Krem Puri (Michal Spigiel)
Coming to the cave itself, the formations in the caves were like nothing like I have ever seen. Large beautiful formations and parts so pristine, we had to be extra careful.
I’ve always described myself as a fairly adventurous person with the odd hike to a nearby place around the state of Meghalaya but when I was first introduced to caving, now that was a different experience. It was December last year when I went on my first caving weekend with Brian Kharpran Daly, an avid caver for over 25 years. We went to the Walong region of Meghalaya where we camped in a community hall and it was there that I saw my first actual cave! It wasn’t one of the show-caves that the tourists go to but this was an actual cave called Krem Riblai. We went deep into the cave where the rest of them did the surveying whilst I was observing and taking it all in. It was physically tiring but after a couple of hours in the cave, I felt like I had actually accomplished something. This was my introduction to caving. The next caving experience however would be a lot different from just a weekend as this was a month long expedition!
Cave pearls- Krem Rupa (Michal Spigiel)
I had been told that women cavers in the state were extremely rare with the only other woman caver I know being Mr. Daly’s daughter Shelley. There were moments of scepticism but fast forward two months later when I left Shillong with a team of 30 odd people...three from India and the rest from parts of Europe - it was overwhelming, not knowing what I had got myself into. I did not know anyone on the team but I just dove into the entire experience. I would have to live in a tent for almost a month, a first for me. The expedition was divided into two parts - the first two weeks we would stay in Sakwa which is an area in the Jaintia hills. The second part of it would see us move towards the Khasi hills and stay in the wettest place on the planet - Mawsynram.
The journey to Sakwa took approximately eight hours, most of which was off-roading. The Sakwa village in the Jaintia hills is underdeveloped with no basic facilities such as electricity and running water - this just made the experience even more unforgettable. Living in tents on the football ground was a nice scenic change from the hustle and bustle of town life in Shillong. The area is amazingly lush and green with thick bamboo cover. The caves are mainly limestone and absolutely beautiful. Krem Rupa, a cave not far off from the village was an absolute stunner. To get to the cave, we had to walk through the bamboo forest where one could easily get lost especially while coming back late evening (this actually happened with a team of cavers during the expedition). Coming to the cave itself, the formations in the caves were like nothing like I have ever seen. Large beautiful formations and parts so pristine, we had to be extra careful. Untouched crystal clear water, we had to walk along the traverse on the far side of the cave. Krem Rupa is one for the books as very few caves come close to it in terms of beauty. Parts of it were filled with mud where the team had a small fun mud fight!
Krem Rupa (Michal Spigiel)
Krem Sakwa (Michal Spigiel)
Another cave in the region which is my favourite is Krem Sakwa. Along with another caver Richa Sharma, I was taught Single Rope Technique by Richard Hudson, a caver from the UK. Hanging on the cliff while going down to the entrance of the cave proved quite challenging. The cave itself was spectacular. Not knowing how to swim proved disadvantageous as the cave had large pools of water and at some point I was stuck in the middle of the pool while the team went on ahead. It was only after a while that they realized that I was not behind them and came back to get me. Thankfully, the two cavers didn’t seem to mind getting me out of the large pools of water although it was a lesson to note - Learn how to swim before the next expedition! I don’t think I’ve had as much fun as I did that day; with almost drowning and having a fall or two, I’m just glad I got out of the cave in one piece!
The next day was also very memorable with a trek to the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen in my life! Although Meghalaya is known for its waterfalls, the Urdula falls was something else. Trekking through thick bamboo forests for about two hours with a local guide who was extremely fast, we, a team of three made our way to the falls to check out some leads on caves near the area. Before reaching the falls, we were covered entirely by thick canopies of bamboo trees and coming out of the shade to glistening golden sparkling rocks with a huge waterfall was just surreal! Unfortunately, we did not find any caves but we did see the most magnificent waterfall. When returning, Andrew Morgan and I were looking at potential caves in the forest when we lost sight of the guide and Colin. We followed the trail but weren’t sure about the path. We then heard a noise and assumed that it was the local guide trying to communicate to us where to walk; however, the direction of the sound kept changing and it was only after a long while that we realized that it was bamboos bursting from the heat. Seems silly now to think of it, but I suppose it makes for a good story on how the bamboos tried to pull one over on us!
Sakwa was a phenomenal experience. Next on the list was Mawsynram. Heading out of Sakwa, there was a sense of excitement especially since Mawsynram would include Krem Puri. In the last few weeks, all of social media has been bombarded by Krem Puri (Fairy cave). Krem Puri had broken the world record for the largest sandstone cave in the world, being 24.583 km long. The cave was first discovered in 2016 in Laitsohum but its actual length was measured during this expedition1.
Krem Puri is unassuming looking at it from the outside and the first 20 or so minutes inside the cave included a lot of crawling. It isn’t much to look at from an aesthetic sense unlike the limestone caves in the Jaintia hills, however, the complexity of the cave is amazing with the only way to describe it is as a maze with passages branching out into more and more passages.
Mawsynram was quite different from Sakwa where we lived in the middle of nowhere. The place where we set up camp was right in front of a road so there wasn’t really a sense of wilderness but there was a different charm to the second part of the expedition. Krem Puri was obviously a priority but the caves in the area also got their fair bit of attention. A cave with a beautiful huge entrance is Krem Dam. The cave is spectacular to look at from the outside and on entering, there are beautiful water bodies but as you go further, the cave gets cramped so you have to crawl. The expedition organizer Thomas Arbenz was full of knowledge on the different formations. This was the first time I saw a bat colony! I had seen an odd bat or ten in previous caves but this was entirely different. About fifteen hundred to two thousand bats on the roof of the cave. I used to think the odd bat in solitude was quite nice looking but 2000? That’s an entirely different thing. They make so much noise and it probably didn’t help that while looking up, the headlight shone right on them. So, they made a whole lot more of noise!
Krem Lawbah (Daniela Barbieri)
However, on a trip to Krem Lawbah which was a ten minute walking trip from the camp, there was the smallest and cutest bat I had ever seen. The trip to the cave was quite different from the others as I had accompanied the La Venta team which is a group of well known scientists from Italy. Watching them collect water samples and work was a learning experience and the beautiful the cave was an added bonus.
The expedition lasted a month but time flew by. Although caving was relatively new to me before the expedition now things seem to have changed - all I seem to think about these days are caves. I’ll just have to wait for the next caving trip. The rains have started in Meghalaya so going caving will be difficult for now. So until then, I’ll entertain myself with the odd hike.
A first time caver’s amazing experiences in Meghalaya, in Dec. 2017.
Jessica Passah works editorial consultant at The Northeast Today where her main focus is sports which she is passionate about. She is also a freelance writer, an avid trekker and loves the outdoors.