It is the 2nd largest cave in the Indian sub-continent and the longest caves, known for its ‘stalactite’ and ‘stalagmite’ formations. Located at Belum Village in Kolimigundla Mandal of Kurnool District in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India.
It is a part of a larger complex of caves, carved out of the limestone deposits in the Erramalai region. Other caves include Billasurgam caves, Yerrajari caves and Muchchatla Chintamanu caves. Caves are called GAVI in the local language.
Even though the Belum Caves were known to the locals, the 1st record of the caves were mentioned in the expedition report of the British geologist and archaeologist Robert Bruce, in 1884. Thereafter, Belum Caves remained unnoticed for almost a century, till a German team, headed by Herbert Daniel Gebauer conducted a detailed exploration of the caves in 1982 & 1983.
Belum Caves are geologically and historically important caves. There are indications that Jain and Buddhist monks occupied these caves centuries ago. Many Buddhist relics were found inside the caves. These relics are now housed in a museum at Ananthapur. The caves were being used to dump waste of nearby places till 1968. Finally, almost two decades of effort resulted in the Government of Andhra Pradesh declaring the entire area to be ‘protected zone’. In 1999, Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation took over the task of beautifying and maintaining the caves. APTDC sanctioned Rupees 75,00,000 to develop the caves.
The APTDC has developed the pathways in around 2 km of the length of the caves, provided soft illumination and has created fresh-air-shafts in the caves. At many places, inside the caves, APTDC has installed bridges, staircase for easy movement inside the caves. It has also created a canteen, washroom and toilet facilities near the entry point.
There is a giant Buddha Statue near a hillock near the Belum Caves. The area of the caves known as “Meditation Hall” was used by Buddhist Monks. The relics of the Buddhist period were found here.
Main Sections :
(1) Pillidwaram —— means Cat’s Gate. It is a natural arch of stalactites formed in the shape of a lion’s head.
(2) Kotilingalu Chamber —- This section contains stalactite formations, which are akin to Shiva lingams. It has one huge pillar, formed due to stalactite stalagmite joining together.
(3) Patalaganga —- It is a small perennial stream which flows from the south-east to the north-west and disappears into the depths of the earth, and is believed to be heading towards a well at the Bellum village, located 2 km away from the caves.
(4) Saptasvarala Guha or Musical Chamber —– Saptasvarala Guha means “Chamber of 7 notes”. The stalactite formations, in this chamber, produce musical sounds when struck with a wooden stick or knuckles. This section was opened to the public in 2006.
(5) Dhyan Mandir or Meditation Hall —— This section is near the entrance. An interesting formation at the Meditation hall looks like a bed, with pillow, to recline. The local legend has it, that, in ancient times, many sages used to live here.
(6) 1000 Hoods —- This section has amazing stalactite formations, shaped like the hoods of a cobra. The formations, on the ceiling, looks as if 1000s of cobras have opened their hoods.
(7) Banyan Tree Hall —- This section has a huge pillar with stalactites hanging from the ceiling. This gives a look of a Banyan Tree with its aerial roots, when seen from below. The locals call it Voodalamari, since it looks like a Banyan Tree.
(8) Mandapam — This is a huge area, inside the cave, with magnificent stalactite structures, on the sides, giving it a look of a hall with pillars.
The tourists are charged an amount of Rupees 50 for entrance. APTDC has installed electronic gates at the entrance. Foreign tourists are charged Rupees 300, per person, for entrance. After passing through the gates, one can reach the caves by a metal staircase, installed by APTDC.
The entrance ‘pit’ was originally smaller than what one sees today. It has been broadened, as part of development of the caves, to install the staircase to allow visitors to descend and ascend easily. The entrance is like that of a PIT CAVE. From the ground, you can only see 2 ‘pits’ side by side and a 3rd ‘pit’ a little further away. After descending, around 20 metres by the stairs from the entrance, the caves become horizontal.