By Rahul Vaishnav
Bastar (Chhattisgarh): Walking down the narrow, steep staircase in a rock crevice surrounded by dense foliage, one enters through a small iron door the pitch dark and intimidating Kutumsar caves. Considered one of the longest caves in the world, the exhilarating journey which lasts for about an hour is a must for those seeking an adrenaline rush.
Situated in the Kanger Valley National Park in Bastar, which is around 350 km from the Chhattisgarh capital Raipur, in central India, the caves have been named after the nearby village and are 40 feet deep and an amazing 4,500 feet in length.
The entrance of the cave is extremely narrow and big enough only to crawl through. However, a couple of feet down via the man-made iron staircase the caves open up to be explored with the help of guides equipped with solar lanterns. Once inside, the enigmatic setting will help you play out your Indiana Jones of Hardy Boys fantasies as you walk on the uneven and treacherous rocky surface thrilled by the fear of the unknown.
However, breathing in the damp air amidst pitch darkness and echoing sounds does make it a spooky adventure and a strict no-no for the faint-hearted or claustrophobic.
As the torch light falls on the rocks around, mystifying and vivid stalactite and stalagmite formations on the roofs and walls are a visual treat powerful enough to trigger your imagination.
The natural patterns have formed over hundreds of years due to rain water percolating through small crevices in the rocks. While a pattern on the roof may resemble the eyes of goddess Durga another on the wall may look like an elephant’s trunk or a peacock’s feathers.
As you move ahead, small water pockets are inhabited by a unique species of fish and frogs which according to the locals are genetically blind, breeding in the dark depth as not even a single ray of sun penetrates inside.
There are several chambers inside the caves in all directions and in 2011 a new chamber believed to be 410 metres deep was discovered.
However, the guided tour passes through one main cave and venturing into the other chambers is prohibited. Access to the main cave too is limited to a point owing to lack of oxygen.
At the very end of the main cave lies the naturally formed Shiva ling and every year on Maha Shivratri hordes of locals climb down to offer prayers.
According to local folklore, the caves were first discovered in 1951 by tribals who were hunting a porcupine and followed it inside the caves. However, as per the official version, the caves were discovered around 1958 by geographer Shankar Prasad Tiwari.