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Meghalaya 1997

By Estelle Sandford

The state of Meghalaya lies in Northeast India, south of Assam and north of Bangladesh. Anglo-German-Meghalayan Adventurers teams had undertaken four previous trips.  The first two were very restricted, as Meghalaya had a Restricted Area Permit applied to it, which involved a lot of paperwork to get in. By the third trip this permit had been lifted, and a team from the Meghalayan Adventurers joined the expedition.

These three trips had explored the state as a whole, to find the best limestone areas, as the state gradually became more accessible.  A short fourth trip concentrated on the Jaintia Hills area of Lumshnong. Lumshnong had already been identified as a major caving area, so our plans were to concentrate mainly on this and the surrounding areas for trip number 5.

The Team

British: Simon Brooks, Tony Boycott, Estelle Sandford, Tony (J'Rat) Jarratt, Paul Edmonds and Andy Tyler.

German: Daniel Gebauer, Georg Baumler, Samm Uwe Scherzer, Richard (Ritschie) Frank and Werner Busch

Meghalayan Adventurers: Brian Kharpran-Daly, Kaiman C. Hiwol Passah, George Lyngdoh, Donbok Syiemlieh, Colonel Fair-Weather Mylliemngap, Nicky Thapa, Spindro Dhkar, Raphael Warjri, Roilang Lyngdoh, ThyWilIBeDone, Marcos Mukhim, Spirit Lamare, Worlin Lamare and Anand Jamatia.

Saturday 8th February

Expedition fever is setting in. The kit is all packed and we assemble in the Hunters for our last night. A good quantity of ale is drunk, so as we don't forget what it tastes like!!

Sunday 9th February

Final sort out of kit, a fax sent to book our rooms in the Astoria in Calcutta, and it's off to Bristol to meet Simon and Jenni.  Graham Mullan and Jenni gave us a lift to Heathrow, where we met Paul.  We were lucky we turned up early - our Air India flight was overbooked and we might not have got on if we were much later.  We picked up 2 bottles of Jamesons at the duty free - 1 for Brian and 1 for the first km.

Monday 10th February

Arrived in Calcutta at lunchtime.  Offloaded our kit into the Astoria hotel, and off to the Khalsa Punjabi restaurant for lunch. Simon rang Brian and was advised that there was a Bandh (strike) in Shillong and the borders were closed for the next 2 days.  We had a choice: keep our original flight to Guwahati, Assam, and spend the next 2 days there, or change our flight to Thursday and stay in Calcutta.  We decided on Calcutta, on the grounds we know it has a reasonable nightlife!

Tuesday 11th February

Went and saw Mr Khrishna at the Indian Tourism office.  Steak in The Park lunchtime, and Thai in The Oberoi for evening.  Got locked out of the hotel and Tony B. had to climb in to get them to let us in.

Wednesday 12th February

Took in most of the tourist spots in Calcutta, including the site of the Black Hole (which isn't advertised as such!).

Thursday 13th February

4:30 start to catch the Guwahati flight. Caught the bus to Shillong - I think we will be paying the extra next time for a taxi!  Arrived at the Embassy Hotel and met up with the 5 Germans.

Round Brian's for a party later.  We all had too much to drink and Andy put a new meaning to the phrase "Fancy an Indian?"!!!  We got locked out of our hotel again and had to wake the staff up.

Friday 14th February

Loaded up all our kit into minibus and trailer and went to Lumshnong, to a bungalow that was to be our home for the next couple of weeks.  14 of us plus our cooks made our little bungalow very cosy!  Sampled several bottles of the local beers.

Saturday 15th February

At last - Caving.

Split into four teams. Estelle, Georg and Ritschie went to check out potential high level passages in Krem Urn Lawan above the streamway. A 900m maze was found after an easy climb up from the Urn Lawan streamway, with most of the passages ending, over-looking one of the stream passages.  One of the passages was named Cauliflower passage, due to the resemblance of the formations to said vegetable.  Spam, provided by Ritschie was much appreciated at lunchtime.

Simon, J'Rat and Tony made the first connection in the attempt to link up Krem Kot Sati to Krem Urn Shor and Krem Urn Lawan, when they succeeded in connecting Krem Kot Sati to Krem Urn Shor, by J'Rat's Mendip style, boulder pile disassembly from the bottom, method!  The connection added 150m towards the total.

Paul and Andy went to try to push the downstream end of Krem Urn Lawan; they descended a 10m pitch, but they were soon prevented from making any further progress by a large collapse, which absorbed the entire stream.

Daniel, Brian, Samm and Werner were checking out some streamway leads, they found and surveyed 400m.

Our total for the day was well over the first km, so we smugly drank the Jamesons.

Sunday 16th February

Estelle, Georg, Ritschie, Daniel, Werner and Brian went fossil passage hunting again, this time at the top end of Urn Lawan streamway.  The area was very collapsed and only a small amount of passage was found today. Some of the Shoulder Maze was also surveyed.

Simon, J'Rat and Tony made the second connection when they joined Krem Urn Shor to Krem Urn Lawan. The passage totalled about 500m, and consisted of a lake which they used the inflatable boats for, a duck, more streamway, and joined Krem Urn Lawan near Put Lyer entrance after descending a 10m pitch.  The Lumshnong System was now some 13 km long.  Paul, Andy, Samm, Kaiman and George went to Thangskei to a cave called Krem Labbit and surveyed 800m of reasonable sized passage.

Monday 17th February

Estelle, J'Rat, Tony and Paul went to a cave at Thangskai, called Krem Malo.  About 5 years previously, a coal lorry carrying 7 people had fallen down the entrance.  The locals had built a bamboo ladder and had brought out the bodies and the useful bits of lorry.  This must have been some feat, as once we had descended the shaft; we discovered that the pitch was 50m.  (We had experienced using bamboo ladders in Siju cave in previous trips, and they feel extremely precarious at 10m, so it would be almost unimaginable what they would be like at 50m!)  The lorry was neatly located the right way up in a chamber that it fitted perfectly into; it was still just about recognisable as a Tata.  We explored the largest passage off the entrance chamber, and soon found a streamway and a maze of dry passages.  Realising that this was probably going to be quite a big system, we split up into twos and went exploring, hoping to find an easier, alternative entrance, so we could return at a later date with a larger team. After exploring for some time we decided we had better do some surveying and exit the cave.  We surveyed only the main streamway and the entrance chamber, but still managed nearly 500m.  There is a lot of work left in here for a future trip.

Andy, Samm and George went back to Krem Labbit and the cave finished after less than 200m Simon, Daniel, Georg and Brian went to investigate the Lukha valley, which is one of the areas, where Krem Urn Lawan water might resurge.  They found several small caves, but not the cave that the locals were reputed to put the logs into in the monsoon season and they come out in Bangladesh!

Tuesday 18th February

Estelle, Tony, J'Rat, Simon, Brian and Paul went back to Thangskai village to try to find some more caves.  Looked at a large depression with choked entrances all around its edge (Krem Thangskai) but no ways on.  We went to twin depressions with 2 caves (both called Synrang Skei) several coal mines and a waterfall which came out of the cliff about half way down in one side. The cave that took the waterfall was small, wet and full of frogs (and where there's frogs there's snakes!) it is probably one of the sinks for Krem Malo.  The second, complete with a large number of big trees in the entrance passages, was big, dry and ended in a drop with a choke at the bottom; it was 50m long.

The other depression had quite a lot of entrances, all but one choked.  This one was called Krem Urn So, and had a spectacular entrance with trees wedged in the wall 15m above the entrance.  Paul went on as scout, while Tony, J'Rat and I surveyed our way in. Paul came back reporting a sump 30m beyond, and then went on out to join Simon and Brian.  We continued and found the sump, complete with the high-level sump bypass, named Lost Opportunities in respect to Paul.  The cave was quite big; it followed one main passage for most of the way, occasionally finding pools and streamway.  We surveyed 600m and left our kit (ready for tomorrow) at a big 3-way junction.  Simon, Paul and Brian didn't find anything else around the Thangskai area.

Daniel, Ritschie and Samm found 400m in the canals in Krem Kot Sati.  Georg and Andy checked out several local sites and found nothing significant or worth pushing.

Wednesday 19th February

Estelle, Tony, J'Rat, Simon and Paul went back to Krem Urn So.  We arrived at the junction from yesterday and Simon realised he'd forgotten to bring a tape!  We took 10m off the sole tape so they could do some surveying, even if the legs were a bit short.  Estelle, Tony and J'Rat went through a big collapsed chamber and found a big streamway, named The Dream Stream, which continued for some way before sinking into a small hole in the floor, just beyond a 25m entrance shaft.  A crawl followed and after much protest from Estelle and Tony, J'Rat disassembled another boulder choke and we continued along a streamway; this one ended in a spidery boulder choke, probably near a resurgence entrance.  The ceiling was a mass of legs and green eyes, so we didn't hang around for long! We went back to the starting point for today and met Paul and Simon, just going off up another passage.  We started on out, checking all of the small question marks from yesterday.  One small passage soon opened up and revealed 2 very well decorated, 25m+ avens, named them Gemini Silos.  Between us we surveyed about 800m in total in Krem Urn So.

Georg, Brian and Andy failed to find any thing at Musianglamare village, as they couldn't find a person to tell them where the cave was.

Daniel, Ritschie and Samm found 500m in the Western Inlets area in Krem Kot Sati.  It is now Western Inlets bypass as they connected it to the canals at the halfway landing point.

Thursday 20th February

Estelle, Paul, Tony and J'Rat had a day off and did a tourist trip!  We went in Lake inlet of Krem Urn Lawan, up Virgin streamway, up the pitch, taking the ladder as we went, through Krem Urn Shor (nice duck - you meet some interesting rubbish in the streamway!) on through the boulder choke and into Krem Kot Sati.  Nice swim/stroll through there and finally the 270m swim up the canals to Synrang Taloo (top sink entrance).  Excellent through trip; it took us 4hr 20mins to do approximately 4½-5 km of classic cave; we were very grateful for the life jackets in the canals.

Simon, Georg and Brian experimented with a bamboo maypole, with a wire ladder attached to the top; it worked brilliantly and they found 350m today with prospects of many other high level leads.

Andy, George and Spindro found a cave called Synrang Pamiang at Musianglamare and surveyed 350m with going leads.

Daniel, Ritschie and Samm found 200m in the canal area of Krem Kot Sati.

Friday 21st February

Estelle, Simon, Paul, Georg and Brian went Bamboo maypoling in Virgin Streamway in Krem Urn Lawan, and found 250m.

Colonel, Nicky, Samrn, Daniel, and Andy went back to Synrang Pamiang and surveyed another 700m; it still has lots of going leads.

Tony, J'Rat and Ritschie went back to Synrang Skei and pushed it to its entirety, all of 50m deep, to a Mendip digging session. They also went into Krem Urn So and tidied up a couple of leads we had left.

Saturday 22nd February

Estelle, Simon and Samm went back into Krem Urn Lawan to Virgin Streamway.  We looked at Dalmot Dome and decided our Bamboo pole wasn't long enough, so we continued upstream to one of Daniel's question marks, which he had pencilled in as joining Dalmot Dome.  This was not to be; we surveyed 750m heading back towards Urn Lawan streamway, nothing went anywhere near Dalmot Dome.  We named our find Georg's Dream Series, as it was everything Georg looks for in a passage! (Big, dry, fossil passages).  The formations were exceptional; there was a lot of gypsum crystals and beautifully coloured stal, some of which had obviously suffered earthquake damage, judging by the directions which they were choosing to grow. Georg and Colonel found a new, big cave just down the road from the Urn Lawan system (One for tomorrow.)

Tony, J'Rat, Daniel and Ritschie found a small amount in Krem Kot Sati, while after the trip our intrepid doctor tried to cut his finger off with a Leatherman (available from Bat Products!!) he failed, he only managed to cut down to the bone!

Paul, Andy and Brian went on a photographic trip in Krem Kot Sati.

We have discovered the reason for our food being so late each night.  Brian brings out lots of beer first and they won't feed us until we've drunk it all; we try our hardest, but it is hard work when the Germans mainly drink rum and the locals drink whisky, so it's down to us Brits to drink it! !

Sunday 23rd February

Estelle, Tony, J'Rat, Georg, Daniel, Brian, Paul and Colonel went to the new cave, Krem Urn Khang.  It was nicknamed porcupine cave after the presence of a rather smelly dead porcupine.  Krem Urn Khang has 2 main entrances off the big passage.  The rest of the cave appears to be mainly full of collapse.  J'Rat used a 'knotted rope in crack' technique to climb up into a high level passage, which he, Georg and Paul then went off to survey.  This passage continued seemingly forever in the unpleasant 'Austrian style', and then came out in a doline with several other entrances, known as Krem Urn Kharasniang.  They explored some of the other entrances and discovered that several met up, but left several needing pushing.

Simon, Andy, Samrn, Kaiman and Ritschie went to Synrang Pamiang again and surveyed another 600m; it's still going.

Monday 24th February

Estelle, Tony, J'Rat and Kaiman went on a relatively unsuccessful jungle bashing exercise for an hour, followed by a dig (using a crowbar) in Krem Urn Kharasniang.  The dig broke through very quickly and we soon found ourselves back by a smelly porcupine.  Tony had lost the pencil so we couldn't survey the cave today, so we photographed the musical stal in one of the other entrances and went and had tea.

Andy, Simon and Brian looked at a new cave in Lumshnong, just behind the church, called Krem Liat Rati. The story behind this one was, a few years ago; an elephant had fallen through the ceiling.  (Rati means elephant.)  It consisted of a cave that went into a coalmine, then went into another cave - Krem Mawiong (coalmine cave), which ended in a pitch.  The pitch was left for another occasion.

Simon, Georg and Brian then went into Krem Urn Lawan 2 (not connected to rest of system as yet) with a bamboo maypole.  They found an easier way in and some passage with leads.  Daniel, Samm, and Ritschie went into the canals in Krem Kot Sati and found about 200m

Tuesday 25th February

Estelle, Tony, Kaiman and Samm went back up the bamboo maypole into Georg's Dream series in Krem Urn Lawan. We found a connection to the streamway at Steel Drum Bypass.  We found a daylight shaft in Desperation series, which was about 10m and had a large sandstone boulder perched precariously in the top.  We also looked at a 5m pitch we had left and found that connected to known passage in Georg's Dream.  We surveyed about 300m and then we used our short cut out to Steel Drum Bypass, to Virgin Streamway.

Simon, Ritschie, Georg, Brian and Raphael went into Krem Urn Lawan 2 and connected it to Krem Urn Lawan near Surprise exit.

J'Rat, Andy, Spindro, George and Paul surveyed 200m in Krem Pohshnong at Lumshnong and looked at other local sites.

Wednesday 26th February

Estelle, Tory, Kaiman and J'Rat went to Urn Satad village, walked to Urn Stein village, and then on to a cave.  The cave was called Krem Wah Stein, where we surveyed about 80m of passage, christened Arachnophobia, due to the large number of dinner plate sized spiders, whose green eyes stared at us the whole time we were in there.  We found a boulder resurgence, near to the dry riverbed known as Wah Lariang (or Wah Tharang, dependent on which village you speak to). There is a chance that the resurgence could be from Krem Urn Lawan, but due to the general direction of Krem Urn Lawan, it is more likely to be resurging in either the Lunar or Lukha Valley. We saw several small sites on our way back, but nothing significant.

Paul, Simon, Andy, Brian, Samm and Raphael went into several of the Lumshnong caves photographing and checking out the odd lead.

Daniel, Ritschie and Georg went into Kot Sati to try to scrape together 200m to make the caves total up to 18km; they just about managed that.

Thursday 27th February

Simon, Paul, Georg, Ritschie, and Samm left for Shillong and home.

Tony, J'Rat and Brian went to Krem Urn Sahi and Krem Urn Kharasniang to try pushing the extremities to connect to Krem Urn Lawan.  They found several ways off, but nothing to connect to Krem Urn Lawan.  They found a big shaft, which they got really excited about until Daniel told them it was Rift Pot entrance to Krem Urn Lawan, and also found a large shaft behind the garage.

Daniel, Andy and Kaiman went to Chiehruphi and surveyed 250m in Krem Pyrda.  There may be fewer of us, but we're still expected to drink the same amount of beer.

Friday 28th February

Estelle, Tony, J'Rat, Brian and Spindro went into Krem Urn Khang chamber entrance and pushed every conceivable hole to try to connect it to Krem Urn Lawan and got nothing.  We looked at Krem Urn Kseh, and Tony and I'Rat went into Krem Nianglartham (scorpion cave named after the resident at the end of the cave).  We then went into Lake Entrance of Krem Urn Lawan with a 10m bamboo pole; there was nothing before the lake, but we found a few nice sites beyond the lake. Unfortunately none went any distance, so we went to the bottom of the cascades to a boulder choke and then went out. Rift pot was a bit interesting; the quarrymen use it as a rubbish dump for their unwanted rocks, so we had to dodge the flying boulders as we went past.

Andy, Daniel and Raphael went to Krem Urn Synrang at Musianglamare and surveyed 840m.

Saturday 1st March

Estelle, Tony, J'Rat, ThyWillBeDone and Marcos went down a 10m entrance pitch at Garage Pot.  The boulder floored pothole had a pitch off each side; we went for the easiest, a 5m pitch with ongoing passage, after another 5m pitch we found a streamway that resembled Urn Lawan stream, and then found the nail varnish, which meant the Germans had already put their towels here! We had connected it to passage near surprise entrance and Krem Urn Lawan 2.  Back to the entrance chamber at Garage Pot and we descended the other pitch; this one was 15m and a bit awkward, but it didn't take long to recognise Desperation when we saw it; I'd recognise that sandstone boulder anywhere. We had connected to Desperation series in Georg's Dream.  We went back into Desperation and surveyed some passages we had left in the area with a sandstone roof; these were superbly decorated with gypsum crystals, large areas of black crust gypsum and wonderful coloured formations and we surveyed 400m.

Daniel, Brian, Raphael and Kaiman surveyed 200m in Krem Urn K wu in Lumshnong.

Andy, George and Roilang surveyed a further 300m in Krem Urn Synrang at Musinglamare; it still has going leads.

Sunday 2nd March

Tony, J'Rat and Andy went down to the first pitch in Krem Mawiong, which was 15m, only J'Rat descended the pitch, the other watched the coal pillar belay point!  J'Rat found another pitch, which he didn't descend as it was breakfast time, and they were stopping the coal-miners from working. The first pitch was rigged from a pillar of coal in the mine and they couldn't get their trucks past the rope! The mine has about 50m of 1m high passage, mined only by using picks and chisels and candles for light.

We had been told about a cave just behind the timber yard.  Just behind the timber yard turned out to be about 2km behind the timber yard. The cave was called Krem Urn Rymphoh. Andy, Raphael, Spirit and Wodin went down the two pitches, to pools and then low wet passage, which then got too tight to follow.

We walked back to the tea shop and then split into 2 teams; one went photographing in Lake Entrance and one went walking to check out surface areas near to where the end of Krem Urn Lawan should be.  On the way back we were shown 4 entrances, all called Krem Urn Lawan, and all unknowns to cavers, at this stage.  One choked, and the other three had pitches just inside the entrances.

Monday 3rd March

Raphael, Anand, Kaiman and George went on a photography trip into Krem Urn Khang.  We were leaving Lumshnong with Krem Kot Sati/Krem Urn Lawan as the longest and deepest in the Indian sub-continent at 18.67km long and 200m deep, thus establishing India as a worthwhile caving area in comparison to the rest of Southeast Asia.

We packed our kit up and waited for the jeep to pick us up.  Eventually we left Lumshnong for residency in the circuit house in Jowai.

Tuesday 4th March

Early start and it's off to Krem Lashing at Pdengshakap.  We had two main leads in the cave, so we split into two teams and went surveying. Estelle, Daniel, Brian, Donbok, Raphael and Anand went to the area which Daniel, Simon and Chris had left in 1995; it went for about 160m and ended in a boulder choke.

Tony, J'Rat, Andy and Kaiman fared better, they went through the boulder choke which was where we had stopped in 1995, and found a streamway and more big passage.  They surveyed until the water got chest deep and time was running on anyway.  We had our last tin of Spam, on puris; German Spam tastes far better than the stuff you get in the UK.  The local shower, a split water pipe, was much appreciated; must bring the soap tomorrow.

Wednesday 5th March

Estelle, J'Rat, Tony, Daniel, Anand and Raphael went back into Krem Lashing and continued surveying. The main passage ended in a big boulder choke, so we went back and surveyed the inlet and outlet passages. Centipede passage was named after the nasty looking 20cm purple centipede in the start of it.  One of the outlet passages was very deep water, but we were all right with our buoyancy devices!  Total surveyed was 500m.  We clambered up the entrance 'mountains' and came out and washed of and went to Charles Slong's place for dinner. (the ex-head man who was very helpful in 1995.)

The rest of the team had been prospecting all day and had not found much.  Our total cave to date = 19km

Thursday 6th March

Back to Shillong, to bad news, that Brian's 16 year old nephew had had a cardiac arrest and died after a swimming accident.  Went to Brian's for tea and to say farewell to the rest.  Raphael gave us a video of us caving, which he'd taken during the last 2 weeks.  Andy disappeared with his young lady friend.

Friday 7th March

Taxi to Guwahati airport (minus Andy - he's catching us up at the airport tomorrow) we got our flight and into Calcutta.  We opted for staying at the Fairlawn Hotel, which was owned by a very English, old couple called Mr and Mrs Smith, and had not had any major changes since before the Raj lost India to independence.  The rooms were very quaint with all the English luxuries; real beds and a bath went down a treat.

Saturday 8th March

Went to India Museum and then to the Hogg market, where J'Rat had a beard trim, in which he lost most of the hair on his head and also got a massage.  Went to airport and met up with Andy, and waited for our flight. Midnight, four hours after we were due to leave, we were told the Air India plane wasn't going to turn up, and were ushered off to the Airport Hotel.

Sunday 9th March/Monday 10th March

We endured 2 days of indecision from Air India, stuck in the hotel, apart from a brief trip into the city, to give the Air India office some grief.  Finally, on the Monday night we were taken to the airport and put on another Air India flight.  This one went smoothly and we actually arrived in the UK 5mins early; but 52 hours late!

Tuesday 11th March

Back home and back to reality!

Daniel, Brian and Lindsay (Brian's son) have since spent a further 3 weeks in the Cherrapunjee area and the Douki area where he surveyed 2 more significant caves.  They surveyed 2.75km in Krem Lymput, near Douki, which apparently has China Caves sized passages.  Krem Lawkhlieng, 6km North of Cherrapunjee yielded another 2km of passage. The total for the February/March 1997 expedition totalled 25km, with 14 new caves surveyed and extensions in 2 existing systems (taking Krem Kot Sati/Krem Urn Lawan system as one cave now).

This makes the total caves explored in Meghalaya to 85 and the total length of mapped passage to 69.8km, and as all the people who have visited this wonderful part of India will vouch, there is plenty left to do.

A return trip is planned for early 1998.

 

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