Belum Caves is the second largest cave in Indian sub-continent and the longest caves in plains of Indian Subcontinent.
Belum Caves derives its name from "Bilum" Sanskrit word for caves. In Telugu language, it is called Belum Guhalu. Belum Caves has a length of 3229 meters, 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 deposite 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 remenants 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 was being 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. Finally in the yeat 1999, Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation took over the task of beautifying and mainting the caves. APTDC sanctioned Rs.75,00,000.00 to develop the caves.
The caves are now managed by Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC). Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (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 cave, APTDC has installed bridges, staircase, etc. for easy movement inside tha cave. 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.
Main Sections of Belum Caves
Entrance to Caves
The tourists are charged an amount of Rs.25.00 for entrance. Foreign Tourists are charged Rs.300.00 per person for entrance. APTDC has installed electonic 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 a 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
Distance from major cities/towns
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 Rs.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.
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.