ll enjoy caving. More than anything else, the experience brings you closer to your own core. Your Life.”