Snow covered peaks, winding narrow roads, clear blue sky and magestic wildlife is what comes to mind when you think about the northern state of India, Uttarakhand. Everywhere I travel I love to visit the unexplored and off-beat places of that region instead of the usual touristy ones. During one such visit to Uttarakhand I visited some amazing places that hardly find a place in the online or offline guides for tourists.

The Patal Bhuvaneshwar Temple Caves are situated in Bhubneshwar village in Uttarakhand about 110 kms from Binsar. The road to the caves is through the mountains and not very well maintained. The journey can be long due to the condition of the roads but it is definitely a picturesque one. The motorable road ends about 500 metres away from the caves. The rest of the way is to be covered on foot by taking the few odd steps that lead to the entrance of the cave. The caves have appointed guides who take people inside the caves and cameras are strictly not allowed here.

Of all the caves I have visited so far, there is none that has left me so awestruck and confused at the same time as this one. The Patal Bhuvaneshwar caves are a series of underground caves shaped by the flow of water in the mountainous region. The entrance of the caves is very narrow and dark. No matter how adventurous you are, looking at the entrance does make you rethink your decision to enter the caves once. The people who came out of the caves just before we were about to enter told us that is was scary in the beginning but absolutely worth visiting inside. We gathered up some courage and began to descend inside.

There aren’t proper steps inside, so visitors need to slide and step carefully and perform all sorts of acrobatic positions your guide instructs you to while holding onto a metal chain that runs from the top to the bottom to complete the descend. (If you are even slightly more than average in height and weight, this descend will make you question your dietary and life choices like never before.) The caves are 90 ft below ground level so by the time you reach the bottom you feel like you are deep inside the earth. To much relief, the caves are well lit at the bottom. The caves are 160 metres long and are connected to each other internally. The caves have a lot of different rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites of various shapes and sizes.

But here comes the really funny part, throughout the tour the ‘appointed guides’  that accompany all the tourists narrate really incredible and bizarre mythological stories about the caves. Nowhere is the scientific reason behind the formations or the geological origins mentioned. Our guide painted stories around every rock formation assigning it references right from the Mahabharata to Ramayana to Lord Shiva to Kalyug and 100 other mythological stories neither me nor my parents had ever heard of. Our only option to respond was to pretend we believed every word he said and nod along. I genuinely admire the conviction with which the guides narrate these folklore and tall tales. Imagine telling someone that the water dripping from the roof of a cave on a particular rock is because some mythological character promised to worship a Shiva-ling (the rock) by pouring water on it all his life and centuries later the same is being continued.

All in all, the caves are a geological marvel that have immense potential for tourism.  The various rock formations, the mysteriously blocked pathways and water dripping at various points in the cave left me with a lot of unanswered questions that I hope I will someday get scientific and logical answers to. Whether you are a religious person or a sceptic like me, this place should definitely be on your bucket list any time you visit Uttarakhand !

 

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