Do pictures really speak a thousand words?
No wonder in the Lord of the Rings dwarfs were cave people. Being tall or fat or both is a big disadvantage once you are inside a cave. The cave is cold, humid, and ruthless yet very beautiful. A first time caving (spelunking) expedition at Sahiya, near Chakrata, Uttranchal
The question came to my mind when I looked at the photographs of the recent spelunking aka caving expedition undertaken on June 24, 2012. To us, yes they spoke a thousand words, but were the pictures shared with our friends online, doing what they were supposed to? Were the pictures reflecting our excitement, our fears, our paranoia about that cave in Sahiya? Since I
doubted that, I decided to write this post. Before I begin our first spelunking experience, I must tell my readers how we ended up in Chakrata that weekend.
Our initial plan was to go to Billing, Himachal Pradesh for Paragliding, but it got cancelled as our SUV started giving ECU related errors a day before the trip. We were aware of the ECU recall that the car manufacturer had rolled out. We decided to get the car throughly checked on Friday morning before we embarked on our journey. At the workshop, things got delayed and our whole day got wasted. Later that evening when we were re-planning our journey, Neha came across cave expedition in Chakrata few weeks ago .
We decided to start on Saturday early morning for Chakrata. The heat and exhaustion of the previous day at the workshop took its toll on us and we could not get up for our usual 3 am drive. Instead by the time we left home it was nearly 7.30 am. The journey of 380 km took close to 11 hours. We camped ahead of Chakrata for the night and headed for Tiger fall next morning which was about 12-14km away from our camping site.After returning from Tiger falls, we headed towards Sahiya and met up with the Vxplor group along with whom we were supposed to go for a caving expedition.
It took us some time and a couple of turn around before we found our way to the cave near Sahiya. The cave is at the following coördinates 30°36’37.03″N, 77°53’39.01″E.
Before heading for the caves, we got all geared up with the knee, elbow guards, hard hat and gloves. Back then it all seemed like an overkill, especially when we were strongly advised not to carry our cameras inside the cave for they would get dirty, scratched and wet. Were we to listen to such advise, of course not! Who would have thought what lay ahead.Ok, till the time someone points the cave out, you can’t really see it. Unless maybe, you are an experienced spelunker (is that even a word?) After a small yet steep climb we were at the mouth of the cave. What follows the mouth; the food pipe. After stepping a few feet into the cave, we saw a crevice with walls about 50 feet long and 15 feet high. At the base of the crevice was a narrow trench which could not hold an adult human being beyond couple meters. Thus, we were forced to squeeze our bodies into the crevice. The walls were near
vertical and the only way to get to the other side (oh yes, there is an other side) was to drag your body in such a way that your knees and elbows support your weight while you lift and slide your torso to the right not more than a foot or two at a time. The gear was already put into use. The elbow and knee guards prevented our joints from injuries while the hard hat protected the head whenever you took the liberty of lifting yourself just a bit more so that you would get to the promised side quicker. Once inside the cave, you move at the pace the cave wants you to move. Did I mention before that the only source of light is the torch you carry. Unfortunately we did not have helmet torches so this made traversing into the cave a wee bit tougher.After dragging ourselves for about 15min we finally made it to an area.where we could stand on our two legs. After a Kodak (Canon & Nikon, actually) moment we headed towards the first in-cave waterfall. Having completed this leg of the expedition, there was a sense of achievement and pride in the air. We were finally inside the cave and we were going deeper.
I was also carrying car keys and two cellphones (which for obvious reasons did not work inside). The path that lay ahead only allowed us to crawl on our all fours and that too in a stream of running water which was being fed by the waterfall.
The cave being nearly endless, an exit has not been discovered yet, and thus, most people turn back after visiting this waterfall. Our guide told us about another waterfall few scores of meters ahead and we were all up for it.
On moving ahead we were welcomed by the smell of bat excreta. The path ahead was dry and loose. Since our clothes were all wet from the waterfall, grit, sand and bat excreta clung to our clothes like iron filings being attracted to a bar magnet. The tunnel leading to the second cave was even more narrow and pointed rocks would poke into our flesh every now and then. Every few minutes a bat would fly past us, close enough to make us feel its presence, yet far enough to stay away from us. The reason this path was dry unlike the previous one was that the water from the fall took a different course altogether. In the beams of our flash light we would often see smoke rising in various corners of the cave. This was not smoke but condensed pockets of water vapour freely floating inside.
For the next water fall we had to climb down 6 or 7 feet. Everyone managed to come down and while I was descending, the piece of the cave which borne my weight gave away and I nearly slipped. The next thought that ran across in my mind was, what if the cave collapses? Aren’t caves like a stack of dominoes, you disturb one them and the whole system simply crumbles. However, nothing of that sort happened. How else, I would be writing this.
After the descend we saw a broader waterfall but the tunnel from which water was flowing down was not very high. In fact, to me it seemed as if the tunnel from which the water was coming and the tunnel which we took to reach there were connected in the past and there was no water fall. Of course, the rocks would have given away by means of erosion or disturbed by some other agent resulting in that water fall.
Since we were aware that we have to drag our way out the same way we dragged ourselves in, a decision was made to head back to the open sky. We were low on energy by now but we were experienced and were aware of the obstacles that lay in our path. We were dreading the crevice which was at the mouth of the cave and the toughest of all. Now, that we were wet and tired, it made crossing it quite risky. One wrong move and the risk of serious injury increased.
In retrospection, I feel had it been just the two of us, we would not have gathered the courage to come this far too. To sum the whole experience up, it was more like squeezing your body through cracks and crevices, crawling in trenches with spikes projecting from all sides waiting for you to make one mistake, so that you can be instantly punished. Crawling through water filled trenches with bats all over narrowly missing you.. Yet close enough that you dont miss their presence. And icing on the cake (literally icing) was that we were forced to crawl on all fours in bat manure, with our face inches away from tasting the gooey icing. The best part was when we made out alive from there. Never loved the open sky this much.Had something gone wrong, a bad sprain or worse a broken limb, I am sure there is no way to come out without being perhaps dragged like a rag doll. In short, you are not allowed mistakes in there and you are absolutely not allowed to panic or give in to fear or tiredness.
No wonder in the Lord of the Rings dwarfs were cave people. Being tall or fat or both is a big disadvantage once you are inside a cave. The cave is cold, humid, and ruthless yet very beautiful.