Jagdalpur, is a fast growing metro in Bastar, a district of Chattisgarh. Bastar is blessed with lavish thick forests, crisscrossing streams and rivers and waterfalls.
Not far from Jagdalpur, tucked away in the Kanger Valley National Park are Kotumsar geomorphologic lime stone caves. They are natural caves and fall on the Kanger limestone belt on the bank of river Kanger. Kailash Caves are also located in the vicinity. But we are visiting the most prominent Kutumsar caves.
These caves were discovered in the British era but explored thoroughly and mapped only in the 1950’s. They are not fully discovered as yet. Recently, in 2011, a new, small but exceedingly beautiful chamber was discovered by the forest officials. Unfortunately, the access to this chamber is rather difficult and therefore it is not open for tourists.
The way to Kutumsar caves passes through thick forests. A mysterious looking vertical fissure in the wall of the hills serves as the main entrance to the caves. These caves are 35 meters below the ground level and incredible 1.3 kilometres long. They are possibly the world’s second largest caves formed naturally. The caves have a maze of tunnels and five main chambers. Seeing them was going to be a once in a life time experience for me.
You enter the caves through the narrow entrance passage with high rugged stone walls on either side. It is dark and only our torches illuminate the concrete path made for the visitors. You are awestruck by the raw magnificence of the buff, pink gray rocks. One has to climb down several staircases. The caves very silent. The only intermittent sound is the water trickling down somewhere far away. A bit eerie!
The chambers are dark, warm and humid. The rocks feel moist at places. They form projections and recesses and with it a play of shadows and light which adds to their rugged charm.
The base is strewn with formations of lime stone of various sizes, but similar tall conical shapes. These are called stalagmites. Numerous cones hang from the ceiling, pointing downwards, like chandeliers. These are stalactites. Both these formations are a result of water trickling down through the soft lime stone. The water dries up leaving a deposit of calcite. It must have taken thousands of years of work for Mother Nature to create those beautiful sculptures.
There are silent water pools, big and small, scattered around as the dripping water gathers at the base of the cave. Some passages are too narrow and small for comfort and I did not venture in. Standing there alone in the middle of one of the chambers you actually feel like you are in the womb of the Mother Earth at the beginning of time. It’s just an altogether different and extremely fascinating experience.
I did not notice any life forms. That does sound like a space traveler talking about an alien planet but that’s how it feels too!! Our guide informed us that these are the most biologically explored caves. A species of blind fish reside in the pools. A new species of crickets was discovered here. Several new arthropods and bacteria were discovered.
Hindus consider caves holy. Many pilgrims worship a big stalagmite in one of the chambers as Shivlinga. However, to protect the delicate balance of this fragile ecosystem, burning of camphor and incense is prohibited. In fact, you are not allowed to even touch the formations, as it could be damaging.
I covered the 200 meters of the main channel, in awe of the artistry of Mother Nature and wondering how many more secrets lie in her belly, awaiting discovery.