Exploration 1997

Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project

Summary of Cave Exploration in the State of Meghalaya, N.E. India February/March 1997


Between 8th February and 24th March 1997 a team of 6 cavers from the UK (Simon Brooks, Tony Boycott, Estelle Sandford, Tony (J'Rat) Jarratt, Paul Edmunds and Andy Tyler) and 5 cavers from Germany (Daniel Gebauer, Georg Bäumler, Sämm Uwe Scherzer, Richard (Ritschie) Frank and Werner Busch) teamed up with cavers from the Shillong based Meghalaya Adventurers‘ Association to continue the exploration of caves in the remote N.E. Hill State of Meghalaya. The main activities of the expedition took place in the Jantia Hills District, near to the village of Lumshnong, between the 15th of February and the 5th March. After this period most of the team returned to either the UK or Germany and a much smaller group remained for another week clearing up loose ends in Lumshnong and completing the exploration of a large cave near to Jowai in the Jantia Hills. The concluding part of the expedition involved Daniel Gebauer remaining in Meghalaya for another two weeks to work with the Meghalaya Adventurers in exploring another cave in the Jantia Hills and a cave in the Khasi Hills.

With expedition fever is setting in, kit packed and a final assembly in the Hunter‘s Lodge on Mendip (so the UK team members don't forget what beer tastes like!!) it was off to Heathrow. Here, two bottles of Jameson‘s are collected at the duty free; one as a gift for Brian Kharpran Daly of the Meghalayan Adventurers Association, and another to be opened after the first kilometre of new cave is surveyed. Arriving in Calcutta, it was discovered that there was a 'Bandh' (student enforced strike) in Shillong and as a result the Meghalaya borders were closed for the next two days. So, it was two days partying and visiting people and places in Calcutta before the UK team members were able to take the flight to Gauhati in Assam and from there catch a bus to Shillong to eventually meet up with the five Germans and the Meghalayan Adventurers.


The following day the expedition left Shillong and drove to Lumshnong, and to the bungalow that was to be the expeditions base for the next three weeks. A party of fourteen, plus cooks, made the little bungalow very cosy!. The first days caving got off to a very good start and by splitting into four teams, 900m high level maze passage was found in Krem Um Lawan after an easy climb up from the streamway, Krem Kot Sati was physically linked to Krem Um Shor via a Mendip style, boulder pile disassembly method that gave access to, and added, 150m of new passage to the system. In Krem Kot Sati, 400m of passage was added to the streamway and a 10m deep pitch marking the previous end of the cave descended. With the total for the first day‘s caving adding up to well over the first kilometre of new passage the expedition members smugly drank the Jameson‘s that evening.

The next day a second, and very significant, connection was made when Krem Kot Sati/Krem Um Shor were joined to Krem Um Lawan. The connecting passage totalled about 650m, consisting of a lake, in which inflatable boats were used, a fearsome duck, and more delightful streamway ending in a 10m pitch in to the upper part of the Krem Um Lawan Virgin River Passage. More importantly, the Lumshnong System (Krem Kot Sati/Krem Um Lawan) was now over 13 km long so that evening the remaining Jameson‘s was finished off to celebrate India‘s first 10km+ cave.

Over the next two weeks, work continued in extending the Krem Kot Sati/Krem Um Lawan system to a total length of 19.2 km. Several new entrances where found, along with yet more excellent stream passage. By the use of a bamboo maypole with a wire electron ladder attached to the top, many high level leads were explored that added several kilometres of fossil passage to the system. On Thursday 20th February, the first complete end to end traverse of the Krem Kot Sati/Krem Um Lawan system was made.

This classic 5 km through trip enters Lake Inlet of Krem Um Lawan, goes up the Virgin River Passage (2km+ of beautiful steamway filled with gour lakes and dams), up the 10m pitch, through Krem Um Shor via the duck and canal and on through the boulder choke and into the Krem Kot Sati part of the system. From here the route continues in fine style through the main cave and finally the 270m swim up the canals to Synrang Thaloo (top sink entrance) to complete an excellent through trip and one of the best caves found to date in Meghalaya.

In parallel to the exploration and extension of the Krem Kot Sati/Krem Um Lawan system significant exploration was also taking place to the north of Lumshnong, near to the villages of Chiehruphi, Musianlamare and Thangskei. Near to Thangskei in particular six caves were explored, three of them significant. A cave called Krem Labbit (Bat Cave) was explored and surveyed over two days to yield almost 1000m of good sized (10m x10m) passage. Accessed via a man made coal pit the cave was linear in nature, well decorated and contained a small stream and pools. Located near to the same village another cave, known as Krem Malo, was partly explored. This cave, the expedition members were informed, was named in honour of a man called Lo (Ma meaning respect or honour to), who had died along with six others when his Tata coal lorry had slipped out of gear, run away backwards and fallen down the sizeable entrance shaft of the cave some five years previously. It was reputed that following the accident, the ever resourceful locals had built a long bamboo ladder which they had then used to bring out the bodies and salvage the useful bits from the lorry. This must have been some feat as the shaft was large and airy and a 50m free hang. Expedition members experience of using bamboo ladders in Siju Dhobakol Cave in the Garo Hills on previous expeditions (1994 and 1995) had stopped at what felt like an extremely precarious (and by comparison modest) 10m. At the base of the shaft the lorry was neatly located the right way up and was still just about recognisable as a Tata and complete with its Tata 1210 SE name plate. Descending the shaft using more conventional SRT, a streamway and a maze of larger dry passages were explored, yielding some 470m of passage, with more to be done. In the same area, Krem Umso, with it‘s spectacular entrance depression (Doline) was also explored and 1600m of fine river passage surveyed, ending in a spidery boulder choke.

Further to the north, near to the village of Musianglamare, a cave known as Synrang Pamiang was explored and just under 1700m of passage surveyed. With an entrance not unlike that of Peak Cavern in Derbyshire, UK, this cave diminished to a squalid entrance series as soon as it left daylight, but thankfully after 200m opened into a larger streamway that got gradually bigger, intersected some huge chambers and, enticingly, at the end of the 1997 expedition was still continuing unexplored and very big. A second cave, Krem Um Synrang, also at Musianglamare was surveyed to just under 1600m in length. This cave had a complicated entrance series that lead to two significant and well decorated passages that at the end of the 1997 expedition also continued unexplored. Both of these caves hinted at the presence of much larger systems awaiting discovery in the area.

Near to the village of Chiehruphi a small cave known as Krem Pyrda was surveyed for 240m. Accessed by a deep man made coal pit the initial cave passage was of a modest size. However, a hole in the floor at the end of one passage looked enticingly into a larger passage that could not be entered due to a lack of equipment and shortage of time.

Meanwhile, just to the south of Lumshnong, Krem Um Khang, (nicknamed Porcupine Cave after a rather smelly dead porcupine was found inside) was discovered and linked to another cave, Krem Um Kharasniang, to yield over 1700m of large dry passage. In the vicinity of Lumshnong itself, a cave called Krem Liat Hati was explored. Although quite a small cave at 190m in length, it had an interesting story attached to it. Local folklore suggested that the obvious hole in the roof of the main passage had been made many years ago by a timber hauling elephant that, whilst at work, had broken through the thin ceiling of the cave and fallen to it‘s death (Hati meaning elephant and Liat meaning fall). On the other side of the village another small cave, Krem Pohshnong, (this time without a story attached to it) had 200m of passage. In addition to this several other minor caves were explored in and around Lumshnong.

A reconnaissance visit was also made to the Lukka River valley which is a significant Karst area lying to the east of Lumshnong and in which there were reported to be large caves. On this occasion two caves were found near to where the main footpath from Lumshnong to the village of Khaddum joins the Lukha River. One being the 43m long active resurgence cave known as Krem Mahabon and the other the 230m long flood overflow cave known as Krem Moowar. Although modest these and other features indicated that the area had good potential in respect of future expeditions.


With time running out, the 27th February saw several of the UK and German team members leaving the area to return home via Shillong and Calcutta. Those remaining spent another couple of days tidying up loose ends in Lumshnong before moving on to Jowai and from there to Pdengshkap. The main objective in Pdengshkap was the extension of the massive Krem Pubon Lashing which, in 1995, had been explored for 1800m and contained some of the largest passage (50m x40m) yet found in India. The two main leads in the cave added another 1200m of impressive passage taking this fine cave to a respectable 3 km in length. The reminder of the UK party then returned to Shillong and from there to Calcutta. Unfortunately, once there, they had to spend two extra days stuck in the airport hotel before flying home thanks to their Air India flight being cancelled.


With the bulk of the expedition members having by now returned to either the UK or Germany, Daniel Gebauer, the remaining European member of the team, accompanied by members of the Meghalaya Adventurers‘ Association, spent a further three weeks in Meghalaya during which four additional days of cave exploration took place. Divided their time between Cherrapunjee (Khasi Hills) and the Douki (Jantia Hills), two more significant caves were surveyed and explored.

On the 17th of March, Krem Lawkhlieng, located in the Khasi Hills some 6 km's north of Cherrapunjee, was explored and surveyed yielded 2 km's of largely dry maze passage taking the total length of surveyed cave passage in the Cherrapunjee area to over 8 km's.

Towards the end of March a three day trip was taken to the village of Nongjri near to Douki in the Jantia Hills to explore Krem Lymput. This cave had previously been visited in Autumn 1995 by members of the Meghalaya Adventurers Association and had proven to be very large. Attempts to continue exploration in November/December 1995 had failed due to a landslide blocking the road and preventing access to the area. However, between the 22nd and 24th of March a small team explored and surveyed 2750m of excellent cave passage. This consisted of a large seasonally active river passage, a massive fossil passage filled with large formations, and along the length of the explored passage numerous un-pushed side passages. With much passage remaining to be explored in Krem Lymput, and rumour of other caves in the area, Nongjri is likely to be a focus for future expeditions.

On 29th March Daniel Gebauer left Shillong and returned to Germany marking the end of the February/March 1997 Cave Exploration in Meghalaya.


The February/March 1997 expedition had been very successful with a total of 24.2 km of new passage being surveyed and 14 new caves explored. In addition to this, India‘s longest cave had been extended from its 1996 length of 6.3 km's to a major cave system of over 19 km's in length. Building on the work of previous expeditions in 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1996 which have yielded in excess of 45 km's of cave passage, much of which is fine river cave, this most recent visit has taken the total length of surveyed cave passage in North East India to just over 69 km. To date, some 84 caves have been visited and locations of another 150 are known. There is plenty of limestone and the potential for more cave is considerable, with much of it likely to be in the form of spectacular river cave. As all the people who have visited this wonderful part of India will vouch, there is plenty left to do. With this being the case, another expedition is visiting Meghalaya in February/March of 1998 and plans being made for a further visit in November 1998.

Last modified: 30 Nov 2012 23:34