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Meghalaya  2006

Further Exploration and a New Indian Length Record

Tony Jarratt
Photos by Mark Brown

“They wound this way and that, far down into the secret depths of the cave, made another mark, and branched off in search of novelties to tell the upper world about.”
Mark Twain – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The Caving Team

Austria: Peter Ludwig (LVHOO)

Denmark: Louise Korsgaard, Torben Redder (DSS}

Meghalaya: Brian Kharpran Daly (MAA / GSG), Shelley and Lindsay Diengdoh, Babhar Kupar “Dale” Mawlong (MAA), Raplang Shangpliang (Shnongrim)

Switzerland: Thomas Arbenz (SNT)

Ireland: Des McNally (UCDCPC)

U.K:      Annie Audsley (BEC / GSG), Simon Brooks (OCC / GSG), Mark Brown (SUSS / GSG), Tony Boycott (UBSS / BEC / GSG), Imogen Furlong (SUSS), Roger Galloway (GSG), Matt Hutson (GSG), Tony Jarratt (BEC / GSG), Kate Janossy (GSG), Neil Pacey (RRCPC), Dave Hodgson (GSG), Hugh Penney (GUPA / GSG / RRCPC), Derek Pettiglio (GSG), Henry Rockliff (SUSS), Fraser Simpson (GSG), Jayne Stead (GSG), Fiona Ware (GSG), Terry Whitaker (NCC)

The Support Team

Adison “Adi” Thaba, Bung Diengdoh (organizers), Myrkassim Swer (chef), Vinod Sunor, Alam “Munna” Khan, Zobeda Khatoon, Roma Sutradhar, Sansun Lyngdoh, Raju Sunar (cooking team and “swally wallahs”), David Kimberly Patkyntein (driver / organizer), Sharkes Kharsyntiew, Teiborlang Khongwir (Sumo and jeep drivers), S.D.Diengdoh (bus driver), Jonathon Wanniang, Shemborlang Lyngdoh (bus driver’s assistants)

The Local Guides Team

Gripbyman Dkhar (Semmasi), Evermore Sukhlain, Moonlight Patlong, Menda Syih, Carlyn Phyrngap, Shor “Pa Heh” Pajuh, Kores (all Shnongrim), Ekna Sukhlain (Moolasngi) and many other helpful locals all along the Ridge and beyond.

The Media Team

David Laitphlang (PCN presenter and party animal), Andrew Kharpor, Deimaia L. Siangshai, Markin Marbaniang, Marlon Blein (Meghalaya), Pradeep Gogoi (Assam)

The Shillong Party Team

Bill Richmond, Col. Fairweather Mylliemngap, Maureen, Dabbie, Rose and the other Ladies of Shillong, Phong Kupar “Teddy” and Ksan Kupar “Ronnie” Mawlong, Gregory Diengdoh, Gareth, Patrick, Alan, Dennis, etc.    

The Expedition

Abstracted from the official expedition diary with additions from the writer’s personal log and assorted nonsense thrown in for good luck. Apologies for the tedium but the BB and GSG Bulletin are about the only places where these trips get recorded. Earlier reports which give a background to work on the Ridge can be found in BB 516, 519 and 522 and GSG Bulletins Fourth Series Vol 1 Nos 4 and 5 and Vol 2 Nos 2 and 4. Also the Meghalaya Adventurers’ Association soft bound history and overview of Meghalayan caving – available from both BEC and GSG libraries. A separate article on the exploration of Krem Labbit (Khaidong) will hopefully be written by Annie Audsley on her return from Pakistan. 

This year’s expedition to the magnificent caving regions of the NE Indian state of Meghalaya concentrated on several systems within the Nongkhlieh Elaka (district) including some old favourites like Krem Liat Prah and Krem Umthloo and the four major new finds of Krem Umsohtung, Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo, Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and Krem Labbit (Moolasngi). Many smaller sites were explored and documented and many more remain for future visits. The main team were again based in bamboo accommodation and tents on the Shnongrim Ridge with a satellite team spending a few days at the inspection bungalow in the nearby village of Semmasi. 15.5 km of passage was explored and surveyed resulting in the creation of a new record for India’s longest cave. This honour now goes to Krem Liat Prah, at present 22km in length and just beating the 21km Krem Umlawan / Kotsati system in nearby Lumshnong. Next year this cave should easily be extended to 30-35 kms and if luck and some very necky theories are on our side a length of 100 kms may be possible. Due to increasing conservation issues a press team were already luckily on hand to record the event and it is hoped that this distinction will assist in the protection of the Ridge and its vulnerable world-class cave systems, unique underground fauna and important subterranean watercourses.

February 5th saw the first batch of expeditionaries reach the capital, Shillong, where preparations for the fieldwork got underway and on the 7th the faithful school bus delivered them to the Ridge.

Next day Des, Neil, Henry and the writer commenced a long and frustrating session of “pot bashing” in the Lum Manar area where Krem Kya 1, 2 & 3 and Krem Siat Kriah 1 & 2 all became too tight at around  –15m and the nearby Krem Shnong Moo required digging to reach open passage.

Thomas continued with his surface mapping and recce project aided by Jayne, Brian, Terry and Raplang. This was to keep him fully occupied for the next three weeks and he only managed one caving trip but his dedicated devotion to this cartographic masterpiece earned him the team’s grateful thanks and a bottle of the finest Glenlivet.

Mark, Annie and Peter surveyed previously undescended pitches in the old favourite Krem Shyien Khlieh (nee Shynrong Labbit) and did further work in this system the following day.

On the 9th the boulder dig in Shnong Moo was passed and 35.5m of cave surveyed, via a tight vertical squeeze – the Nasty Little Twat - to too tight passages and a boulder choke. This was combined with more recce in the area guided by Shnongrim cow boy, Evermore, who pointed out 11 new sites!

 

Evermore and the writer ponder over the day’s prospecting with the aid of a freshly cut banana (tree)

 

Many of these were dropped on the 10th – Krem Kya 4 to a mud floor at  -40m, Krem Um Manong 2, where Imo pushed a tight, wet passage to an impasse at -35m, Krem Tyrtong Warim to -23m, Krem Pastor 6 to  -6m, Krem Pastor 5 to  -10m and Krem Pastor 1 – the most promising – which finished at  -35m. Locals reported bottoming this vertical shaft using bamboo rope and a man-riding basket to butcher an aberrant cow, which had taken the long drop.

Krem Poh Um Manong 1, 2 and 3 all ended after short pitches but Krem Um Manong 1 was found to be ongoing.

Mark returned to the long ignored village of Lelad where he relocated several sites and found other promising areas – notably Krem Umsohtung (later to become affectionately referred to as “ Toilet Cave” due to its location in the middle of the village and the noisome effluvia therein!).

Mark, Peter and Imo were looking for a project on the 11th so your scribe gave them a “hot tip” which he had been meaning to investigate for the last three years. Krem Labbit (Khaidong) had been briefly looked at by Martin “Lump” Groves in 2002 but not pushed. A local woodcutter had once told the writer that it was a big cave but no one knew just how big it was to become. Our three heroes (well, two heroes and a heroine) were about to find out in the next few days. Today Imo rigged until she ran out of rope and battery power

Over on the other side of the Ridge the “pot bashers” carried on down a series of short pitches in Um Manong 1 until they ran out of gear at a deep pot.


Krem Labbit: Annie in the main pitch

On the12th Imo returned to Labbit (Khaidong) with Henry and the pair dropped the pitch into a large chamber from where they surveyed 253m of ongoing streamway. They were followed by the surveying team of Mark, Des and Annie who followed a large fossil tunnel from the chamber and surveyed 279m in all.

The pot in Um Manong 1 was dropped for 30m to reach a large and inspiring canyon passage but Neil, Terry and the writer were disappointed when it soon ended in choked rifts (a promising dig) and inaccessible high levels. This is one for the future.

They continued their fruitless quest for an easy way down into the fabled Krem Synrang Ngap extensions somewhere below next day, finding a couple of promising pots and sending Jayne down Krem Warkhla 3 which became too tight at  –12m.

Tom and Peter continued mapping and investigated Krem Lyngtah, a small resurgence cave.

Labbit (Khaidong) had by now become the place to be seen. Imo, Henry and newly landed Viking, Torben continued the downstream survey, being somewhat intimidated by great multitudes of surprised labbits (bats). Another 648m was added to the length of this rapidly expanding cave and on the following day another 995m was mapped in enormous, mud-floored, fossil phreatic tunnels which became even bigger as the teams progressed – stunned by what was being revealed.


Krem Labbit – The Big Choke


Krem Labbit ‘Agoraphobia’

The “Toilet Team” of Mark, Fraser and Derek surveyed 228m of Yorkshire style pitches in Umsohtung while down at flood plain level 193m was clocked up in Krem Lyngtah. Also at this altitude a through cave of 256m, Krem Khuiang, was surveyed by Hugh, Tony and Jane – mainly because it was near the only tea shop for miles!

The stolid, but rapidly becoming pissed off, “pot bashers” bottomed Krem Bir 2 at  -35m, Um Manong 3 at  -15m and Krem Warkhla 1 at  -19m but Krem Warkhla 2 still had hopes. Your scribe had squeezed down into a loose chamber with a boulder and mud floor hanging over a deep pot and today an easier entrance was dug to reach this point but the big pot was not rigged due to fear of major collapse of the floor, walls and ceiling. A Neil was called for…

Krem Umsohtung continued dropping steeply on the 15th when Mark and his team eventually intersected a small streamway.

Back at Warkhla 2 the prescribed Neil was dispatched through the horror story to rig  the big pitch. This shat out at  -30m. Thoroughly discouraged the team decided to abandon their fruitless search and rig Krem Synrang Ngap in preparation for long, sporting and possibly overnight pushing trips to the two downstream chokes. Asking directions from Moonlight Patlong, a local wood cutter, they were shown a deep, banana tree-covered pot just off the main track which your scribe knew was definitely not Ngap. It turned out to be previously unseen despite our having passed it many times over the last few years. With a heartfelt “Sod it!” Neil commenced rigging while his Mendip colleague slept in the sun, thankful not to be a hard Northerner. At  -50m he passed a very tight squeeze to another strongly draughting pot and had some entertainment reversing it. This pot was later found to be Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo. (Tyrtong – an ancient Pnar word for “summit” and Ryngkoo – a local bird that keeps silent on the approach of people.). Needless to say Ngap never got visited this year as at last the “pot bashers” had got lucky!


Tyrtong Ryngkoo – looking up the entrance pitch

Meanwhile the “Labbiters” clocked up another 627m of streamways and 790m of fossil tunnels – an incredible amount but made easier by the fortuitous possession by Torben of a Disto laser measurer.

Krem Poh Lumthymmai, NE of Labbit, was bottomed at  -14m and Krem Lyngtah pushed to a probably passable but highly dangerous choke.

With plenty of going cave in three separate major systems the frantic explorers were in for a shock that evening and for the next 48 hours as a mini-monsoon hit the camp. Bamboo huts and tents leaked copiously and streams flowed through the dining area while awesome thunderstorms and massive hailstones added to the fun. As all were soaked on the outside equilibrium was gained by getting soaked on the inside as sorrows were drowned along with sleeping bags. The kitchen tent also suffered badly but the cooks worked wonders in the atrocious conditions. The highlight of the day was when top chef Swer apologised profusely for the lack of “desert”. The rain also encouraged the abhorrent Tiger leeches, which this year had staked a claim on the campsite. Several of the team got “leeched” and the nasty little bastards were regularly evicted from tents and sleeping bags.

Luckily the morning of the 17th proved fine and the dishevelled ones dried out themselves and their kit and set off underground or on surface recces.


Neil Pacey in the squeeze

Tyrtong Ryngkoo, being too difficult to remember or pronounce, was soon bastardised to “Turtle Wrinkle”, or, as exploration progressed downwards in tight and horribly loose pitches, “Krem Grim”. Neil did a superb job of rigging this collector’s item especially as the pitches were now as wet as those of the Dales due to the storm run-off. Your scribe used his digging prowess to enlarge the squeeze while Neil dropped several pitches to run out of rope at a c.30m pot.

A photography and bolting trip to Shyien Khlieh was also done today and a team of seven set off for continuing surveying in the incredible horizontal maze of Krem Tyngheng at Semmasi. The waterproof roof of the snug I.B. had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Saturday 18th February saw four “Labbiters” pushing some 30m into the Mother and Father of all Boulder Chokes and taking photographs while another three dropped Kneewrecker Pot 2 in an attempt at a connection. Hugh, Kate and the Danes bagged another 352m of upstream inlet.

Desperate for an “easy day” Des, Neil and the writer opted for a working tourist trip in Krem Liat Prah where Neil bolted a traverse in the far SE corner of this 15km+ system in an attempt to reach a possible sump bypass. The climb was a success but the 69m long, flat out crawl (in a cave where a light aeroplane could be flown!) ended at an impassable choke. This at least partially proved your scribe’s theory of cave development to the SE and on the remote chance of confirming it some fluorescein was dumped into the surprisingly fast flowing stream below the climb.

The Krem Tyngheng team surveyed 296m and, more importantly, secured a supply of beer in Semmasi – previously thought to be a dry village. They were also informed that the locals believe the cave to extend to the Kopili River, many kilometres to the NE, on the Assam border.


Krem Labbit Fossil Passage

Next day much surface recce, mapping and data input was undertaken with the persistent Labbit enthusiasts adding 101m of fossil passage and 265m of crawling side passage to the score. The latter was to prove both very important and also to prove that it is essential to push Meghalayan crawls and squeezes, even in huge cave systems.

At Lelad, Umsohtung yielded another 401m and the “Wrinkled Turtles” at last got their just rewards as they abseiled through the ceiling of a huge, active trunk passage at 100m depth. They surveyed 200m upstream and were relieved not to have to kiss any more frogs as they had found a princess at last! (It soon dawned on them what an ugly princess they were landed with but, as was pointed out, the baby of Neil and your scribe was hardly likely to be a stunner. Cheeky bastards). At the base of the pitch the huge Moonlight Chamber was found and named in honour of our friendly wood cutter.

The Semmasi team added 614m to their exceptionally complicated survey of Tyngheng where only frustratingly short legs could be measured due to the frequency of intersections. Over their stay they lost valuable exploration time by having to re-draw over 3km of cave due to the laxity of a previous expedition member. Another problem with this system was that every lead they tried to finish off resulted in more junctions and many more ways on! The end of this system has still not been reached and it may be extremely extensive.

Torben, Louise (practicing her newly acquired English obscenities) and Peter were back in the Labbit crawl on the 20th, surveying another 250m. Nearby Roger, Henry and Imo were dodging falling trees in a daylight shaft connected to Kneewrecker Pot 2. On the surface above, and blissfully unaware of those below, the locals continued with their deforestation! This cave ended in an impassable downstream boulder choke before a connection with Labbit could be made.

Shelley, being young, slim and fit, was conned by Neil and the writer to join the “Turtle Wrinklies” as they surveyed upstream in the huge, muddy and boulder-floored Evermore Passage, named after their keen young guide. After 223m of hard going a waist deep pool was reached and a retreat made. Shelley’s little legs made it, for her, harder going still and a badly strained back acquired on the way out resulted in 100m of vertical agony as she manfully struggled up the grim pitches to freedom and a late meal. Both Shelley and Neil were actually very lucky to be getting out at all as earlier in the trip a large rock flake had peeled off the wall when your scribe used it as a handhold. Too heavy to grasp it had just begun the 20m drop to the two unsuspecting cavers directly below when it miraculously wedged itself between two tiny outcrops which halted its probably fatal trajectory. A mere pebble rattled on down to accompany the hoarse, strangled cry of “BELOW”. This was not the only close call in this very dicey pitch series as large rocks had plummeted down on earlier trips. One of the lower pitches sports a protruding rock buttress – the Mercy Seat – over which one climbs and on which one sits before the abseil. Miraculously it was still in place when we finally deserted the cave!


Neil Pacey at the Mercy Seat

In Krem Shyien Khlieh Mark and Annie passed a duck (they were told not to eat it… groan) to discover some 200m of interesting inlet ending at an aven with “Cappadocian” style mud pillars.

280m was added to the Tyngheng labyrinth where a bamboo maypole was used to gain access to two high level passages and another entrance.

On the 21st various surface recces were undertaken and some downstream surveying in Tyrtong Ryngkoo led to a large boulder choke where an inlet stream may be that from Krem Synrang Ngap 1st downstream choke. A way through the other side of this was found to reach the ongoing main stream at a deep water section in a large phreatic gallery.

Next day Des, Fiona and Hugh revisited a cave found earlier in the week, Krem Wah Um Bloh, where rising water curtailed exploration. The discoverers developed a tradition of entertaining hitch-hikes back to camp, once with local “likely lads” in a pimped up Maruti jeep where translations were made by mobile phone to the driver’s English speaking mate miles away and twice in bone-shaking Shaktiman trucks.

Another 156m was added to Labbit by Imo, Annie and Louise on a “girly” trip where they were gobsmacked on reaching the remote entrance to find themselves reluctant TV stars! Another 513m were added by Simon, Dave and Torben, including a new streamway.

“Toileteers” Mark, Roger and Matt added 660m to Umsohtung and took photographs. They were rewarded with tea and betel nut at a house in Lelad village.

In Liat Prah a new 11m bit was surveyed after a bolt climb by Peter into a well decorated but choked roof tube.


The huge decorated passage before the upstream choke.

Upstream in Tyrtong Ryngkoo things initially looked great but after 250m of immense and superbly decorated trunk passage the inevitable Meghalayan boulder choke was reached. This was pushed for some 50m but thoughts of getting lost forever and having to eat Henry prompted a retreat. If this active streamway is actually the continuation of the Synrang Labbit / Synrang Ngap combined streams then pushing a connection would be easier from the far side, though there may, in fact, be two chokes with open streamway between. Later, during a hilarious discussion on naming the cave features, a superb faceted stalagmite in the extensions was landed forever with the title of The Glitteris. On a later trip Mark was unable to find this – enough said.

The 23rd February saw the bamboo maypole in use again in Tyngheng but to little avail.

Further work in Labbit, including digging, failed to yield a link with the adjacent Krem Shrieh but 74m was found elsewhere and a strongly draughting crawl found heading towards Krem Chuni.

“Team Toilet” were back in the bowels of Krem Umsohtung where a free-climb led to the large and muddy, and 79m long, Village Shitter Passage. A bolt climb gained 26m to a high aven and 206m was surveyed downstream where Terry, Matt and Derek crawled into a larger main streamway.

Kate, Annie and Henry got what they thought to be the short straw by continuing the survey of the long crawl in Labbit, the Khaidong Metro. After 30m they were suddenly amazed to find “23” Tippexed on a rock lip. Soon after they were romping down an immense breakdown tunnel (The Grand Trunk Road) but didn’t have a clue which cave they had connected with. Back at camp the jubilant trio were informed by your scribe that it was he who had written “23” above a hole dug out from above in 2004 in the Shnongrim Subway of Krem Um Im 6, itself being one of the most westerly arms of the Krem Liat Prah system. This passage had been another “hot tip” but getting people to push a grotty, loose crawl in a remote corner of a 15km cave was not easy. If it had been pursued when found the 6km of enormous fossil galleries of Labbit would have been discovered from the inside but survey trips would have been a nightmare – and no easy climb out to surface. The dug hole would have been suicidal to excavate from below so this was a great stroke of fortune for today’s connectors who had now extended Liat Prah just enough to claim the record of India’s longest cave from Krem Umlawan / Kotsati. Celebrations continued (as usual) into the wee small hours.

Another 380m was added to Umsohtung but the main downstream passage ended in a choke.

Krem Gerald Hubmayr, named after a late friend of Peter, also ended at a choke after 65m.

Throughout all the excitement Fraser had been plugging away with his video footage and today he assisted the TV crew to film Henry and Brian in the entrance series of Krem Labbit (Lum Dait Khung) – this being the nearest accessible cave passage (and with the potential to one day become part of the Shnongrim Meghasystem!). He also spent much time documenting the destructive quarrying and mining operations at both Lumshnong and to the NW of the Ridge. This was a soul-destroying experience.


More of the huge decorated passage before the upstream choke

24th February and the “Turtled Wrinklets” were back downstream in Tyrtong Ryngkoo. After a fine but sadly short section of chest deep canal a boulder slope led to a four way chamber. The streamway was followed to the prophesied massive boulder choke and two of the other leads closed down. The fourth led up a steep mud and rock slope into a huge, flat ceilinged chamber with an awkward climb at the end to a smaller, choked chamber. 450m surveyed.

Hugh, Des, Peter and Terry surveyed 64m in Krem Wah Um Bloh to a choke and wrote the place off.

Imo and Derek got another 120m in Labbit, mainly in small stuff leading off the immense mud-floored gallery of Disto Inferno.

The Semmasi team surveyed 522m in the complex wet series of Tyngheng named Tipee Toe Canals, leaving two swimming leads.

Saturday 25th saw an important photographic team in Labbit where yet another team materialised after dropping the 50m deep Krem Chuni and pushing the calcite-lined squeeze looked at earlier from the Labbit side.

Your scribe led Imo and Neil on a working tourist trip to his “baby” – Krem Umthloo. With oncoming senility as an excuse he just got away with it when this became a major and lengthy epic involving cold swims (with one lifejacket between three!) and failure to find their goal in the most northerly corner of the system. As a consolation prize Imo did a magnificent push through a squalid, tight duck (marked as a sump on the survey) into 79m of walking passage. On reflection this was a belter of a trip and, if nothing else, inspired Imo and Neil to return to this truly fantastic system in the future where well over 100 leads remain to be explored and where the possibility with a link to the potentially huge Krem Synrang Labbit system to the north is definitely on the cards.

Over at Semmasi Simon, Kate and Dale surveyed damp leads off Tipee Toe Canals and dry leads off Fossil River Series in Krem Tyngheng. Tony, Dave and Matt got the swimming stuff until they got cold. 655m surveyed in total.

Next day a photo / choke-busting trip was undertaken in Tyrtong Ryngkoo but the choke won.

Imo and your scribe snook off to Krem Chuni where they amazingly survived Peter’s acrobatic mid-air deviation 50m above the deck and set to work chiselling the tight connection passage to enable mere mortals to pass. Imo then took the writer on a delightful four hour stroll through the roofed underground desert comprising much of this stupendous cave. He was deeply impressed. Samples of cave fauna were taken and on leaving via the entrance pitches of Krem Labbit some derigging was done. Also in Chuni were Peter, Annie and Derek who surveyed 131m.

Over in the Moolasngi village area, on the other side of the Ridge, Brian, Hugh, Des and Terry were guided by local man Ekna to ten new pots located below a large collection of ancient standing stones and burial chambers. One of these Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3 (confused yet?) was estimated at 50 m deep and had rising condensation wafting out.

Fed up with Tyngheng the Semmasi team borrowed a Shaktiman and went for a jolly to the remote villages of Pala and Kseh. Strangely enough they found the impressive entrance of… you guessed…Krem Labbit. Another promising cave here was Krem Bliat. They all then returned to the Ridge camp in preparation for the end of the expedition. Carlyn provided a good supply of the excellent local rice beer to spice up the celebrations.

The final, longed for trip in Tyrtong Ryngkoo took place next day when Mark and Neil took photos and derigged the cave. No tears were shed when Neil abandoned his baby.

A large team of “Toileteers” did a last trip in Umsohtung, took photos, surveyed 214m and left the place with at least three ongoing leads.


Krem Umsohtung, Upstream.

The writer, Fraser, Imo, Brian, Dave, Raplang and Sharkes (Jeep) accompanied by Menda (motorbike) travelled to Daistong village with the MAA dinghy – or to be strictly correct half of it (a long story). This was carted down to the flood plain and inserted in the flooded passage of Krem Khangbru. Thence ensued a couple of hours of atrocious seamanship and ribald hilarity as lifejacketed would-be explorers attempted to navigate the good ship Titanic under the rapidly lowering ceiling. Eventually a sump was discerned 38m in and the whole circus wandered round to the nearby sink cave, Krem Ksar 1. Here a foul, stagnant pool was jam-packed with rotten bamboo and logs and no place for the fragile vessel so Dave was inserted, as he was the only mug with a wetsuit.

More hilarity followed as he fought his way to a sump some 50m in. He was also volunteered to check out the two adjacent grotty caves of Krem Ksar 2 & 3. A total of 172m was surveyed including some unroofed cave passage.

In Krem Chuni Annie, Derek and Roger surveyed 66m of crawl and derigged the cave.

On the 28th February eleven of the team left to attend Shelley’s engagement ceremony in Shillong leaving the stragglers to derig Krem Labbit (Khaidong), wash ropes and pack up. Henry, Terry and the writer took this last chance for glory and went to drop Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3, the supposed 50m shaft. To make the survey easy the 50m tape was taken along. Henry set off down this impressive pot rigging as he went and communicating by walkie-talkie. At 50m down he still couldn’t see the bottom and needed more rope so asked Terry to join him. Not being a technical SRT aficionado Terry attempted the first re-belay, decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and came out. A rope was lowered and Henry soon reported that he had dropped into a major trunk passage. The writer decided to join him and Terry kindly walked back to camp to change the pick up time from 6pm to 8pm. The huge shaft turned out to be 92m deep and the passage below bored off to the NW, towards Krem Liat Prah! This superb 6m diameter phreatic tunnel, The Sound of Silence, was a surveyor’s dream, especially with the fortuitous 50m tape. The jubilant ones soon clocked up around 500m when the noise of a stream was heard ahead. Henry made a facetious comment about finding green-dyed water and clambered down a scree slope for a look. Your scribe was overjoyed to hear his spluttered and apologetic mumblings as the bright green stream lapped around his wellies! Eureka! They had proven that the Video Passage stream in Liat Prah flowed beneath the Ridge to emerge almost certainly at the beautiful resurgence cave of Krem Rubong and your scribe was well chuffed that his hitherto scorned theory was correct. With several open leads they stopped the survey and rushed back to the pitch to investigate the “downstream” borehole. This soon reached a short pitch, which was traversed over to a maze of phreatic canyons and the reappearance of the emerald stream. The presence of bats and an echo indicating huge but inaccessible passage above convinced them that they had another princess, and this one was a real beauty. Having run out of time they surveyed back up the mighty entrance shaft with Henry derigging as he went. With 650m in the bag and enough open leads to warrant three survey teams next year they were the smuggest buggers on the Ridge and only ten minutes late for their lift back to the celebratory beer supplies and congratulations of the remaining expeditionaries.

The camp was dismantled next day and all headed back to Shnongrim via the Nartiang standing stones.

On the 2nd March equipment sorting and shopping filled the day before the traditional party, this year at the Pinewood Hotel with beer sponsored by Mohan Meakin brewery, courtesy of the press. A post-party party at Robin Laloo’s house continued until the early hours and three of the “Turtle Wrinklies” ended up swigging illicitly bought whisky in the back streets of Shillong with an unknown headcase at 3.30am! A memorable occasion (if only they could remember it).

Next day it was all over and the team scattered across the world in search of more adventures or back to earn enough to return to Cave Explorers’ Valhalla in eleven months time. Once again the visitors’ grateful thanks go to Brian, Maureen and family and the redoubtable Meghalayan Adventurers for their fantastic input to this truly satisfying expedition. Kublai.


High level passage, Krem Um Im 6, Meghalaya. Part of the central section of the Krem Liat Prah system – India’s longest cave. Drawn by Jrat from a photograph by Simon Brooks.