India is a treasure chest of surreal places. For a country that is blessed with historical gems, architectural wonders, scientific mysteries and natural beauty in every corner, it still manages to surprise one with the diversity of experiences. One such experience has been witnessing the grandeur of Gandikota gorge and Belum caves. Popularly known as ‘Grand Canyon of India’, Gandikota gorge is a natural miracle and is sure take one’s breath away. Not very far from it are Belum caves, another marvel of nature, that were used for meditation but are chaotically beautiful!
(In picture: Gandikota gorge or canyon)
The gorge is in Gandikota village, which is situated on the banks of the Pennar River in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh. Formed between the Erramala range of hills, and river Pennar that flows at its foot, the region is a natural wonder filled with massive steep rocks, boulders of red granite and gorgeous views at sunset and sunrises!
Gandikota fort ruins
While there is famous view of gorge on one side, we spotted the beautiful remains of bastions along the bank of river on the other side. The fort derives its name from Telugu word ‘gandi’ meaning gorge and ‘kota’ meaning fort. Once an impregnable military stronghold of Pemmasani dynasty, commanders of Vijayanagar army, it was built by Kapa Raja in 1123. The gorge formed a natural moat around the fort, giving it a defense advantage. It played a significant role during Kakatiya, Vijayanagar and Qutub Shahi period. It has remains of temples, mosques, water tanks, granary and jail inside it.
(In picture: Ruins of Gandikota fort)
Temples and mosques in Gandikota fort
The temple’s grand gopuram (temple gate) is visible from a distance. It is said to have been built by king Krishnadevaraya in 15th century. It has beautiful carvings on the pillars and ceiling.
(In picture: Remains of Madhavraya temple)
Another temple built around similar time period, this temple is in ruins but has intricate carvings on the ceiling and mandapa pillars. The shrine is devoid of an idol, which may have been stolen/destroyed.
(In picture: Remains of Ranganathaswamy temple)
Next to Ranganathaswamy temple is Jamia masjid, built in 16th century. It has beautiful multi arched entrance and a big prayer hall, flanked by minarets on all four sides.
(In picture: Remains of Jamia masjid, source: internet)
These caves are so dazzling and huge, I felt tiny and lost in them! Belum caves are second longest underground caves in Asia. They are said to be 3.5 kilometer long, and tourist are allowed till a distance of 1.5 kilometer. It is believed that monks meditated here in the past.
They get their name from Sanskrit word ‘bilum’ which means hole, and were formed by flowing of water on limestone deposits over millions of years. They are known for the resulting Speleothem, stalactite and stalagmite formations.
The biggest highlight of these caves is that they have constant flow of underground river which goes down to the deepest point of 151 feet (not open to tourists) and is rightly called Paatalganga.
(In pictures: Belum caves. Pictures taken by co-travelers)
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(All pictures are taken by me unless mentioned)