Meghalaya (Abode of the clouds), known for its abundant exotic flora and fauna is home to many complex cave systems underneath its hills. There are about an estimated 1,650 caves and cave locations in Meghalaya alone of which only about 1,000 have been either explored partially or wholly. Official records say that Meghalaya has about 491 km of surveyed caves and a whole lot hidden in its hills yet to be discovered and explored.
Krem Puri or the ‘fairy cave’ which derives its name from the Khasi language (Krem meaning cave and Puri means fairy) is situated near the village of Laitsohum in Mawsynram in the East Khasi Hills district. Mawsynram is known to be one of the wettest places on earth receiving record-breaking annual rainfall. At an elevation of 1,227 m above sea level, Krem Puri overlooks a deep valley and has its opening at the base of a steep cliff.
Krem Puri is considered to be the world’s largest sandstone cave at 25,042 metres (it was previously 24,583 metres but has now been extended by another 459 m on further exploration). These caves are a treasure trove for geologists, marine biologists and palaeontologists.
The incredibly complex maze of hundreds of short passages and stretches of long corridors that are interconnected leaves you confused. The surveyors over the years have made interesting notes with names on the map of the cave to mark out various passage walls, ledges, pits and large rocks – for example, there is a Great White Shark which is an imposing grey rock resembling a shark floating in the middle, suicide ledges which are extremely brittle sandstone ledges, tight crawl referring to an incredibly narrow passage where you have to crawl your way through and dangerous boulders meaning rocks that look ready to drop any moment.
Normally caves are formed by the dissolution of limestone but these caves have been formed in sandstone. Geologists and researchers say that as Mawsynram has very high annual rainfall, the rainwater picks up carbon dioxide from the air turning it into a weak acid and dissolves the rock. Caves made in sandstone are uncommon because rock has low solubility and therefore, needs large amounts of water to dissolve and erode to create the underground voids.
This cave is particularly striking because sandstone caves are generally short in length and researchers conclude that the climatic conditions have allowed the cave to have a long length. The cave has some impressive speleothems i.e., breathtaking structures of stalactites and stalagmites. The beauty of these caves in terms of size and surface of the rock is awe-inspiring. The temperature inside the cave is around 16°C – 17°C and there is enough of oxygen and air movement flowing in through small openings, cracks and two entrances.
The flora and fauna found in Krem Puri are jotted down by marine biologists as time capsules of the underground environment (traces of events that happened on the surface of the planet like ice cover, volcanic activity and floods). Frogs, fishes, Giant huntsman spiders and bats are found here.
Palaeontologists have been enthusiastic about the findings of shark teeth and bones that may be of marine dinosaurs that lived more than 60 million years ago (possibly of Mosasaurus, aquatic squamate reptiles).
Even though human habitation has been ruled out, there is evidence that this cave was used as a wartime shelter, shelter for hunters and possibly a burial ground.
The mapping of this picturesque cave is yet to be finished as many of the areas of the cave are extremely inaccessible, dangerous to venture into and have challenging formations. It is still considered to be unsafe to explore alone as one may not be able to find their way out if they get lost inside.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)