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Meghalaya 1995 - Or the 'Not another Puncture Trip

By Estelle Sandford

The state of Meghalaya lies in Northeast India, south of Assam and north of BangJadesh. Anglo-German teams had undertaken two previous trips.  These were very restricted, as Meghalaya had a Restricted Area Permit applied to it, which involved a lot of paperwork to get in.  A total of 23 km of cave had been surveyed on the previous trips.

We were advised that this permit had been lifted and we should have no problems this time.  Simon had also had contact from a group called the Meghalayan Adventurers, who wished to join our expedition this time.

Team

British: Tony Boycott, Estelle Sandford, Simon Brooks, Jenni Brooks and Chris 'Blitz' Smart.

German: Daniel Gebauer.

Meghalayan Adventurers: Brian Kharpran Daly, Lindsay, Kaiman C. Hiwol Passah and George Lyngdoh.

Locals: Santu Bhattachmjee, Charles Slong, Spindro Dhkar, Roy, Oda.

Tuesdav 14th November

Estelle, Simon, Blitz and Tony met at Tony's house for the final re-packing.  Tony drove us to Heathrow during the night.

Wednesday 15th November

We arrived at Heathrow at 5 am, everything went very smoothly and we were soon on our Royal Jordanian Flight.

Thursday 16th November

After stops in Berlin and Amman, we finally arrived at Calcutta Airport at 7 am, only to find there was a taxi strike on.  This meant that we had to pay 4 x the usual amount in order to get into the city and to our hotel, the Astoria.  Jenni arrived from Sri Lanka and Daniel from Germany and met us at the hotel.  We went into the city and booked our flights to Guwahati, Assam and visited Mr Pattanailc at the tourist office; he confirmed that the restricted Area Permit (RAP) for Meghalaya had been lifted and we should have no problems.

Friday 17th November

Caught early flight to Guwabati. and then got 2 taxis to Shillong.  We arrived at the Orchid Hotel, then went to register at the Foreigners Office.  Brian and Lindsay met us at back at the hotel and we discussed the plans for the trip.

Saturday 18th November

Brian turned up with our tour bus; we were expecting a minibus not a big bus!  We loaded up and started the journey to Chenapunjee, which is in the East Khasi Hills; this was made more interesting by a landslide on part of the road.  It was fun watching the overloaded trucks attempting to slide across the collapse, and we had no problem with our very under­loaded bus!  Although we didn't need the RAP, it seemed that the local officials didn't actually realise this and we had to sign in with the S.P. at Cherrapunjee before going to the Circuit House, which was to be our home for the next few days.  (There are Circuit Houses in most large villages for visiting officials to stay in and they have what's known as a Choki Da to look after you and the house. These Circuit Houses cost a few pence to stay in plus the cost of food.)

Sunday 19th November

The Choki Da brought us 'bed tea' at 7 am, and baked beans and sausages appeared for breakfast at 9 am. (The first and last time we had an English style breakfast!!)

We loaded the kit up, and went down some very scary roads, with big cliffs on one side, to a village called Laitkynsen.  After walking for about an hour, with beautiful views over Bangladesh, we were shown three entrances by our guide before descending the fourth.  This was called Krem Japund (cave of the rice pond) it has two entrances, a stream sink and a big daylight shaft.  We went in the stream sink, thankfully, as when we got in the cave, we found that there was a krait: (a small black, very venomous snake) at the bottom of the shaft. 

There was also a large quantity of fat frogs (where there's frogs there's snakes!!), and we surveyed and photographed and came out.  The next cave was Krem Wah Sbnong (cave of the village stream) this turned out to be a riverbed with a roof of boulders, which reappeared about 10m away.  Next we went into Krem Wah Sang (cave of the forbidden water), this was a sloping cave which ended in a l0-15m pitch, which was very slimy with no decent places to hang a rope from, as the rock was very crumbly so we couldn't put a bolt in either.  We couldn't descend this pitch so we went and checked another entrance, which turned out to have a voice connection with Krem Wah Sang, but was about 25m deep shaft.  Went back to the circuit house for the Choki Da special- curry!

Monday 20th November .

'Bed tea' at 5:30 am. We had an early start to Mawsahew to look at a cave reported to have 9 entrances and also several other caves nearby. The Cave of the Nine Entrances had seven low entrances which all joined inside.  Simon Jenni and Daniel surveyed that one while Estelle, Tony, Blitz, Brian and Lindsay went to Krem Hidrum, which was a large resurgence entrance. The size soon diminished to a rift and then a crawling rift, so we surveyed from that point to the entrance. The total was 250m, and the cave had a good selection of hand-sized spiders, several bugs for Blitz to collect, and 2 bats, which the locals took back for dinner.  We went an interesting cross-country route back, where we had to cross a dry riverbed because they hadn't finished building the bridge!

Tuesday 21st November

We went to a village called Mawlong today, where we had been told there were several caves.  The first one, called Krem Lyngar, was next to coalmines. We went inside the entrance and decided we would come back later.  We were next shown a second cave, Krem Soyshympi, which had a wide, 15m deep shaft. We rigged the entrance for SRT, although it was mostly free climbable.  The cave opens up into a big chamber with three ways off.  We followed the main passage, which was 30m wide in places; unfortunately it choked after 250m.  There was a stream level below the boulders, which could be followed for 50m either way but sumped at both ends.  We split into 2 teams so one team could check out the other two passages at the bottom entrance.  Estelle, Tony, Brian and Lindsay went down the first of the routes, which had another entrance just round the comer (or rather a big hole in the roof).  This appeared to be an inlet passage and it continued for 400m until it got too tight to follow; the passage had lots of nice formations and also big spiders.  We went back to the main chamber and checked the other one out. This one went for 100 in a mainly boulder floored passage and ended in a big boulder choke.  We went back to where the others were just finishing surveying the big passage, and again split up, so one team could do some photography and the other could attempt to catch Cray fish using a tea strainer!  (The Cray fish are blind and transparent, so you can see what they had for breakfast!)  We finally caught one, using the lunch-box Chris had used to bring all his sampling kit into the cave.  Back out the way we had come in and back to the bus for the rough ride back to the circuit house.

Wednesday 22nd November

We had arranged to meet a guide at Wahlong today to visit several caves near to the village.  We descended a lot of concrete steps, which passed a grave-stone of a chief of the village, who rather than get captured by the British when they invaded, tried to commit suicide by throwing himself into the cave near to the grave-stone.  He got caught up on a tree and was captured by the British; his skull was smashed on the spot where the gravestone is.  Our guide obviously didn't want us to go down that particular cave, but we threw rocks down it, which took 6 seconds to land, so it must be quite deep.

After some serious jungle bashing we were taken to Krem Sohshiat, which started off as an arch in a big doline.  We hunted around the doline for leads and Tony managed to find the only going lead. It started small, but before too long opened up into walking passage, with a lot of very beautiful formations and cave pearls.  The end was a stal-blocked wall, with no way past; we surveyed 100m and photographed some of the formations.  We also found a bear skull by the entrance and some relatively fresh faeces in the cave.

At the bottom of another doline, we found an entrance 15m wide and 3m high; this was called Krem Mawrandah.  The cave sloped down to a big chamber with a stream in the bottom and over a slope to another big chamber ending in another stal wall, after about 100m total.  Back up the steps to the road (the village's main orange plantation is at the bottom of the steps!) and after some 'cockroach crunchies' and tea, went back to Cherrnpunjee.

Thursday 23rd November

We went back to Wahlong to pick up our guide, then on towards SheIla (border post) and stopped at Icchamati, where we took the bus up a really interesting track, where we continued until the bus driver found a spot where he could turn round.  It didn't look as though many buses use that track! This area proved to have some very small caves, we surveyed Krem Mawjapuh 1 to 27m and Krem Mawjapuh 2 to 50m. Back to the bus and back up the road to Wahlong, where 10 minutes walk down the steps, from the road, we were shown Krem Shlemkhla.  After the mornings caving, we were a little disillusioned, so we only put helmets and lights on and kept our walking clothes on.  That was a big mistake as this cave proved to be quite long with a streamway and some low passages to get past the formations.  Most of the cave was big meandering walking passages with lots of formations which couldn't make up their mind which way to grow, after earthquake damage, and it also had a higher level which we didn't have time to survey but was estimated to be 200m+.  (it's a shame the guide didn't show us this one yesterday, but we generally found that the locals showed us small caves first and kept the best for last. I guess we needed to find the Khasi translation for 'take us to the big cave first please’!)

Friday 24th November

We split up into 2 teams today, so Krem Shlemkhla could be explored further and a cave an 'hours' walk from Laitkynsen could also be explored.  Estelle, Simon, Chris and Brian went to Laitkynsen and after 1¾ hours walk, down 25,000 worth of steps, we arrived at Krem Synrnng U Jriem (bedding cave of 'Jriem' male's name).  Reasonable sized, well decorated, walking passage, led to a big chamber, where a river could be heard; we located the stream and while Chris and Simon surveyed the chamber and looked for ways on, Estelle and Brian investigated the stream. Downstream was choked with boulder, so we followed the upstream end.  The first part was knee deep in sand and waist deep in water so it was named Kalahari streamway (ask Simon if you want to know the other reason for the name!!) it continued in varying sized passageway, through very well decorated sections, with many inlet passages joining it.  Stalactites blocked the main way on, so we checked out what appeared to be an outlet passage, which got quite deep, then ended in a swamp. Collected Simon and Chris and we surveyed and photographed the streamway and the rest of the cave to 400m.  Walked all the way back up the steps; it was a long way, particularly once dusk and finally darkness set in.  The other team had surveyed and photographed the rest of the cave, but not actually found any more passage than yesterday.

Saturday 25th November

Simon and Tony did a quick tourist trip down Krem Mawmluh.  We finished packing up the bus and drove to Pynursla to the circuit house. A letter had not arrived, so we weren't expected, but after some discussion they let us have one room between the eight of us.  The weather was really miserable; rainy, windy and very cold, so our newly purchased tamocoles really came into their own.

Sunday 26th November

Packed up kit and started on the road to Nongri, where Brian and Lindsay had previously visited 2 caves, one of which was estimated to be over a km.  Unfortunately the bridge at Rana was out.  After this years monsoon and hadn't been rebuilt yet.  We went back to Pynursla for tonight as it was too late to get anywhere useful.

Monday 27th November

Early start and we were soon on the road to Dawki.  We had to stop at Muktapur to get a tyre mended, as we had had another puncture earlier. We got permission to travel along the Bangladeshi border road, and carried on to Pdengshakap, in the Jaintia Hills, where we stopped to ask about caves; we were told of several nearby. Eventually we got to Tarangblang, which was our main spot.  We were shown two caves; Krang Manik, which had a big boulder slope entrance and Krang Jawbaw which was a wide shaft, estimated to be 30m+ deep.

On the way back towards Pdengshakap, we tried to find a cave that had a signpost at the side of the road, Krem 'Pubon' Lashing, (pubon means limestone).  We couldn't find it, but when we asked in Pdengshakap we were told it was a big one, and Charles Slong (the headman) would guide us the day after tomorrow.  We continued to Jowai, to the circuit house there, via visiting George Lyngdoh who had arranged it for us.  We were fed copious amounts of whisky and beer, which after a mostly dry trip to date, succeeded in getting us drunk very quickly.

Tuesday 28th November

Late start this morning, partly due to hangovers and partly due to a broken bus, which needed repairing. Eventually we got away and went back to Tarangblang to explore the 2 caves we were shown yesterday.  Estelle and Tony took SRT kits to descend Krem Jawbaw, while everyone else, including most of the school children and their teacher went to Krem Manik.

Tony rigged off two trees, but the rope only went ½ way, if that so he rigged off the strongest looking one of the two, but the rope was still 15-20m off the floor.  Tony went down as far as he could, to try and get an idea of what the cave had to offer; it looks good, with two big passages going off in opposite directions.

Estelle and Tony joined the others in Krem Manik, which was surveyed to 280m and ended in a loose boulder pile, which was impassable.  We were shown to another cave, Krang Bheh which Tony descended on the rope; he descended about 5m, touched the wall and it fell down, so he decided not to proceed. As it was too loose.  We stayed at the S.D.O.'s house at Amlaran for tonight. An interesting night, the S.D.O. refused to let the boys sleep in the same room as Estelle and Jenni, but as he got more and more drunk, he didn't notice the boys creeping in one by one!

Wednesday 29th November

Went to Pdengshakap and picked up Charles Slong, who was to be our guide for Krem Pubon Lashing.  We climbed down a path in a depression and arrived at the cave entrance, which was big.  Charles had arranged for a water pipe to be put in at the entrance, so we filled up our carbide and went in.  We split into two teams: Estelle, Tony, Jenni, Kaiman, Lindsay and a local boy took the stream route which we were told was about 100m in. while Daniel, Blitz and Simon surveyed from the entrance.

The entrance opened up into a massive sloping passage, where you couldn't see the walls, or the floor at the bottom of the slope.  We went back up what seemed like a mountain, and back down the other side, where we came to a stream.  The 'mountain' was rumoured to have been caused by dynamite fishing in the streamway! We started surveying at the point where we met the streamway, and followed it to its bitter end, a total of 600m. The streamway passed through very friable sandstone, with many oxbows and inlet passages; there were also several dodgy climbs down and also a lot of false floors.  Eventually the stream disappeared into boulders.  We got back to the start point and assuming the others would have got to that point we followed where we thought they should have gone, until we started to run low on carbide.  It turned out they'd surveyed over a kilometre to our first survey station and not got this far.  The route we followed was a big breakdown chamber into a canal, which went into sharp limestone, and into a boulder choke, which is probably passable.  When we arrived at the entrance we were met by most of the village, who had brought us a feast; the food was much appreciated and also excellent.  Simon and co. were too late getting out so they had their feast back at the village, as the villagers had taken it back as it was going cold.  Simon and co. found a major passage on the left hand side of the entrance passage, which they eventually had to leave as a going lead as it was getting late and they were running out of carbide.

Thursday 30th November

We had a new bus driver today who had a major attitude problem and was reluctant to do anything we asked him, including actually drive us!  We had been told of a potential site at a village called Lumshnong, so after a long bumpy ride on the bus, we arrived in the village.  We were shown to a washing hole, known as Krem Kot Sati, which obviously had passage going off it.  There were two ways off the entrance, both involving swimming, but we were told that the downstream end has another entrance in Spindro's backyard. Tony, Simon and Chris went for the big swim upstream, while Estelle, Jenni, Lindsay Kaiman and Daniel went to the entrance at Spindro' s backyard.  Daniel and Jenni started surveying while the rest of us went downstream to photograph and explore.  Kaiman couldn't swim at all so wouldn't go out of his depth; Lindsay was an excellent swimmer, so he went off in front to investigate when we reached a point where we were getting well out of our depth.  Lindsay reported back, a small waterfall followed by what looked like a sump. We completed the survey by swimming the last bit and tying it in to where the other team had started.  Simon and co. had found over a kilometre of classic limestone passage, with two more entrances and many leads still going 'big­time'.  We have a mission for tomorrow!

Friday 1st December

Off to Lumshnong again, where the first place we went was an impressive looking sink called Synrang Taloo. The GPS told us that one of the entrances they had found yesterday, was 400m South of the sink.  We walked up the road toward the village and spotted a large steaming hole, 50m away from the road, known as Krem LaIut.  We entered this one, and it was confirmed as being the top entrance they'd found yesterday.  Just inside the entrance was a canal going north; our swimmers, Tony and Chris, swam about 300m using a robber ring and a blow up Dolphin, until the Dolphin went down on them!  They found an area with more inlets and outlets, but with the equipment we had with us, this passage was unsurveyable; boats or life jackets would be nice! Estelle, Daniel, Kaiman, Lindsay and Tony went downstream to survey the side passages; we surveyed 400m in two interesting shaped side passages known as the Western Inlets.  We didn't even explore passages we had to bend down in, as there was more than enough big passages to keep us going for today.  We abandoned one area where the water got too deep to survey in, particularly when there are non-swimmers around.  The water was very cold so after nearly 6 hours caving we came out.  Simon, Brian, Chris and Daniel had found another entrance, surveyed a big oxbow and taken lots of photographs.

Saturday 2nd December

We went to the village of Lakadong, where there was reputed to be several eaves.  Our bus driver with the major attitude problem was doing everything he could to avoid driving to Lakadong, including swapping a good tyre for a bad tyre so that we didn't damage the new one!  The road to the village was abysmal and we had to walk the last mile or so to the village.  We were just starting to think that Lakadong was a waste of time, because the headman told us there were no caves there but there were some at Umlat, which was the next village, but he'd show us an insignificant shaft anyway!  The shaft was 50-60m deep in limestone, and there was another one nearby.  After the walk back to the bus we found our driver drunk, we tried to sober him up a bit with tea, but he drove anyway, and it was actually better than when he was sober! It was definitely one of those bad days; we ran out of diesel on the way back and had to go and find some and then the bus broke down and we had to wait 2 hours while we got it repaired.  We eventually arrived back at Shillong at 3:30 am after spending 18 hours on the bus today!

Sunday 3rd December

We couldn't get our return tickets confirmed, as it was Sunday, so we had a lazy day in Shillong, followed by a nice meal at the Unicorn Hotel with several members of the Meghalayan Adventurers Association.

Monday 4th December

We still couldn't sort out our air tickets, so we left for Tura anyway.  The trip to Tura involved travelling along the border between Megbalaya and Assam, which bas a lot of problems with bandits, so we drove very fast without stopping until we reached a safe village for lunch.  We finally arrived at the circuit house in Tura at 3 am, woke up the Choki Da and he found us some rooms.

Tuesday 5th December

There was a bandh (strike) on in Turn today, so no vehicles could move and the whole of Turn came to a standstill.  We went and saw the Deputy Tourist Officer and his wife kindly sorted out letters to local officials and police for us.  We next visited a friend from the last expedition, Santu, where we had tea and chatted.  He arranged to get our tickets sorted out.  We had a bit of a party at the circuit house, with Santu and some of his mates.

Wednesday 6th December

We finally got out of Tura and off to Baghmara, and then onto Siju.  We arrived at the new I.B. (Inspection Bungalow) and made ourselves at home.  The I.B. was so new they had to unpack crockery and furniture for us to use.

Thursday 7th December

After breakfast, we ordered a bamboo ladder for Siju eave and went to look at some other sites at Middle Siju, until the ladder was built, we investigated several sites but there was nothing significant.  Back to the I.B. and then the 5-minute walk to Siju eave taking our newly made ladder with us.  Siju eave is an impressive resurgence eave with a lot of bats in the chamber just inside; you definitely don't want to look up with your mouth open, the ceiling moves and it rains bat guano.  We tried lowering the terminal sump by moving boulders, but eventually admitted defeat and went to the place we'd brought the ladder in for.  Tony and Simon surveyed the 200m of really sharp rift passage, while the rest of us did some photography.

We had a visit from a reporter, land surveyor and environmentalist; there is a conservation issue over the area around here.  As a company wants to build cement works, which will destroy the area for fishing and damage the cave life.  Many locals are trying to do what they can to stop it.

Friday 8th December

We walked up the track to the Chibenala river valley, where we already had caves known to the group. Simon Daniel and Brian went to Chibenala Dobhakol to finish off the survey and photograph.  While Tony, Chris, Roy and the two policemen (who had appeared to have taken the day off) went into one cave and Estelle, Lenni, Kaiman. Lindsay and Oda went cave hunting upstream.  We found four small caves, of which we surveyed three, two of which were very insignificant; the third was the longest at 150m long. Simon, Daniel and Brian had had Topofil problems but managed to survey 150m and take a lot of photos.

Saturday 9th December

Went to Nengkong to continue work on Tetengkol and Matchekol.  Daniel, lenni, Brian and Roy went to continue the survey in Matchekol. while Estelle, Simon, Chris, Tony, Lindsay, Kaiman, Oda and a policeman went into Tetengkol.  Tony didn't get very far; he was feeling really ill, so he went back out.  The rest of us continued up into the Planetarium, which should have been an easy climb but there had apparently been movement since last time and the 'Henries' looked a bit dodgy.  We managed to get up and continued to look at a pitch, which had been left last time.  Estelle abseiled down the 15m pitch, to a crawling sized, rift passage, which soon got too tight to follow.  Estelle rejoined the rest and we continued on into Paula's Parallel Universe where there were 2 unfinished leads.  Chris, Kaiman. and Lindsay surveyed one, while Estelle and Simon surveyed the other. The second was really gloopy mud with gravy like substance floating on the top; we surveyed 80m to a junction, but we'd run out of time and had to go back.  The villagers at Nengkong are insistent that we are back by dark.  So the elephants and tigers don't attack us! We found the others sat outside their 'frog'.  Matchekol was definitely no 'princess'; it ended in a boulder pile at 200m. (Chris and Simon have a saying with the caves, that 'if you kiss enough frogs you'll find a princess!')  We had a sample of the local rice beer, which tasted quite nice really.

Sunday 10th December

The bus driver had a nasty dose of gastro enteritis and was very ill (probably due to too much rice beer) so we had no choice but to cancel our Tetengkol trip for today.  At least we have Siju cave close at hand, so we spent most of the day in there, taking lots of photographs and had another attempt at lowering the sump, which still failed.  Chris and Simon went into a previously unsurveyed inlet in Siju and found 200m, which took our total cave for this trip to 9.003km.  As this was our last days caving, we sorted out our carbide sets that we were leaving and gave Brian a lesson on how to use them.

Monday 11th December

The driver was still sick, but just about OK to drive, so we packed up the bus and started back to Tura. The bus had a puncture, and also the fuel filter gasket blew so it had to be replaced!  We were supposed to be on local TV but due to the bus problems we were too late.  Tony was being ill again so he missed out on an excellent meal at Santu's.

Tuesday 12th December

Off to Guwahati to catch the flight home.  As a farewell gift to us, the bus had one more puncture!  Said farewell to Brian, Lindsay and Kaiman and caught our flight to Calcutta.  When Chris phoned home, he was told that Heathrow had been closed for the last couple of days due to snow and freezing fog.

Wednesday 13th December

Had a nice meal and chat with Mr Pattanaik from the tourism office, and then visited the Hogg market.

Thursday 14th December

Estelle, Chris, Tony and Simon left for Amman, while Lenni left for Sri Lanka and Daniel left for Thailand.  We get a night in the airport hotel, which is only 2 hours time difference to us, so it gave us a chance to get our body clocks back to normal.

Friday 15th December

Left Amman, and onto Berlin, where we were delayed for over an hour while they repaired a puncture on the plane!  Eventually we left Berlin and arrived at Heathrow, and once we'd finally got Tony's car going, and driven back to Mendip, we arrived in the Hunters for an evening session!

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