Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Since the beginning of civilization caves are an integral part of our life. Right from the stone age, they have provided shelters to many until we learned to build our own houses. Even Pandavas as narrated in Mahabharata took shelter in caves at the time of their exile.
This time let's talk about the Belum caves, the longest underground cave in India. Located in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh, this natural wonder stretches up to three and half a kilometers, out of which only one and a half kilometer of an area is accessible to the tourist.
The modern-day existence of the cave was explored and recorded sometime around 1884 by a European H.B.Foote, but the latest and detailed exploration was done by German Speliologist Herbert Daniel Gebauer in 1982 and 1984. The Belum caves were declared as a protected area by the Govt of Andhra Pradesh in 1989. Later in 1999, it was taken over by AP Tourism department for beautification and maintenance. The scientist of NGRI Hyderabad has been doing research for nearly 10 years. According to them, these caves are 10 million years old. Once upon a time, a branch of Pennar river (remember my destination article on Gandikota https://www.travelsandclicks.com/blog/gorges-of-gandikota) was flowing underground which was dried up due to a decrease in groundwater. This river stream has washed away soft rocks leaving behind this archeological wonder.
I must say APTDC has done a splendid job in creating pathways, illuminating the caves at strategic locations and providing air blowers. Finally, the caves were open to the public since 2003.
One has to dive in almost 10 meters to start with and gradually reach a maximum depth of 29 meters inside. Now get ready for a complimentary steam bath. It's quite humid in spite of the blowers so carry enough water and wear light cotton clothes to match the temperature. Inside the caves, the temperature is maintained at around 33 degrees Celcius and there are quite a number of sitting arrangements as well.
Walking inside is a breathtaking experience and sometimes it gets creepy when you are alone inside one of the tunnels with the lights getting dimmed off and on. The ceilings and the floor are having fantastic artworks created out of stalactite and stalagmite. It made me remember by Andaman days at the limestone caves of Baratang. The local villagers familiar with the caves has named few sections as 'Simhadwaram', 'Kotilingalu', 'Mandapam' and 'Patalganga'. There is also one 'saint bed' near the 'Mandapan'. I was informed by the gardener that a saint used to live in the caves between 1991 to 1992. Now don't ask me how.
Top two pics - Mandapan with saint bed on the left. Bottom pics - Chalapati Reddy halls.
At 'Patalganga' a small perennial stream flowing towards the northwest, it is believed to be heading towards a well at the Bellum village. A natural lingam is said to have formed at Patalganga.
Entry ticket fees
Adults Rs 50, child Rs 35.
How to reach
Belum caves are situated at the middle of the road connecting Banaganapalli of Ananthapur district and Tadipatri of Kurnool. So it can be approached from either side.
This place is mostly accessed when someone goes to Gandikota. I did the same. Jammalamadugu to Tadipari busses is available at regular interval.
Buses to Banaganapalli are plying from Tadipatri at regular intervals. In Andhra, I always use APRSTC app which gives the exact timings of the bus. I don't remember the exact bus fare it was less than fifty rupees.
Tadipatri can be approached from several major cities like Vijayawada, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. Rest I hope can be googled.
Where to stay
I stayed at a lodge at Tadipatri just opposite to the bus stand but that was horrible. There are other lodges as well, so better you enquire, take a look at the rooms, then select. Forget online booking, here nothing of that sort is available. Unfortunately, I didn't find standard family stays at Tadipatri. Generally, no one has to stay here as it is accessed from Gandikota. Once I reached Belum I was surprised to see APTDC restrooms inside the premises of Belum. It has dormitory facilities with Rs 150/- per bed. That was quite clean and nice. The unit manager phone number is 9705389600.
For mobile shooters
You will be clicking all in dark. First of all, don't turn on the flash. Switch to HDMI or night mode for a perfect click. This HDMI feature in your mobile actually captures multiple clicks with different exposures i.e dark, slightly dark and bright. Then blends everything together to give you a perfect shot. Put your left leg slightly ahead and place the mobile in a horizontal position. Hold your breath for a while as you click. Avoid moving objects or humans in the frame. I bet you will get an amazing shot. There is a timer associated with the lighting inside the cave, so it changes color frequently. Wait and understand the pattern then shoot at the right time. You can shift your mobile up and down to get the floor or the roof alternatively.
If you want to capture people select a place to stand where the light is falling. Then place the camera exactly in the angle of the reflected light. Remember the law of reflection. Wait for the bright yellow one, then click... click...
For guys/girls with expensive gears
The real beauty is in capturing the changing colors. First of all your white balance should be Auto. ISO can be as high as 1000. Certainly, you need not crop at post-processing. Its all about the right frame, there is hardly anything to zoom in. Of course, you can afford to be creative, so keep searching the perfect location to click. Generally, I use aperture priority mode but here it was an exception. I used shutter priority. The depth of the framing almost remaining constant so you can stick to higher aperture value or let the camera decide what is the best. Shutter speed as you understand will vary with the color of the light. As it gets dark and bright alternatively. Don't rush, take your time, until you find the right balance. It seems easier than said. Tripods, I don't think you will need the same. Take the support of rocks and the walls, you should find the desired stability in your picture.