In the past, when someone mentioned Cherrapunjee, my thoughts would rush back to my geography textbook in school. Having once held the record for the rainiest place on earth, there was nothing else about Cherrapunjee that found mention anywhere. But, the Khasi and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya hold within them secrets-deep, dark and mysterious.
Surrounding this hamlet is a repository of strange, beautiful and sometimes haunting natural phenomena.
Over a thousand natural limestone caves- a labyrinth of tunnels, hallways and spaces large and small-are concealed within the hills of Meghalaya. It’s all black, except for the glistening of the rock face and the occasional glitter of the limestone crystals covering the stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Krem Mawsmai, Krem Mawmluh and Krem Umshyrpi are some of the longest and most stunning caves in India sub-continent. Most of these caves are still unexplored and unmapped, giving rise to a new adventure sports called spelunking or caving-the exploration of unmapped caves. Expeditions of cavers from Europe and other continents visit this region every year to cover uncharted territory.
Of these caves, Krem Mawsmai ( ‘krem’ meaning ‘cave’ in Khasi, and Mawsmai’, translating to ‘Oath Stone’ ) is a relatively easy cave for beginners to navigate. Lit up with halogen lamps, this 820ft long stretch is awe-inspiring, spine-tingling, and to certain degree, claustrophobic.
The Mawsmai cave is located 6km from the main town of Sohra, as Cherrapunjee is locally known. A harmless looking opening in the rock face is hidden behind a curtain of green, giving way to a gradual descent into the dark and dank interior of the hill. All trace of natural light disappears within seconds, and the walls and roof begin to close in, forcing as to walk single file along the crater-ridden cave.
Jagged spears point down at us from the cave roof, as water drips into our saucer-eyes and open mouths. Misshapen pillars rise up out of the cave floor; million-year-old structures glittering with crystal deposits. These stalactite and stalagmite formation are the result of over a million years of incessant rain and formidable weather conditions.
And the cave, which goes 40ft deep at a certain point, resonates with whispers, and like clouds do, it takes the shape of our imagination. Many see gods and goddesses; the children see monster faces; some see the melting faces of old men, giant brains and other sorts of grotesque imagery.
Sloshing through ankle-deep water and navigating stepping-stones, we reach an opening that is around 3ft high and wide. Scrambling through the menacing hole on all fours, balancing precariously on the slippery rock, the other side takes my breath away.
We’re in a cave almost 40ft high, with smooth, glistening walls and a placid pool of unknown depth. Dagger-like structures point down at us from the roof, undoubtedly sheltering eerie life forms, and the flap of wings echo within. The mouth of the beast has given way to what I imagine is the belly of a whale. Crossing a narrow bridge across the cave pool, guided by a faint halogen lamp, I wonder what secrets this ancient cave preserves.
Crawling through the undulating cave terrain is easy once past the beast’s belly. Just as the dark begins to get cruel, faint rays of natural light stream in from above. A hole in the cave roof, even a creeper or two poking in, cast a natural spotlight below. Looking like some sort of Messiah standing in the spotlight is a tall, unruly-haired traveler named Rohit. Stretching, he exclaims, ”Finally, my moment in the sun. This Krem isn’t built for people over 5ft tall!”
Climbing out on all fours, blinded by golden and green of the forest, cheesy as it sounds, I can’t help but think -I Krem, I saw as hell did conquer.
Where to stay
Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort: A homely, family-run establishment in the heart of the forested mountains with a great view of the plains Bangladesh. Village Laitkynsew, Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya , India