Caving is a sport to check out if you’re excited about exploring hidden spaces, don’t mind crawling in mud or through tight rock niches, and don’t panic when enclosed in a dark, damp holes in the ground. Hiking long distances, sliding over mud and slippery rock surfaces, rappeling down long vents, setting up anchors or jumaring up vertical sections, and sometimes even scuba diving underwater passages are all part of the package when you go caving, all supplemented with a healthy dose of beautiful rock formations, clear pools and other creations of nature you wouldn’t find in the outside world. It is a different place altogether, completely secreted away.
And to help you understand how to go about getting an access to this hidden world, The Outdoor Journal spoke to Ashley Erasmus Lyngdoh (who runs the adventure group Green Route in Meghalaya) and Sagar Sen, a computer wiz and outdoorsman, who share their first cave exploring adventure.
In India, one of the best places to go cave exploring is Meghalaya; with its seemingly never ending networks of caves, which have been included in the list of world’s longest and deepest caves. The most popular cave network among beginners is the Krem Mawmluh or Krem Mawkhyrdo, which has a bit of everything (wading through waist deep water, crawls under just 2 ½ feet of ceiling, stalactite and stalagmite formations, rock fossil formations and best of all..bats!).
The total distance of a beginner’s trek in this cave system is about 5 kms and boasts beautiful formations, the roar of an underground river system, vertical climbs and crystal clear pools with crabs and small fish- these creatures whitish or clear in colour, possibly due to pigmentation.
Krem Ri- Blai, Krem Chympe and other cave systems around Meghalaya are much tougher in terrain, environment and even harder to get to. Krem Ri-Blai is just one way down and one way up stopping to rest on false floors and crevices.
Meghalaya Adventure Association mainly venture and explore these caves for mapping and climatology studies with a team of biologists. One has to be technically qualified in mountaineering skills with ropework for most extreme vertical caves, especially in the Jaintia hills towards Shnongrim, Khliehriat, Pala Range etc.. SRT (Single Rope Technique) kits, harness, descenders and ascenders are normally used.
But the first step is suiting up! The Green Route provides its explorers with workshop dresses (or body suits) to protect against scratches, LED headlamps, gum boots, gloves and helmets. When exploring, the travellers are assisted by professional guides who help you navigate the caves safely. It is important to remember to stay with the group, ask for a helping hand when you need to jump a ledge if necessary, lookout for the person in front and behind you and try not to disturb the rock formations.
People with claustrophobia or other phobias related to darkness better avoid caving. Sometimes the stale air could also be noxious to some people.
The very principle of caving, however, is to explore the caves while avoiding harm to yourself, and to the cave. Unfortunately, caves such as the Krem Mawmluh are terribly polluted due to persistent mining in the area and the nearby cement factory. During monsoons, the caves are flooded with water and with this water, pollutants and plastics also make their way inside the caves. Therefore, it is essential to keep in mind that you minimize the impact of your visit to the caves.
Leave behind nothing but footprints…
Cost of first caving trip: The beginner’s cave will cost Rs 1,800 (USD 30)/- per head (inclusive of batteries, helmets, equipment).
Rs 1,500 (USD 25)/ guide (up to 4 pax).
Extra cost is Rs 1,500/- for transportation of equipment from Shillong to Cherra and back. You also have an option of riding to Cherra on Royal Enfields (as pillion of course) and cheaper at Rs 850 (USD 14)/- per bike. Rentals are Rs 1000 (USD 16)/- per bike.