A dark, bat-infested cave tucked in a rocky hill close to Chanakyapuri railway station served as the undetectable den for a group of petty thieves that targeted posh south Delhi localities, until they were busted.
The 50-metre natural chamber is hard to spot as its entrance is set at least 10 metres above a steep rock-face. Inside, a veil of darkness cloaks the cave — a safe house to wait till the trail goes cold after a crime.
The thieves hid their booty in a large pit deep within the spacious lair that provides head space for even a six-foot tall man. The floor is rocky and uneven, but large enough for a dozen people to sleep rough.
The under-rock dwellers didn’t have any magical catchphrase — such as “Open Sesame” of Ali Baba and 40 thieves — to reach the hideout. The south Delhi crooks had to climb the hill and use a small tree sticking out of the hillside to pitchfork to a foyer-like opening.
They spent their time cooking, drinking and playing cards until their next strike — with the nocturnal bats and their foul-smelling droppings for company.
The entrance offers a bird’s eye view of the railway tracks below, letting them track every movement outside.
When a police team reached the cave on Thursday, on a tip-off, six thieves scrambled into the darkest foxholes inside, so narrow that a man must crawl on all fours to get in.
“They would dash inside whenever they spotted any activity that threatened to give away their hideout,” additional deputy commissioner of police Chinmoy Biswal said on Friday.
An authoritative warning forced the criminals out of the hot and humid hiding places, and a little prod got them leading to the cellar that revealed a stash of stolen goods — mostly television sets, laptops, mobile phones, watches, and gold jewellery.
Besides bat litter, empty alcohol bottles, plastic glasses and plates, clothes, blankets, playing cards, empty cigarette packets, and rotting food were strewn about the place. Tell-tale signs that the cave has been inhabited for quite some time.
“The thieves cooked at the entrance. They had supplies for survival. The burnt wood found inside was from a fire they had lit to keep warm when it rained on Tuesday night,” a senior officer explained.
The men shuffled about in the pitch dark interior with light from their mobile phones.
The cave is invisible from outside, but not for locals aware of the topography.
“But we didn’t know someone was using it,” said Shiva Thakur, who works at a nearby eatery.