Let's go spelunking! No, it's not a funny sound; it's a word and one that is filled with adventure. Spelunking refers to the hobby or practice of exploring caves. And now that we know what the word means, let's take adventure a notch higher. Caves are not everyone's cup of tea, but those who find excitement at the prospect of entering a dark hole in the ground (or sometimes under water), caves are wonderful source of adventure, a lot of fun for sure. Caves are natural space, usually underground, large enough for us humans to enter, formed by weathering of rocks caused due to natural agents like wind and water. Our planet Earth, as old as it is, is constantly undergoing weathering and over the years, have formed some of the most amazing looking caves and cave systems in the world. Be it the space right below a desert or surrounded by ice or by magma, the subterranean world is an interesting one with many species of flora, fauna, yet to be discovered. Not to forget the well preserved fossils and other evidence of life from millions of years ago. Here are some of the most spectacular caves from around the world that you need to put on your adventure bucket list.
Caves of Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills, Meghalaya, India
How often does a state, or even a country for that matter, gets to share its name with a geological age? Meghalaya has that feather in its cap and it goes by the name of Meghalayan Age, the present geological age we are living in! The Meghalayan Age comprises of the Earth's history dating from 4,200 years ago to present. And all credit goes to the superb caves of Meghalaya. A plateau in form, boasting of beautiful table-top hills and verdant pine-covered hills, Meghalaya has an equally beautiful subterranean world that not many know of. Till date, 1700 caves have been discovered and from one such caves, Krem Mawmluh, was discovered a stalagmite that has definitely put the northeast Indian state of Meghalaya on the world map. One of the caves, Krem Puri or ‘Fairy Cave’, at 24.5km, stands proudly as the world’s longest sandstone cave. How about adding Meghalaya to your adventure bucket list?
Caves of Sagada, Philippines
When in Sagada, there are two things you need to keep in mind before anything else—hanging coffins and connecting caves. The former is based on eligibility (you need to be married and with grand children), the latter is purely based on your take on thrill and adventure. There are two very popular caves in Sagada—Sumaguing and Lumiang Caves—and you can explore both caves (4-5 hours duration) by traversing the unique system that connects these two caves. If you think over ground scenery of Sagada is pretty, wait till you see the underground beauty.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
Visiting this cave would comprise of an amazing boatride under the soft glow of glowworms. Glowworms are the stars (literally) no doubt, but the limestone formations inside the cave are spectacular too. A tour of the cave system consists of three levels—entrance or the top level of the cave and the catacombs, Banquet Chamber and Cathedral. The aforementioned boatride happens on your way out of the cave, through the Glowworm Grotto, on the underground Waitomo River, entire stretch lit by glowworms.
Fingal's Cave, Scotland
This sea cave is located on the island of Staffa, Inner Hebrides of Scotland. A part of a National Natural Reserve, Fingal's Cave with its natural acoustics is a natural wonder. For centuries, Fingal's Cave has inspired many forms of art, be it music or books or movies. The unique hexagonal basalt columns are the main attraction and are formed within a Paleocene lava flow. There are sightseeing cruises (April to September) that takes visitors to the mouth of the cave and since the cave is filled by the sea, it's best explored (on foot) when the tide is low. When the tide is in favour, you will find a walkway formed by the basalt columns, perfect for short walks inside the cave. Music composer Felix Mendelssohn (The Hebrides), author Jules Verne (Journey to the Centre of the Earth), poets like William Wordsworth, John Keats and Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Queen Victoria were some of the popular visitors to the cave.
Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave, Austria
The 42km long limestone and ice cave is located inside the Hochkogel mountain in Werfen. For visitors the cave is open from May to October every year. The cave tour begins with Posselt Hall where the Posselt Tower is the main attraction and if you spot a cross on the cave wall, you have gone far enough. The tour then proceeds to the Great Ice Embankment ( a 25m ice formation), Hymir's Castle (for amazing stalactite formations), Alexander von Mork Cathedral and then finally to the ice Palace. This is the farthest you explre inside the cave. Visitors might as well learn the art of appreciating natural beauty with their heart and mind because photography is not allowed once inside the cave.
Carlsbad Cavern, United States of America
Located in the Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico, Carlsbad Cavern is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country. Carlsbad Cavern's Big Room, a massive limestone chamber, is the chief attraction. There is a lot for a visitor to do; be it self-guided tours or camping (with due permission) or even dining inside the cave, Carlsbad Cavern has got them all covered. It's not just spelunking here at Carlsbad, events such as stargazing and bat flghts are also hosted by the national park. The latter is probably for the bold and for which, the best time to visit is in July-August.
Sarawak Chamber, Malaysia
The largest known cave chamber in the world is located in Gua Nasib Bagus cave in Gunung Mulu National Park, in the Malaysian side of Borneo. This mammoth chamber is not for the fainthearted as to reach to the chamber from the entrance, one has to follow the river upstream, swim and then walk along a ledge. A guided tour is advised and can be arranged by the national park. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of it; at 600m long, 435m wide and 115m high, Sarawak Chamber is a mammoth of a chamber.