Belum caves known as Belam Guhalu by the locals, are located in a village named Belum in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. According to historical evidences, these caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks and Jains in the past. Remnants of pre-Buddhist era vessels were found in the caves that date back to 4500 B.C.E (Before Current Era).
Though the caves were noticed by a British archaeologist in the late 19th century, these remained unnoticed till further exploration was made by a German team in 1982-83.
The Telugu word 'Belum' is a transformed word of 'bilum' which means cave.
Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) developed these caves into tourist attractions and beautified these with illumination and fresh-air-shafts inside the caves. The caves are well maintained / managed by APTDC which installed bridges, railings and stairs for the easy movement of the tourists inside the caves.
Belam guhalu are the underground caves that are naturally formed due to the perennial flow of underground water. There are long passages and spacious chambers in the caves. 'Paataala Ganga' is the deepest point of the caves which is at a depth of 150 feet from the entrance level. The caves are 3229 metres long and are the second largest natural caves in India.
Main Places to Visit in Belum Caves
- The natural arch formation in the shape of lion's head. This is known as Pillidwaram. (pilli is the Telugu word for cat and dwaram means entrance).
- Paataala Ganga - the deepest point of the caves where there is small perennial stream that flows into the earth.
- Kotilingala Chamber - At this place you can see one huge pillar that is formed of stalactite and stalagmite together. You can also find several small stalactite formations which give the appearance of small Shivalingams. Hence the name 'kotilingalu' which means thousand 'lingas'.
- In 1000 hoods section you will find awesome formations of stalactite on the ceiling that look like the hoods of cobra.
- An interesting place inside the caves called the 'Saptaswarala Guha' where you can strike the stalactite formations and will be amazed to hear the musical reverberation / echo.
- At Dhyana Mandiram near the entrance you will find an interesting rock formation which looks like a recliner or a bed. According to locals, it is said that this recliner style rock formations was used by ancient sages and Buddhist monks for performing meditation i.e 'Dhyanam'.
- 'Voodalamarri' i.e Banyan tree with aerial roots. At this place you can see a huge pillar like rock formation hanging down from the ceiling. When you see from below, it appears like a huge banyan tree with aerial roots. Hence, the section got the name 'voodalamarri' which is a Telugu word for Banyan tree with aerial roots.
Entrance fee is Rs.50/- per head for locals / Indian tourists and Rs.300/- per head for foreign tourists.
There are electronic iron gates at the entrance and metal staircase to reach the caves.
Tadipatri, which is in the main line, is the nearest railway station to reach the caves and is at a distance of 30 Km. There are frequent buses from the station that ply to Belam Guhalu. Private cabs are also available.
It's an interesting place for family picnics and for geologists to research. However, the road leading to the caves is in average condition. There are resting places outside the caves and APTDC run Haritha resort. There are narrow serpentine paths inside that takes you to different sections in the cave. It's a well maintained place which is enjoyable and interesting to explore. It's humid inside the caves.
Images Courtesy: wikipedia.