Extending India’s Longest and Creating its Third Longest Caves
By Tony Jarratt and Henry Dawson
“Hundreds and thousands of feet below the earthÙs crust, far from human view, lies meandering passages, waterways, spectacular sights in the form of stalagmites and stalactites, and rumbling waterfalls. Those who have explored the innermost depths of Meghalaya marvelled at the sights which greet them while exploring the caves that are abundantly found in different parts of the state.”
E.D. Marak, Minister, Information and Public Relations, Meghalaya.
“Natures Exotic Gift The Caves of Meghalaya” – Brian Kharpran Daly, 2006
India: Brian Kharpran Daly (M.A.A./G.S.G.), Shelley (nee Diengdoh) Syien (M.A.A.), Maxwell Syien (M.A.A.), Duohi Jeet, Com Mo Dias, Arki, Sngap Bha (Tongseng village).
Germany: Heidrun Andre (H.F.G.N.), Georg Baumler (H.H.V.L.), Rainer Hoss (H.F.G.N.), Herbert Janschke (H.F.G.O.K.).
Austria: Peter Ludwig (L.V.H.O.O.).
Switzerland: Thomas Arbenz (S.N.T.).
U.S.A: Barbara am Ende (N.S.S.).
Canada: Ian McKenzie (A.S.S.).
Ireland: Des McNally (U.D.C.P.C.), Brian Cullen (D.U.P.C.), Quentin Cooper (B.C.), Robin Sheen (B.C.).
U.K: Simon Brooks (O.C.C./G.S.S.), Mark Brown (S.U.S.S./G.S.G.), Tony Boycott (U.B.S.S./B.E.C./G.S.G.), Kate Janossy (G.S.G.), Tony Jarratt (B.E.C./G.S.G.), Neil Pacey (R.R.C.P.C.), Henry Rockliff (S.U.S.S.), Fraser Simpson (G.S.G.), Jayne Stead (G.S.G.), Peter Glanvill (B.E.C.), Phillippa Glanvill, Henry Dawson (B.E.C./R.U.C.C.), Joe Duxbury (G.S.S.), Amanda Edgeworth (S.W.C.C.), Mark Tringham (G.S.G.), Rhys Williams (S.W.C.C.).
Zoological Survey of India (Eastern Region Station):
Ilono Kharkongor (scientist), Silbaster Swell (collection tender), Madhar Soonar (lab. attendant), Gerald Japang (driver), Shinoti Kharkongor.
The Support Team:
Bung Diengdoh, Adison “Adi” Thabah (camp Gods), David Kimberley Pakyntein (driver/organizer), S.D.Diengdoh (bus driver), Jonathon Wanniang (driverÙs mate), Myrkassim Swer (chef), Munni Lyngdoh (Mrs. Swer), Vinod Sunar, Robin Gurung, Raja Paul, Champa Thapa, Radha Rawat (indispensable helpers), Bod Kharkongor (driver), Khraw Mylliem (driver).
Guides, Informants and Old Friends:
Evermore Sukhlain (Shnongrim), Larsing Sukhlain (Sutnga), Shor “Pa Heh” Pajuh, Kores, Gripbymon Dkhar (Semassi), Raplang Shangpliang (Shnongrim), Prusly Tangliang (headman, Semassi), Ramhouplien Tuolor (headman, Sielkan), Carlyn Phyrngap (were-tiger), Menda Syih, Na-U-Sukhlain (doloi, Nongkhlieh Elaka), Bill Richmond Marbaniang and the Meghalaya Police, the people of Sielkan, Semassi and the Ridge, Maureen Diengdoh, Robin Laloo and our friends in Shillong – and the staff of the Nazareth Hospital, Shillong.
Brian Kharpran Daly and the Meghalaya AdventurersÙ Association, the Government of India Tourist Office (East and North East India) – Kolkata, the Meghalaya State Tourism Dept, officials and government depts. within Meghalaya.
Compiled from the Expedition diary, a G.S.G. newsletter article by Simon Brooks and Mark Brown and the writersÙ log books.
By 3rd February a team of five had assembled on the Shnongrim Ridge where our bamboo base camp was located and last yearÙs ultra-promising cave, Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3, was rigged by Henry R. He was joined by Robin and Brian C. and underground sites of interest were noted. Next day they were joined by Tony B. when they rigged Krem Wah Sning entrance pot to reach a 60m crawl and second pitch. Meanwhile more of us had gathered in Shillong and a select two hit the local beer to excess resulting in your scribe admiring the marble floor of the Cloud Nine bar from extremely close quarters! On the 5th two more pitches were dropped in Wah Sning and a complex series of walking and crawling passages entered, three of which were left unexplored. Henry R. and Quentin surveyed upstream through deep water in K.L.(M).3 to reach a sump – almost certainly the downstream end of the sump at the end of Video Passage in the 22km long Krem Liat Prah system ( IndiaÙs longest cave).
A stream sink, Krem Wah Sarok 2, was descended by Mark B, Robin and Brian C. on the 6th when a strongly draughting canal, almost blocked by flowstone, was reached after a series of classic pitches. More of the team arrived at the camp. On the 7th Mark B. rigged Krem Umsohtung in Lelad village (cleaner this year and losing its nickname of “Toilet Cave”) and, joined by Pete G, Phillippa, Barbara and Henry D, surveyed the remaining lead in the first upstream side passage. Due to Barbara being tired and dehydrated a slow, assisted and very late exit was made. Back at camp there was more excitement as your scribe was found unconscious as a result of his head-banging activities and was unceremoniously transported to the Nazareth Hospital in Shillong for a CT scan and a night under observation. He is very grateful to Dr.B, Jayne and Shelley for their concern and company and would like to state that the scan proved that he does have a brain! Meanwhile Des, Joe and Peter L. rigged two pitches in Krem Wah Sarok 3 and Henry R, aided by Brian C, climbed into high level passages in K.L.(M).3. One of these was surveyed by Neil and Quentin to a point very close to the attractive resurgence cave of Krem Rubong 1. Next day they returned with Mark B, Henry D. and Robin and continued the survey to a boulder choke where they fortuitously heard Pete G, Phillippa, Thomas, Barbara and Brian K.D. who were on a photographic trip in Rubong 1. The removal of a boulder allowed the ExpeditionÙs first major link to be made and the surveys to be connected. Much of the K.L.(M).3 streamway was also surveyed. In Wah Sarok 3 Joe, Des and Peter L. explored and surveyed.
They returned with Brian C. next day and pushed on down to make the second important connection when they popped out in Video Passage, Krem Liat Prah. A large team in K.L. (M). 3 surveyed and photographed and pushed a couple of unpleasant crawls. Others recced on the surface and the invalid and his minders returned to the Ridge to join in the fun. Much more surveying was done in K.L.(M).3 on the 10th with teams going in from both entrances. Some odd problems were found with loops failing to close and after discounting ghostly activity (the local spirit inhabits the adjacent Krem Wah Shikar) they were blamed on local magnetic anomalies. Further up the Ridge Brian C, Thomas and Peter L, guided by Raplang, found Krem Dngiem 1 (Bear Cave) and also, as a bonus, Krem Dngiem 2, Niang Ju and Toss Rock Pot. 200m of fossil passage was surveyed in Dngiem 1.
Sunday 11th saw Peter L, Brian C. and Quentin finishing the Wah Sarok 3 survey while Henry R, Joe and Peter G. dropped into the impressive jungle doline of Krem Moo Sata 1 to swing into an ongoing upstream passage 15m off the floor. The hope in this area was to find a link between the Liat Prah (“northern” Ridge system) and Krem Synrang Ngap (part of the “central” Ridge system). The writer and Des, meanwhile, abseiled into Liat Prah via SnowmanÙs Pot but failed to find the route to Video Passage. The survey of Dngiem 1 was continued by Tony B, Thomas and Phillippa resulting in 250m more in the bag while Mark B. rigged the End of the World traverses to reach a big pot. A c.40m pitch before this reached big passage. At K.L.(M).3 Neil, Robin and Henry D. completed the streamway survey and located a large, ongoing inlet. Barbara and Jayne continued the surface recce.
The K.L.(M).3 inlet was pushed next day by Neil, Phillippa and Quentin along 120m of flat out crawl to an aven. At Moo Sata 1 Joe, Henry D. and Peter G. rigged the opposite side of the great doline to find a downstream passage. The undescended pot in Dngiem 1 was dropped for 42m into Liat Prah at the junction of No Draught Passage and the Aircraft Hangar to give the third connection of the Expedition while nearby Barbara and Robin recced in the area of the Knee Wrecker Pots finding six new shafts. Tony B. and Jayne photographed bones and rescued a calf at the nearby Knee Wrecker 2. At Wah Sarok 3 Henry R. and the writer checked out Video Passage in the hope of connecting with K.L. (M). 3 but were confused by the old survey which bore little resemblance to the passages entered. Back at camp things were hotting up with first the welcome arrival of our German colleagues and later the decidedly unwelcome arrival of a delegation of twenty eight threatening coal miners demanding that we leave the area or our safety could not be guaranteed! The team discussed options and our friend Bill Richmond Marbaniang, chief of the Meghalaya police, was phoned. The next arrivals were a team of five biologists from NE India University and a well-armed squad of camouflage-uniformed para-military policemen who had been sent by Bill to guard us. All this fuss was due to forthcoming environmental problems which will adversely affect the Ridge, its stunning and important cave systems, the biology and hydrology of the area and the lifestyle of the local villagers – though our worries are more about the rapidly developing quarrying industry than the less threatening coal mining, destructive though it has been to the once idyllic countryside to the north west. A Public Interest Litigation had been filed by the Meghalayan AdventurersÙ Association to the Indian Supreme Court in a bid to protect the Ridge and the mine owners were concerned that this would threaten their livelihoods.
On the 13th belongings were packed and caves de-rigged as the team prepared to leave while Simon arranged a meeting for the following day with Brian K.D, the police, mining representatives and a lawyer. Tony B. took the biologists into Krem Rubong 1 to take samples and photographs and Fraser managed to get some video footage during the de-rigging so the day wasnÙt completely wasted. Torrential rain heralded the day of the meeting and resulted in the police truck having to be towed up to the road. Biological work continued in Krem Wah Shikar where the two Peters and Barbara accompanied the scientists. Simon and Brian K.D. returned in the afternoon to announce that a favourable outcome had been reached with the miners and the Expedition could continue. Sighs of relief and celebrations all round!
Krem Dngiem 1 was revisited on the 15th when photography (Des and Mark B.) and videoing (Fraser) took place with the writer acting as reluctant model on the exposed End of the World traverses. Mark dropped the superbly decorated pot at the end into Trafalgar Square in Liat Prah then dropped the pitch below the End of the World into another part of the same cave – our fourth and fifth connections. In K.L.(M).3 Henry R, Ian, Brian C, Quentin, Phillippa and Neil continued surveying inlets both up and downstream. Joe, Barbara and Peter G. finished the Krem Moo Sata 1 survey and Pete photographed the cave. This was not to be the hoped for missing link. Robin and Peter L. bottomed Krem Moo Sata 2 (?) at 17m – another possible link written off. An eight strong Anglo-German team left camp for the Sielkan area where they would stay for several days in a bamboo hut on a less exotic diet but with no shortage of rice! The recent rain meant that the last 3.5 kms of road had to be walked carrying full kit to reach the path back to the village. Navigation problems caused the team to walk to the base of the hill and back twice before being rescued by a bizarrely equipped local with a digital camcorder who showed them a video of Georg! Eventually they gratefully collapsed in the headmanÙs hut with a brew of tea.
On the 16th Peter G, Barbara and Thomas surveyed the connections from Liat Prah to Krem Dngiem 1 where Joe, Brian C, Fraser and Peter L. were surveying the traverse and Trafalgar Square Pitch. More photography and videoing was done and the cave de-rigged. Des and Robin descended the large collapse doline of Krem Umthymme and dropped a 5m pitch into a boulder choke which was dug to open up a squeeze and route through boulders to the head of a 15m pitch. At the ever popular K.L.(M).3 Quentin, Henry R. and Neil continued tidying up the survey. Mark B, Ian and your scribe returned to Krem Umsohtung to finish the downstream survey when a flowstone blockage halted all further progress. In the stunning river cave of Sielkan Pouk Georg, Kate, Herbert and Henry D. surveyed 620m of inlet at the end of Perfect Passage while Simon, Heidi, Rainer and Mark T. took photos. All then had a communal “cave bathe”. Perfect Passage was heralded as the most beautifully and extensively decorated passage yet seen in Meghalaya – and for many of the team it was the finest ever seen! Several branches of the system were explored but only the high level fossil passage and an inlet “went”. The main passage was left ongoing as time ran out.
At last, on the 17th, the spectacular Krem Labbit (Khaidong) system (the upstream part of Liat Prah) was revisited by Brian C. and Henry R. who examined several outstanding possible leads. Des, Fraser and Joe videoed and de-rigged Umsohtung while Neil, Robin and Mark B. rigged Krem Um Im 1 which needed resurveying. A fresh sump stopped progress after a couple of hundred metres so they de-rigged the cave and set off back to camp. Today the Gods were with them as a plume of warm air was noticed rising from a nearby doline – probably caused by the cold temperature following heavy rain. A draughting walking-sized passage was found and named Dragon Hole. It looked good. Not too far away a surface recce team of Quentin, Phillipa and the writer checked the Krem Waipong area and found three steaming and draughting caves roughly above the western end of K.L.(M).3. Peter L. and Thomas recced and mapped in the rarely visited area around Krem Umsngad at the opposite end of the Ridge. Others recced and found that Krem Wah Sarok 2 was correctly called Krem Heh U Reh. At Sielkan Pouk about 660m was surveyed by Georg, Mark T, Herbert and Henry D. in the fossil passage. This large and geologically interesting gallery followed the contact between the limestone and sandstone above. It was carpeted with gypsum needles but unfortunately choked, though there may be potential for digging. (Good man Henry!). Meanwhile Simon, Heidi, Rainer and Kate went bamboo maypoling downstream but with little result.
Sunday the18th saw Robin, Henry R. and Phillippa bolting up a wall at the side of the boulder choke at the end of Disto in Krem Labbit (Khaidong) and entering a continuing, large fossil passage. At Dragon Hole Fraser, Peter G, Barbara and Brian K.D. surveyed 149m to a 20m pitch. Videoing and photography was also done. Neil, Quentin and your scribe, back down K.L.(M).3, removed a boulder in the promising but low and exceedingly grotty “All Bound for Moomooland”. Beyond, more squalor led to a view through an impassable rift into bigger stuff beyond but without bang or caps there was no way of getting through into what was assumed to be part of Liat Prah. The hoped for major link was thus left for a determined siege next year. A crowbar and reflector were left in the rift in case it could be found from the far side. Joe and Brian C. descended two pitches in Krem Dngiem 2 and got the ExpeditionÙs sixth connection by arriving in an aven just off No Draught Passage in Liat Prah. They surveyed the link. Mark B. and Peter L. rigged the old favourite, Krem Synrang Ngap, in preparation for a big push. At Sielkan Zuala Pouk was explored and surveyed for 36.39m by Simon and Henry D. but dense jungle obscured the whereabouts of Bak Pouk.
Bats – Sielkan Pouk
Despite the resolved problem with the coal miners it was around 3.15am sometime this week that Peter L, awake at the time, heard a shotgun being fired over the camp by a passing well-wisher and the pellets landing on the tents.
Next day Ian and Brian C. surveyed the new fossil passage in Krem Labbit (Khaidong) for over 200m to a choke. Robin and the writer took the supposedly easy option of Krem Wah Lukor 1, located within walking distance of the camp. This turned out to be a 9m deep blind pot with a narrow shaft to one side which has yet to be dropped and will connect with the adjacent Krem Wah Lukor 2 where a 30m pot was dropped into a series of horizontal passages intersecting a deep daylight shaft, Krem Wah Lukor 3, 17m above the floor. The cave had a good feeling about it.
Peter L, Des, Fraser, Barbara and Peter G. returned to Dragon Hole. A 23m pitch, canyon, traverse and 45m pitch led to a large passage or chamber. Photos and video were taken. Way down the Ridge Thomas and Brian K.D. followed the dry Um Sngad riverbed through a gorge to reach two flood-prone cave entrances below a cliff with a 5m climb down into a large passage. The big push in Krem Synrang Labbit involved Mark B, Henry R, Phillippa and Quentin who reached the impressive M.A.A. Chamber in 3 hours. They pushed on through draughting passage heading NE, the Kit Kat Trail, but ran out of time and emerged at 2.30am after a 14-hour trip. Imagine their delight when the planned radio contact failed and they had to walk home. Four more cavers arrived in camp today. At Sielkan a spectacular through trip was made from Sielkan Pouk to Pielklieng Pouk with 60m of new, high-level passage bagged on the way. This was found with the aid of the bamboo maypole but was only an oxbow.
Stal – Sielkan Pouk
On 20th February local stars Pa Heh and Kores, accompanied by Henry R, joined Robin, Mandy, Rhys, Joe and the writer at Krem Wah Lukor 2 in order to identify the daylight shaft located in a patch of jungle. In the cave more rigging and surveying was done until the rope ran out at a 10m pitch into a large passage at right angles. At Sngad River Sink Peter L, Thomas, Max, Shelley, Fraser and Brian K.D. explored and videoed. Large washed in trees were a hazard! The Dragon Hole team of Neil, Des, Brian C. and Pete G. dropped the 50m pitch into the ceiling of the Grand Trunk Road in the Krem Um Im 6 section of, guess where, Liat Prah to get the seventh connection of the Expedition. Another 600m was surveyed by Georg, Herbert, Mark T. and Rainer in Sielkan Pouk along Footprint Inlet before running out of time.
Simon, Kate, Heidi and Henry D. were guided to a blind 50.5m deep shaft through sandstone into limestone and because of the localsÙ tales called it Ongoing Cave. It dropped down to a rift with climbs that tapered down in size – not going! The villagers called it the “hole with no end” and it was described by the headmanÙs wife as “the hole, which, if a stone is dropped down, it will fall for five minutes”. (ThatÙs deep!).
The 21st was the occasion of the Moolasngi village fete which most of the camp dwellers attended. Sadly there were no fighting bulls at the event. Six of them then changed places with the Sielkan team. At K.L.(M).3 Quentin, Henry R. and Brian C. tidied up the survey while Neil, who had forgotten his helmet, located a rift passage and three shafts on the walk back to camp. The latter may have been Krem Skap 1,2 and 3. Joe, Barbara and Peter G. went to Krem Iap Ksew ( Dead Dog Cave) and a nearby steaming rift, which they named Dog Breath Cave. In one of these Joe dropped a 10m pitch into some 50m of ongoing canyon passage. Robin, Peter L. and your scribe were back at Krem Wah Lukor 2 and the final pitch was dropped into the farthest upstream end of the superb, 14km long Krem Umthloo – the writerÙs baby!
This was Expedition connection number eight and particularly satisfying as it was likely to herald further exploration in this very fine, and far from finished, system. The Sielkan Pouk team of Simon, Georg and Heidi had a photographic trip before heading back to camp. With the others they hiked out to find no waiting jeeps and wondered if the miners had had their way. These turned up three hours late and without beer (!) but the relief was such that the drivers were forgiven.
DogBreathCave or Krem Iap Ksew 2 was revisited on the 22nd by Quentin, Pete G. and Barbara who surveyed 70m to the top of a 24m pitch. Peter L. and Simon surveyed in Sngad River Sink and reached a sump. Robin, Mark T. and Joe were in the same area. The writer, Ian and Neil revisited Video Passage in Krem Liat Prah via Krem Wah Sarok 3 – fully intent on sorting out the fictional survey but were gobsmacked when they realised that survey stations found were of very recent origin and that they had unwittingly connected with Krem Wah Sning – link number nine of this very lucky Expedition! Not trusting a rope protector on the big pitch they left Liat Prah by the main entrance having completed the first through-Ridge trip in the lower part of the system. Heidi, the two Henries and Brian C. surveyed 144m in Krem Dngiem 2. Mark B, Phillippa, Mandy, Rhys and Fraser videoed and photographed in Pielklieng Pouk then most did the through trip.
On the 23rd Quentin, Peter L. and Mark T. dropped a pot and pushed a squeeze in Krem Iap Ksew 2 then followed a streamway to more deep pitches which Peter bolted while the others surveyed 3 Rats Passage – complete with itÙs particularly active and apparently “cuddly” residents! Mark B, Phillippa, Mandy, Rhys and Fraser photographed and videod in Pielklieng Pouk before returning to camp. Robin, Des, Ian and Neil descended Krem Wah Sarok 3 to survey and confirm the link to Krem Wah Sning from Video Passage in Krem Liat Prah. In Krem Labbit (Khaidong) Brian C, Kate, the Henries and your scribe checked all possible leads near the Krem Chuni entrance including a high level passage which the Henries bolted up to (amongst a spray of vomit from one of them!). The only one of interest led to a dodgy vertical boulder choke with an open, stepped aven above which either needs bolting for safety or dropping into from the surface. Eight of the team set off for Semassi village where Peter G, Georg, Joe, Simon, Rainer and Heidi took a bamboo maypole into Krem Tyngheng to check high level leads in this fascinating and labyrinthine river cave.
Next day Mark B, Quentin and Phillippa recced in the Dukan Sha and Lumthari areas finding a blind 30m shaft (which may have been Krem Kacha and some entrances in the base of the escarpment NE of the chai shop. At K.L.(M).3 Kate, Henry R, Mark T. and Rhys pushed three climbs, which led to short lengths of passage. Krem Wah Sning was visited by Robin, Ian and Brian C. to survey a couple of passages and check out an aven for a possible link to K.L.(M). – in vain. The writer, Neil and Mandy took the chance to carry on a project attempted last year but foiled by poor route finding. Krem Myrliat 1 was dropped (after confusing it with the undescended and adjacent Krem Myrliat 2) into the far reaches of the 14km long Krem Umthloo (part of the Southern System) and a couple of inlets leading north from one of the main upstream feeders were checked. Your scribe had noticed the proximity of these inlets to the 4km long stream cave of Krem Synrang Labbit (part of the Central System theoretically feeding the Krem Iawe resurgence at the far eastern edge of the Ridge and with a potential length of over 20kms) and had a wild idea that they may be connected. After a couple of blind passages we reached Letter C Gallery, explored and surveyed to an apparently too low crawl by Thomas Matthalm and team some years ago. A strong outward draught was followed through a roomy but muddy low section to reach two fine avens, which were not on TomÙs survey and with a dearth of survey stations. Beyond these, and at a total distance of only 134m from known passage a sluggish streamway was met flowing from left to right in a rather complicated area of chambers, chokes and low, muddy passages. Here an obviously differently marked survey station was found and tied into. Confusion then reigned as the explorers argued as to where the Hell they were! After a snack of Britannia coconut biscuits they headed out – filthy, wet and tired but keen to compute the survey figures. Mandy got this job and all were soon admiring the perfect fit of the ExpeditionÙs tenth and most important link. Umthloo and Synrang Labbit were now IndiaÙs 3rd longest cave at 18kms and part of the revised Southern System – the Central System now being redundant! A link with the Northern System of Krem Liat Prah and its satellites is now the project for next year and would be well on the way towards the creation of a 100km + Meghasystem. As German Tom and Austrian Peter L. had failed to push low passages from both sides this new link was named (with tongue in cheek) after our biscuits – the Britannia Connection! Suitable celebrations were held that evening. In Krem Tyngheng Georg, Heidi, Rainer and Peter G. surveyed 483m of maze passage while Simon, Barbara, Herbert and Joe pushed and surveyed passages in the Fossil River Series.
On Sunday 25th February Mark B. rigged a series of pitches in Peaceful Cave, Lelad, whilst Rhys and Brian C. surveyed. At base level small and decidedly unpleasant draughting ducks drove them back out. Krem Wah Shikar was visited on a tourist trip for Tongseng village lads Duohi Jeet, Com Mo Dias, Arki and Sngap Bha, led by Robin, Fraser and Des. They thoroughly enjoyed it and were duly photographed and videod. At Dukan Sha chai shop Henry D, Peter L, Mandy and Phillippa explored and surveyed 350m of spider-infested small passages, a larger fossil passage and a streamway / canal in a low level cave apparently called Krem Son Pow 2 and nicknamed “Drunken Goldfish Cave” when it was realised that “son pow” was their guideÙs request for “more money”! It later became Krem Kdong Thloo. Neil, Henry R. and Kate bottomed Krem Mih Dohtli 2 at 20m after two short pitches and Krem Mih Dohtli 1 after a 25m-drop to boulders. Quentin, Ian and Mark T. went to Krem Iap Ksew 2 and failed to descend the last shaft “due to blind shafts within the shaft, before locating a 15m draughting shaft”. At Krem Tyngheng a total of 533m was surveyed by the same teams as the previous day to the NW and SW of the main passage.
Krem Iap Ksew 2 was revisited next day by the same team who finally bottomed and surveyed the pitches and got the ExpeditionÙs eleventh connection when they tied into survey station 105 in Krem Shyien Khlieh just north of the camp. Fraser, Des and the writer descended Krem Wah Lukor 2 to the ledge with a stunning view of the Pinetree Pot daylight shaft, Krem Wah Lukor 3, in order to video Henry R. and Peter L. abseiling in from the open shaft in the jungle where a 1.5m long snake had earlier been seen. After almost two hours of waiting and listening to Henry drilling and whistling somewhere above the cameramen got fed up and mutinied. The writer descended the next pitch to suddenly see Henry appear high in the ceiling of a towering aven offset from the daylight shaft. The “Snake Shaft” was not the correct one but had also connected (Expedition link number twelve) via a window reached by a desperately exposed traverse above a blind, 40m deep shaft. It thus became Krem Wah Lukor 4. With some very imaginative rigging Henry reached the floor, followed by Peter who de-rigged Krem Wah Lukor 2 while Henry and your scribe surveyed out and de-rigged 4, at one point pausing to admire a small, black and deadly-looking scorpion resting on the cave wall. The aven became “Tubular Bells Pot” after the tunes played on the superb formations decorating its walls, and the views from the window – 40m above the floor and with a 40m-drop only some 4m away on the other side – were spectacular. Crossing the traverse scared the shit out of one particular old Mendip git with a headache! Robin, Neil and Kate went to a supposedly new pot named B6 but found it to have been previously bolted. 45m and a 25m pots were dropped to a lot of awkward, draughting cave ending in a small streamway. They were informed that it was Krem Syrnum – partially explored in 2002 but positioned incorrectly on the map. Phillippa, Henry D, Mandy and Rhys continued surveying for 175m in Krem Kdong Thloo, mainly in upstream walking-sized passage whilst Mark B. and the Brians surveyed 635m downstream and through a duck to an entrance shown to Mark two days earlier. Simon, Heidi, Herbert and Peter G. surveyed some 200m in a maze of wet, downstream passages in Krem Tyngheng then walked back to camp, feeling somewhat vulnerable as they trekked through the mining settlements! Tyngheng, the never ending cave, was left with 30 unexplored passages!
February 27th and the last caving day of the Expedition. Krem Synrang Ngap saw the Marks, Henry D. and Brian C. pushing several grotty side passages in the far reaches and failing to find the major connection to Krem Synrang Labbit while Henry R, Heidi and the writer went for the soft option at the much closer downstream choke – two boulders were blocking the way to black space beyond. They were lucky to get there as Heidi sustained a badly twisted ankle en route but insisted on continuing. Here Henry produced his not very secret weapon – three “snappers” made from shotgun cartridge black powder scrounged from Pa Heh, inserted in drilled holes, tamped with cornflour and water paste and electrically fired one at a time. The first failed and the others produced smoke and noise but little else. It was a good effort though. A calcite rib on the wall was then chiselled off just enough to allow the skinnier Mendip member of the team to squeeze through and enlarge the place from the far side so that Henry could join him. They explored some 160m of huge and splendidly decorated high-level passage ending in a proper boulder choke with several ways on down in the floor. It was named “Adventurous Hobby ExplorersÙ Hall” following a derisory comment from one of our Germanic colleagues! Lack of time prevented surveying or pushing but it will be a great start to next yearÙs trip. There is a good chance of connecting with Krem Tyrtong Ryngkoo and / or Krem Bir 1 or even of bypassing these altogether and heading for Krem Iawe. Robin, Joe and Kate pushed on in Krem Syrnum and got the thirteenth and final connection of the Expedition when they appropriately dropped into the old favourite Krem Liat Prah to bump up the length of IndiaÙs longest cave to 26kms. Great stuff! A large Sngad River Sink team clocked up a lot more metres in this seemingly endless maze cave.
The following day all packed up, bid a fond farewell to the Ridge and its amazing cave systems and returned to Shillong where Daniel Gebauer, Sebastian Breitenbach and Norbert (?) had arrived – too late to join us but intent on doing their own thing. Andre Abele had been with Daniel in another part of India and he was met later in Calcutta on his way home.
Mark Tringham post dump?
The evening of 1st March was spent at the lakeside residence of Robin Laloo where many partied the night away before leaving for Guwahati and Calcutta on the 2nd. The 3rd was Holi festival and many of the team, particularly Phillippa, got plastered in the traditional coloured powder or liquid dispersed on this occasion. Cold beers at the Fairlawn finished the day and by 2.15 on the afternoon of the 4th Dr. B. and your scribe were supping proper ale in the HuntersÙ after a very successful, if somewhat traumatic, Expedition with 16kms surveyed and 13 important connections established. Apart from the above lots of people spent days recceing, rope washing, computing data and drawing up surveys. Fraser and Phillippa introduced a novelty item with a spoof video of “Big Brother Meets Father Ted” – essential viewing at this yearÙs Hidden Earth Conference! The usual thanks go to all those who worked hard in many ways to accomplish this and particularly Maureen and Brian for again letting us turn their house into a transit camp and caving hut.
Some facts and figures
24 caves, 16 of which were previously unexplored, were surveyed and photographed resulting in almost 16 kms of passage, 11.8 kms of this being on the Ridge where there is now 138 kms – the greatest concentration of cave passage in one area on the Indian sub-continent. The total length of passage found by these Meghalayan Expeditions is now over 310 kms in 653 caves with another 450 yet to be explored! The Krem Liat Prah system was extended from 22.202 kms to 25.225 kms and the almost connected Krem Labbit (Moolasngi) 3 from 649 metres to 3.775 kms. Its connection with Krem Rubong 1 gave a final length of 4.590 kms. The Krem Umthloo / Krem Synrang Labbit system has jumped into third place at 18 kms. Krem Tyngheng went from 7.752 kms to 9.221 kms and the Pielklieng Pouk / Sielkan Pouk system from 10.428 kms to 12.434 kms. Two promising caves for next year are the Sngad River Sink at 1.265 kms and Krem Kdong Thloo at 1.185kms. Much of the Ridge exploration was greatly helped by Thomas ArbenzÙs magnificent map to which he has dedicated most of his limited holidays. A reduced and simplified version appears with this article.
The Longest and Deepest Limestone Caves in the Indian Sub-continent – March 2007-04-17
1. Krem Liat Prah System – 25.225 km.
2. Krem Kotsati / Um Lawan – 21.53 km.
3. Krem Umthloo / Synrang Labbit18.091 km.
4. Synrang Pamiang – 14.157 km.
5. Pielklieng Pouk / Sielkan Pouk – 12.434 km.
6. Krem Tyngheng – 9.221 km.
7. Krem Shrieh – 8.862 km.
8. Krem Mawkhyrdop – 7.194 km.
9. Krem Lymput – 6.641 km.
10. Mondel Kol – 5.831 km.
1. Synrang Pamiang – 317m.
2. Krem Kotsati / Um Lawan – 215m.
3. Krem Umjasew – 197m.
4. Krem Umthloo / Synrang Labbit – 188m.
5. Pielklieng Pouk / Sielkan Pouk – 180m.
6. Pakaw Pouk – 170m.
7. Krem Shrieh – 169m.
8. Krem Risang – 154m.
9. Krem Wah Ser – 145m.
10. Krem Shyien Khlieh – 143m.
All are located in Meghalaya state.
Belfry Bulletins 516, 519, 522, 525, 527 (This diary article was published in error, all information therein being included in the article in 525).
Grampian S. G. Bulletins 3rd Series, Vol. 5 Nos. 4, 5. 4th Series, Vol. 1 Nos.2, 5. Vol. 2 Nos. 2, 4. Vol. 3 No. 1.