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TETENGKOL BALWAKOL

In February '94, I was fortunate enough to spend a month in Meghalaya, North East India, with seven other cavers.  After several days spent negotiating restricted area permits and establishing where we could and could not visit we decided to explore in three main areas. Firstly Cherrapunjee / Mawsynram (East Khasi Hills), secondly Siju (South Garo Hills) and lastly Balpakram (South Garo Hills).  It was also decided to separate into two teams of four; this would help with the logistics of transport and give us more freedom to cover our chosen areas.

17th. Feb.

The sun was already well up when our two jeeps set off from Lower Siju to Baghmara on route to Balpakram.  We were leaving Siju a day earlier than had been planned due to a collapsed bridge on our route (most bridges in Meghalaya are not recommended for those with a nervous disposition or any imagination).  The bridge over the Chibe Nala ( Chihe River), a complex of latticed timbers, could still be crossed on foot by balancing on remaining beams.  However, the jeeps had to ford the river.  We had heard reports that upstream of the bridge were two caves, so having crossed the river we set off up a 'seriously' rutted track to investigate. Four kilometres of bone jarring, body bruising travel brought us to a point where the other team could walk in to their site.  Unfortunately we had another four kilometres to drive before we could escape the ordeal of off road travel.  At the end of the track we arrived at the village of Nengkong and before we had time to extricate our battered dusty selves from the jeep we were surrounded by dozens of villagers all eager to see and maybe touch the strangers in their midst.  It appears that we were the first Europeans to have visited the village in living memory and the eight kilometres we had travelled from the road had, somehow, changed us from interesting curiosities to very important people.

Despite our desire to get changed and head off to explore caverns measureless etc., we had to observe the rituals of social niceties.  A meeting with Hemason M. Sangma, the village head man (Noc-Ma), regarding the caves, involved several glasses of tea and offers of beetle nut. Eventually it was agreed that the Noc-Ma would lead us up river to the cave.  The walk-in takes about an hour, the route at first crosses paddy fields and then enters the jungle following the Chibe Nala gorge.  The Noc-Ma, a short wiry man dressed in flip flops, shapeless trousers rolled up to the knees, ill fitting jacket and carrying an ancient single barrel shot gun tied to a piece of string over his shoulder, lead us up the river.  We followed over large banks of sand and shingle, the river soon narrowing into a gorge, its steep, craggy, limestone walls, jungle clad, alive with birds and monkeys.  We passed two hot springs (32 and 35 degrees Celsius) before the river became a succession of isolated pools as it started to play that exciting game of hide and seek that quickens the pulse of any cave explorer.  Eventually we arrived at a spectacular stretch of the Chibe Nala, the river here runs in a series of deep, blue-green pools, liberally decorated with huge blocks of limestone and pure white sand banks.  The eastern side of the gorge consists of massive slabs of rock rising almost vertically and set with impenetrable jungle; the western side is a continuous wall of rock in which the almost round 'Hobbit’ hole entrance of Tetengkol is to be found.

TETENGKOL : Alternatively interpreted as " Dwarf Cave", " Earth Spirit Cave" or " Elf Cave".

At the entrance we hurriedly kitted up and as I was ready first I rushed in to have a quick look around. The entrance passage, clean washed, finely scalloped and approximately 1.6 by 1m reached a small stream after about 10m.  I set off upstream in slightly larger passage traversing about 150m of joint controlled development, stopping when it diminished to less than 1 m high, then rushing back to meet the others.  On my return the rest of the team had not arrived so I pushed on downstream.  The passage runs almost parallel to the Chibe Nala, slowly diminishing in size, until after 130m, I, having been reduced to flat out crawling in the stream, returned.  When I met Jenny, Shoon and Daniel, they were already busy with the survey and as there was not enough room for more than three to work I went off to push the upstream passage.  Passing several side passages I soon arrived at the previous limit and pausing just long enough to check on the local young man who decided to accompany me (dressed in white shirt, slacks, slip on shoes and no light) we pushed on.  Some twenty or thirty metres of stooping later, the passage began to enlarge and we were soon trolling along a two metre tube. This fine passage ended suddenly at a junction with a superb river-passage ( Brook Street).  This jocking piece of cave, 8 to 10m high and 5m wide zoomed off into the darkness. Now completely gripped with exploration fever I rushed up stream, closely followed by my loyal companion whose lack of light and inappropriate clothing seemed to present no problem. We covered about half a kilometre, passing many side passages, some of them beautiful 3m tubes.  Deep pools had developed wherever the passage changed direction and it was while negotiating one of these that I decided that we ought to go back and let the others into the good news.  My companion (standing chest. deep in water, broad grin splitting his face) was still keen to go on but I could not wait to share this exploration with the rest of the team.  On returning and passing on the news, we all had to keep our exploration fever under control while we got down to surveying the complexities of the entrance series (Daniel's Topo Teaser Series).  Slowly, leg by leg, the survey progressed up to the point already reached.  Jenny, who was now scouting ahead reported that 30 or 40m ahead the passage ended at a 6m waterfall which had a big black space above it. At the base of the fall a break was taken to allow for lamp "fettling", survey leg additions, Bombay mix consumption and any other of those underground rituals cavers get up to. During the break I tried to climb up to the higher level.  Having negotiated a route I found myself in a very large chamber (The Planetarium) some 60m long, 30m wide and 30m high.  With a quick shout over my shoulder of "I'm up", I gave in to exploration madness and set off across the chaotic mass of boulders which was the chamber floor.  The boulder pile proved to be "interesting", for at one point whilst descending the unstable 50 degree slope I found myself "surfing" a table sized slab into the unknown.  On the far side of the chamber a huge passage ( Upper Brooks Street) 20m wide and 10m high curved away into the distance, this was followed for about 60m before a return was made.  The cave was surveyed to just beyond this point, before, with great reluctance, we had to return to the entrance.  The only way we could bring ourselves to leave such impressive ongoing passage was to keep telling each other that we would return the next day.

The journey out of the cave and back to the village passed in a euphoric haze, dreaming of caverns as yet unseen.  The excitement however was not over for the day, as on our return to the village we were to be treated as honoured guests and invited to eat at the home of the Noc-Ma. After a superb meal, lots of tea and several Biries (a small cigar, hand made out of Birie leaves with dubious effects) we were ready to leave.  As it was now late and we had 8 kilometres off road and 20 kilometres of appalling road to drive before we could sleep, we were keen to be going, but, the Noc-Ma had other ideas.  Apparently one of the village hunters had just returned with a Barking Deer and we, as honoured guests, must have a share of the kill.  Simon and I were taken to a house where the deer was skinned and jointed using nothing but a razor blade and an old bamboo knife.  Later, after shaking hands (yet again) with what seemed like the population of a medium sized city we set off, very tired, very happy and with about 2 kilos of fresh meat.

18th. Feb.

After an all too short night (at the Circuit House in Backmara) and a breakfast of Puries and Channa Dhal we were again heading for Nengkong.  The twenty eight kilometre journey was uneventful but: uncomfortable and by mid morning we were engaged in the elaborate game of trying to change in front of 30 or 40 villagers who were all desperate to find out if we were white all over.  During these gymnastics we were in conversation with the Noc-Ma who gave us information regarding other caves in the area: - Matchakol ( Tiger Cave), Balwakol ( Wind Cave), Dobhakol ( Bat Cave) and Matrongkol (  Goat Cave).  Resisting the temptation to rush off and examine the new leads, we returned to Tetengkol.  On entering the system Simon and I set off to have a quick look at some of the side passages leading off Brooks Street.  Taking separate routes Simon and I met in a series of large passages and breakdown chambers running parallel to the streamway.  We were soon back in Brooks Street with the rest of the team and heading for the previous days limit.  As we moved through the cave I remember thinking how quickly familiarity changes one's perception, the Planetarium which only yesterday had seemed awe inspiring was passed as “just" on the way to somewhere else.  The final survey station was reached and the now familiar sequence began, however I must admit that I find exploring and surveying at the same time very hard, to be on the end of a tape with unexplored passage calling you on is difficult to resist.  The ongoing passage was followed until it suddenly ended in a complex area of cross rifts and smaller passages.  We all set about looking for the way on, unfortunately many of the passages ended in "hanging death" boulder problems.  However Simon followed one through an area of breakdown to reach a clean washed vertical rift about 10m deep; having no rope we were unable to descend and had to reluctantly abandon this lead.  Whilst poking around above the rift 1 found a route through the boulders and after a short crawl entered another large chamber. Following one of the passages leading off of the chamber Daniel walked into a massive passage (Paula's Parallel Universe) running parallel to ( Upper Brooks Street).  We surveyed down this passage clicking off 30m legs until it bifurcated.  To the right was a smaller, clean washed and descending passage, to the left it continued large but partially choked with banks of sand.  We followed the left hand passage for a few metres until the in-fill forced us to crawl, leaving it ongoing, we returned to the junction.  The right hand route continued in fine style, passing one major junction and finally opening into an impressive chamber high in the roof of Brooks Street. Having no means of descending from this point we returned to the last junction and tried the alternative route, this led eventually to the Planetarium.  Time again was getting late and as an hour's walk down a jungle river in the dark is not a healthy pastime we had to start heading for the entrance.  As we were due to head for Balpakram the next day it was with great reluctance that we left the cave.

19th. 20th. 21st. 22nd. Feb.

The next four days were spent in the Balpakram area where our team was singularly unsuccessful in discovering significant new cave, despite close encounters with vanishing rivers, moving boulder chokes and large spiders.  However, that, as they say, is another story.

23 Feb.

We returned to Nengkong with the intention of staying in the village for the next few days thereby saving on travelling and having more time for caving.  The villagers were very pleased at our return and soon found us a place to sleep (the mustard seed store).  We soon dispensed with the necessary niceties (several glasses of tea and endless hand shakes) and were once again tramping up the Chibe Nala. This time we stopped to examine Matrongkol ( Goat Cave).  The entrance is to be found some 8m above the western bank of the river at the end of a rocky, jungle clad gully.  By the look of this gully a sizable stream must resurge in wet weather.  The walking sized entrance was found to be blowing a gale and was well decorated with dry calcite formations.  I followed the passage for about 40m to where it descended into what must be a sump in wet conditions.  I went for another 20m in sandy passage before deciding to postpone further exploration until I had more than a head torch.  We never got enough time to return and the picture of that ongoing passage lives on in my dream.

On our return to Tetengkol we first surveyed the maze of joint controlled passage in Daniel's Topo Teaser Series, before moving on to Brooks Street.  The next task was to examine the complex of un-entered passages running off the upper end of Paula's Parallel Universe.  On the way we decided to have a closer look at the passages running parallel to down stream Brooks Street, we quickly passed through the area already visited and dropped down through breakdown to a 2 by 3m ongoing passage.  This fine passage was followed until standing water was encountered; we pushed on in a deepening canal, when on rounding a bend we saw daylight through a wide arch.  This entrance fitted the description we had been given of Balwakol ( Wind Cave).  As this turned out to be the case, the complex of passages just traversed became known as the Balwakol Series.  Returning to Brooks Street, we paused only to climb into the two high breakdown chambers either side of the stream way (Toad Hall) and confirm that they closed down, before pushing on to our objective for the day.  From the head of Paula's Parallel Universe (P.P.D.) all of the large rift passages soon ended in massive boulder problems and although big black voids could be seen it proved impossible to reach them.  Next we turned our attention to a passage that Simon was keen to explore; it was a 4m tube entering P.P.D. 2m above a blue-green lake. Having gained entry we rushed off for about 60m to confirm it was "going", before returning to start surveying (Simon's Series).  The fine tube continued past inlets before becoming a wide bedding plane with an uncomfortable quantity of cobbles partially filling the passage.  After a few metres of crawling we entered a complex of high rift passages, mostly ending in the now all too familiar boulders. One rift however continued to where one huge boulder seemed to be blocking the passage, closer examination revealed a low space beneath the boulder.  It's amazing when passing a massive boulder with no visible means of support, how one can negotiate a 6m crawl without disturbing a pebble (or even breathing).  We were now at a T-junction- to the left was about 20m of fine cave to a partial calcite fill almost blocking the passage.  As further progress would have required "proper" caving, we tried the other direction.  This soon developed into a lovely little streamway (Hidden Streamway) about 3m high by 1m wide, waist height ledges well decorated with columns added to its appeal. We followed for about 120m until further progress would have required crawling before returning to Simon's Series to look at some of the wide open (walking sized) leads.  The first passage we tried soon became partially blocked with gravel reducing it to 1.5 by 3m.  Following gently down slope we encountered standing water and although the passage size remained the same the air space slowly diminished.  Expecting the passage to sump at any moment, I cautiously pushed on; after about 60m the air space had reduced to 10cm and I was about to give up when the roof started to rise.  Unfortunately it was only a junction chamber, to my left an uninviting passage lead back towards Simon's Series (later confirmed) and on the far side of a deep pool a low wide passage lead on.  Retuning through the low air space canal, my lamp started to play up.  Just when I was beginning to feel a little bit lonely, a VERY LARGE white fish, panicked by my presence, rushed straight at me like something out of "The Black Lagoon".  This generated some colourful expletives and a name for the passage (Brian's "biggest white fish ever" Passage).

Again time had beaten us so we returned to the village, happy that we still had more leads than you could throw a stick at.

24th. Feb.

The tasks for the day were to survey the Balwakol Series and to examine all the un-entered leads off Brooks Street.  The survey of Balwakol Series turned up two 'unnoticed passages.  One lead through a joint controlled maze to a fine passage ending in the roof of Daniel's Topo Teaser Series and the second one, discovered by Jenny, lead through a chamber, well decorated with multi-faceted calcite formations (Jenny's Jewel Box) to two other daylight entrances.  A low, wide passage, completely lined with sharp calcite crystals was found heading north from Jenny's Jewel Box but it was only pushed for 20 painful metres.

Having finished the survey of the Balwakol Series we moved up Brooks Street; several impressive inlets were entered, all, however, closed down within 30 or 40m.  One, uninspiring passage was entered and surprisingly went on to yield 200+ metres of new cave.  This passage (Hole in the Roof Passage) runs parallel to and in several places connecting with Brooks Street; it also possesses a frustratingly un-entered passage at the top of a smooth 4m aven.  Having surveyed all the new stuff we had again run out of time, without even going beyond the lower cave; we had, however, discovered over 500m of new cave.

25th. Feb.

We spent the day going to look at another cave Dobhakol, ( Bat Cave) further up the Chibe Nala.  The difficulty experienced in reaching this site led us with just enough time to survey the main passage. However, in the short time available, we did manage to clock up over 1.5 kilometres of new cave.

26th. Feb.

This was to be our last day in the Nengkong area, so despite many passages not pushed to conclusion in Tetengkol, we decided on the following plan: one, to try to descend the rift found by Simon, two, to tie up several survey loops in the upper end of the cave and three, to spend what remained of the day photographing the cave. We had just failed to achieve our first objective and were starting on our second when I looked under a low arch at the side of the passage, and there between easily movable boulders was a big black space.  Having dispatched the boulders and ascended an easy climb I found myself in another huge chamber (Brian's "I'm sorry I think I've found a way through the boulders" Series).  With the floor of this chamber consisting of huge slabs some 5m across and the roof a large unsupported malevolent presence, it is not surprising that conversations were carried out in whispers.  We commenced surveying the new-chamber but the sound of falling water enticed us into a side chamber where a small stream was found tumbling into a shaft which occupied most of the floor area.  Traversing around the unstable lip we entered a fine stream passage, this was followed passing several (un-entered) side passages for about 200m.  At this point the passage had diminished to a high, narrow, inclined rift, requiring sideways travel.  Just when we were about to give up we popped out at the base of a clean washed, elliptical shaft, its fluted walls rose sheer for at least 20 m, the stream reduced to fine spray by its fall from passages as yet unseen. Returning to the big chamber (Agoraphobia Chamber) we continued our survey only to be seduced yet again by the sound of a stream.  This time the stream passage only went for 30m to a wide, high rift, with the water cascading from an obvious large passage about 10m above. Completing the line survey of Agoraphobia Chamber we found ourselves in an impressive passage about 10 to 12m square, this was followed to where it split into several smaller passages, none of which were pushed to conclusion.  As we were fast running out of time and, as yet, had not taken a single photograph in the cave, we made the difficult decision to leave many ongoing passages unexplored.  We photographed back to the entrance wishing we had more time to do the job properly and it was with great reluctance that we finally left the cave.

Epilogue.

Tetengkol is now the longest cave in the Indian subcontinent, having over 5 kilometres of surveyed passage, it has at least 27 ongoing leads so the possibility of doubling its length is quite high.

The Chibe Nala area also offers Matrongkol (not fully explored), Dobhakol (not fully explored), several cave entrances seen but not entered, a massive resurgence (not closely examined) and a 3 kilometre totally unexplored limestone gorge.  Needless to say, I for one wish to return.

Expedition members involved in the Tetengkol exploration were Jenny Brooks, Simon Brooks, Daniel Gehauer and Brian Johnson.

The other members of the Meghalaya '91 expedition were Tony Boycott, Helen Harper, Rob Harper and Chris Smart.

MEGHALAYA - ΣΨΝΟΠΣΙΣ

02 February to 02 March 1994:

Simon BROOKS, Tony BOYCOTT, Jennifer BROOKS, Herbert Daniel GEBAUER, Helen HARPER, Rob HARPER, Brian JOHNSON & Chris SMART

 

A

B

C

D

E

F

1

Area

Cave

Survey

Alt +

State of mapping

Text print

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

BALPAKRAM

Mahadeo Chirenkol

1,679.30

17.29 (-0.88, 16.41)

wire

y

4

 

Mahadeo-?-Kol

1.028.26

18.30 (-2.81. 15.54)

wire

y

5

 

Mingsingkol

507.62

16.54 (0.00, 16.54)

wire

y

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

7

CHERRANPUNJEE

Krem Phyllut

1,003.11

29.21 (-8.54,20.67)

wire

y

8

 

Mawnluh-Aven (30,21)

 

11.42 (0.00, 11.42)

wire

y

9

 

Mawnluh-b (598,35)

 

15.05 (-11.24, 3.l81)

wire

y

10

 

Mawnluh-Fossil (265,82)

 

23.27 (-23.27, 0.00)

wire

y

11

 

Adds to Mawnluh (3607,3)

834.38

Total length: 4501.7m

 

 

12

 

 

 

 

 

 

13

KHARAKOL

Bok Bak Dobhakol

1,052.53

31.64 )-13.74, 17.90)

wire

y

14

 

Dobhakol

1,616.30

14.66 (-3.73, 10.93)

wire

y

15

 

Tentengkol

4,666.96

45.32 (-0.51, 44.81)

wire

y

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

17

MAWSNYRAM

Krem Dram

421.54

13.98 (-2.76.11.22)

wire

y

18

 

Krem Phusjasim

244.57

13.82 (0.00, 13.82)

wire

y

19

 

Krem Lumsymper

135.87

3.28 (-0.98, 2.30)

wire

y

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

21

SIJU

Shit Pot

161.94

18.49 (-18.49, 0.00)

wire

y

22

 

Dobhakol-a (131,85)

 

1.80 (0.00, 1.80)

wire

y

23

 

Dobhakol-b (517,57)

 

26.38 (-5.04, 21.34)

wire

y

24

 

Dobhakol-c (49.24)

 

9.02 (-6.66, 2.36)

wire

y

25

 

Adds to Dobhakol (2900)

649.42

Total length: 3198.8m

wire

y

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

27

TURA

Tetenkol

8.00

2.2 (-0.00, 2.2)

drawn

no

28

 

 

 

 

 

 

29

 

Total:

12,390.50

Metres surveyed length

 

 

 

 

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