I was walking into a dark, narrow tunnel. As I moved deeper, the tunnel got narrower, until I could only proceed sideways like a crab. I couldn’t gauge the height of the crevice, and I didn’t know how far I had come. As I was forcing myself along the passage, I suddenly found that I couldn’t feel the ground under my right foot. I shouted out to the guide, who had left us way behind.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “it is about a foot deep there. Just keep walking. It has no side passages. You won’t get lost.” Three generations of his ancestors had been frequenting the cave, he said. I felt reassured that he knew the topography of the cave.
After a few more paces, we suddenly found ourselves in a dimly illuminated cavern. On its floor was a large gathering of stalactite formations in myriad shapes and sizes. They represented all the mythical characters from the epics and the Puranas.
We were inside the Shivkhori cave, the famous shrine to Lord Shiva in Udhampur district of Jammu and Kashmir. The figurines inside bore resemblances to the Pandavas, the Kauravas, Lord Shiva and Parvati and so on. The formations bore such a close likeness to the mythical characters that we were amazed. “They are naturally formed,” the guide said.
“No one has tried to doctor the formations to make them attain a particular shape.”We felt as if we had walked from our present, mortal world into the afterworld through a tunnel. Shivkhori was truly memorable.
Virag is a reader of Away & Beyond.