Belum Caves is the second largest cave in the Indian subcontinent and the longest caves in plains of Indian subcontinent. Belum Caves derives its name from "Bilum", the Sanskrit word for caves. In Telugu language, it is called Belum Guhalu. Belum Caves is 3229 meters long, making it the second largest natural caves in Indian subcontinent. Belum Caves have long passages, spacious chambers, fresh water galleries and siphons. The caves reach its deepest point (120 ft from entrance level) at the point known as Patalganaga.
Belum caves was formed due to erosion in limestone deposit in the area by Chitravati River, millions of years ago. This limestone caves was formed due to action of carbonic acid — or weakly acidic groundwater formed due to reaction between limestone and water. The carbonic acid dissolved minerals in the limestone rocks in the area. The presence of river Chitravati in area for a long period of time enable a vast labyrinth of underground cave to form. Now Chitravati River flows almost 30 km south of Belum. Belum Caves are located on a flat agricultural field in Belum Village. There are 3 well like cavities in plain agricultural fields. The central cavity is the main entrance to the caves. However, the locals report hundreds of cavities in the area. The walls of the cave are very smooth as result of erosion by river.
Even though the Belum Caves were known to the locals, the first records of Caves were mentioned in expedition report of Mr Robert Bruce Foote, in 1884. Thereafter, Belum Caves was unnoticed for almost a century thereafter till a German team headed by Mr Herbert Daniel Gebauer conducted detailed exploration of the caves in 1982 and 1983. The German expedition was assisted by the locals Mr B. Chalapathi Reddy, Mr Ramaswami Reddy, Mr Boyu Madduleti, Mr K. Padmanabhaiah, Mr K. Chinnaiah and Mr A. Sunkanna.
Belum Caves are geologically and historically important caves. There are indications that Jains and Buddhists monks were occupying these caves centuries ago. Many Buddhists relics were found inside the caves. These relics are now housed in Museum at Anantapur.
Archaeological survey of India (ASI) also found remnants of vessels, etc. of pre-Buddhist era and has dated the remnants of vessels found in the caves to 4500 BC.
Development of caves
The caves were used to dump wastes of nearby places till 1988. The local people of nearby areas, notably Retired Additional Superintendent of Police M. Narayana Reddy, residents of Belum Village like B. Chalapathi Reddy and others followed up Government of Andhra Pradesh to develop the caves as tourist attraction. Finally their almost two decade long efforts resulted in when Government of Andhra Pradesh declaring 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 ₹75,00,000.00 to develop the caves. They have developed the pathways in around 2 km of the caves, provided soft illumination and created fresh-air shafts in the caves. At many places inside the cave, APTDC has installed bridges, staircases, etc. for easy movement. 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 cave known as "Meditation hall" was used by Buddhist Monks. The relics of Buddhist period were found here. These relics are now housed in museum at Anantapur.
Distance from major cities/towns
- 270 km from Bangalore
- 320 km from Hyderabad
- 420 km from Chennai
- 106 km from Kurnool
- 85 km from Anantapur (takes 180 minutes by bus)
- 30 km from Tadpatri (takes 90 minutes by bus)
- 60 km from Nandyal
- 20 km from Banganapalle
Reaching Belum Caves
- From Delhi - Catch Karnataka Expess train to Anantapur. From Anantapur, catch a bus to Tadipatri. Change bus at Tadipatri for Belum Caves. (3 hours journey from Anantapur to Belum Caves)
- From Bangalore - Visitors from Bangalore can take a bus or catch a train to Anantapur. From Anantapur, catch a bus to Tadipatri. Change bus at Tadipatri for Belum Caves.
- From Chennai - Catch a train to Kurnool or Banganapalle. From kurnool, one can catch a bus to Banganpalle. From Banganpalle, there are frequent buses to Belum Caves.
The cave can also be reached from Nandyal railway station, 60 km away on the Guntur-Bangalore section of South Central railway.
Main sections of Belum Caves
- Simhadwaram — Simhadwaram means lions gate. It is a natural arch of stalactites formed in the shape of a lion’s head;
- Kotilingalu Chamber - This section contains stalactite formations which are akin to shiva lingams. This section has thousands of such stalactite giving it a surrealistic look. It has one huge pillar formed due to stalactite and stalagmite joining together.
- Patalaganga - It is a small perennial stream which disappears into the depths of the earth. This stream flows from the southeast to northwest. It disappears and is believed to be heading towards a well at the Belum village, located 2 km away from the caves.
- Saptasvarala Guha or Musical Chamber - Saptasvarala Guha means chamber of seven notes. The stalactite formations in this chamber reproduce musical sounds when these are struck with a wooden stick or knuckles. This section was opened to the public in 2006.
- Dhyan Mandir or Meditation Hall - This section is near to the entrance. An interesting formation at Meditation hall looks like a bed with pillow to recline. The local legend has it that in ancient times many sages use to live here. This section was used by Buddhist Monks. Many relics of Buddhist period were found here which are now housed in museum at Anantapur.
- Thousand Hoods - This section has amazing stalactite formations shaped like hood of Cobra. The stalactite formations on the ceiling looks as if thousands of cobras have opened their hoods.
- Banyan Tree Hall - This section has a huge pillar with stalactites hanging from the ceiling. This gives a look of Banyan Tree with its aerial roots when seen from below. The locals call it "Voodalamari" since it looks like a Banyan Tree with its aerial roots hanging from the branches.
- Mandapam - This is a huge area inside the cave with magnificent stalcite structures on the sides giving it a look of a hall with pillars.
Entrance to caves
The tourists are charged an amount of ₹65.00 for entrance. Foreign Tourists are charged ₹300.00 per person for entrance. APTDC has installed electronic gates at 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 two pits side by side and third pit a little further away. After descending around 20 meters by the stairs from the entrance, the caves become horizontal. The first section one enters is called Gebauer Hall named after Speleologist Mr H. Daniel Gebauer, who had explored and mapped the caves in 1982-1983. The path to Gebauer Hall leads below the second opening, which lies next to the main entrance.
Awards to APTDC for Belum Caves
- In, 2003, APTDC won the prestigious "National Tourism Awards" instituted by Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India, for its initiatives in developing and promoting Belum Caves.
- Belum caves was also adjudged the best destination award 2002 at the Tourism and Travel Fair held in Bangalore in 2002.
APTDC runs Punnami Hotel in vicinity of Belum Caves. The only accommodation type offered is a 32 bed dormitory. The charges for dormitory accommodation is ₹40.00 per person. This hotel is planned to be upgraded in future. APTDC also runs a restaurant and a small shop at the entrance to Belum Caves.
Nearest towns are Tadipatri (30 km) and Banganpalli (20 km) where one can find hotels to stay. There are no other place nearby where one can find a restaurant or any sort of eating joint. It is advisable to carry a bottle of drinking water when visiting the caves since it get very hot and humid at certain sections.
Kurnool (106 km) and Anantapur (85 km) are other places to stay and these places have good hotels. Both of these places are well connected by road and train.
Kolimigundla (3 km from Belum Caves) has a Vijayanagar era Swami Laxmi Narayan temple situated on a hillock. This temple is visible from Belum Caves also.
Tadipatri has two Vijayanagar era temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu respectively.
Gandikota, referred to as the Grand Canyon of India.