There is something between me and ancient, dark caves.
When I was a kid my favorite book was “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” The part where Tom and Becky get lost in the caves was the most thrilling part for me. I longed to be inside a cave and get lost. Somehow the entire story had become so ingrained in me that I developed a life-long romance with caves.
But my cave adventure had a long way coming. I grew up in Assam and as an engineering student in Chennai, I started traveling to the southern states near me with the meager pocket money that I could save. Time passed, I did MBA and landed a job which now afforded a little money for my travel adventures to begin.
It was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I had my first real, dark, silent as death experience. But my cave explorations continued and I would list down the caves which affected me the most, Tom Sawyer style. Dark cave is my most favorite, remember.
1. “Dark cave” — in the Batu Caves complex, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
This is the best one in the entire list. It is the real Tom Sawyer style cave. All the other caves I have visited can’t even begin to compare to this cave.
The Dark Cave is the offbeat part of the famous Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur. Batu Caves are famous for the Hindu shrines built inside the caves and are thronged by Indians regularly. But the Dark cave remains obscure. Even I landed there because I was curious about the other parts of Batu Caves.
The Batu Caves were visible from our stay and looked glorious.
Batu Caves is a popular Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan. We first visited the Ramayana Cave where there were depictions from the Ramayana chronicled along the cave walls.
But I am not going gaga over the Batu caves. No!
The only place that interested me the most was the dark cave which we found halfway on the stairs leading to the Temple cave on the right side of the complex.
The Dark Cave
The Dark Cave is one of the most researched tropical caves in the world because it is home to an ancient animal community that is 100 million years old–The Trapdoor spider, the rarest spider in the world. There are guano(bat poop) pools that drive the ecosystem of this ancient cave.
The Dark Cave Management Group conduct guided educational tours to educate people of the importance of caves in the ecosystem.
I signed up for the tour and 20 of us were taken by a fun and informed guide for the cave exploration.
It was pitch dark inside, just the way I had always dreamt of a cave. The guide asked us to keep our flashlights low because it would otherwise disturb the bats living in the caves. Sometimes he would show us a millipede that looked like a cooked grain of rice. He showed us some rare species of spiders and cockroaches, but the rarest Trapdoor spider could not be spotted because it lives in the inner caverns of the cave which are closed to tourists in order to not disturb the cave creatures.
I saw magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. To think that it took nature millions of year to form these structures inch by inch. Some of them were still forming, we could see water droplets falling from them. There were exotic structures that I could not photograph, they looked like huge waves frozen in time and are called cave curtains.
After the journey through all the stages of the cave, the guide brought us to the only point in the cave where light enters. It was eerie as hell. The wind was blowing with a mysterious hollow sound to it like a banshee and all the members of the group felt a sudden chill. The guide said it was because of the difference in the air pressures in the chamber that the wind produced such a sound. He said the inner chambers had very little oxygen and thus were not safe for human exploration. Also, it would disturb the rare specimens of organisms living there.
But the highlight of the tour which spooked a part of my psyche forever was when our guide brought us away from the light opening into a middle chamber where there was no light, and our torchlights could not fathom how high the ceiling went or how low the surrounding pools were. At this no soul’s juncture, he ghoulishly hissed, “I request everyone to switch off the lights with me. No bringing out cell phones. Let us appreciate the silence and darkness of the cave for a minute.” A girl gang near me squeaked, terrified and created a fuss of being afraid. But eventually, all who were terrified obliged and we switched off the lights.
Nobody talked. Because there was an absolute absence of light. Never, when I say never, I swear. Never have I experienced such an absence of light in my life. It was like we didn’t exist. Nobody murmured, such absolute was the consciousness of the darkness. I realized that I would go mad if I were left in such darkness and silence, my thoughts rushed to Tom Sawyer and Becky. I felt an inner peace.
Abruptly, the guide brought us back to the world of light by switching on the torch and said, “If I left you here alone for an hour, you would go mad. Such profound is this isolation from the world. So appreciate this because we need such places to marvel at in this world. So remote from human distraction.”
That was the deepest experience I had with darkness, and I still shudder when I think of such darkness and silence.
2. Khao Khanub Nam cave in Krabi
The caves inside these landmark twin hillocks that flank the sea are home to skeletons 43,000 years old. It seems floods had trapped the inhabitants seeking shelter in these caves who had perished in the onslaught. Though a bit touristy because you will see artifacts and skeleton remains labeled inside a glass, the cave’s stalactites and stalagmite are nonetheless impressive. The opening of the cave is a beautiful view with an extraterrestrial landscape.
This one is closer to home, in the Idukki district of Kerala in India. This man-made tunnel, though not a natural cave is still scary and beautiful at the same time. There was a guide who warned me not to venture too far inside as oxygen gets rarer inside the tunnel. There was water gushing into the tunnel and it was difficult to walk on the sharp stones and pebbles. But the experience is really worth it.
4. Guna caves in Mangrove forest, Langkawi
This cave is part of the Kilim Geopark and is situated on the river Kilim. It is home to fruit eating bats. The location of this cave is beautiful as it is surrounded by mangroves. There are signboards outside that inform you about a plant called “The Living Fossil”. It looks like a fern but has a woody stalk. This tree is called Cycad. It is a primitive plant that existed 200 million years ago, way before the days of the dinosaurs.
That’s all the cave adventure I have had till now. But I am sure there are much more to come. Can you suggest me your favorite caves?
Also, read my other travel stories