The mouth of the cave is a yawning black hole. We can’t see what it holds inside, but we can smell it. Rank, knock-you-straight-out bat poop. The local guide assures us the smell is worst outside; but three of the group have already backed out. He makes us cover our heads with scarves (“They crap a lot, and you’ll never get the smell out of your hair”) and get our headlamps in place and walk in.
“The dome of the cave looks like Taj Mahal,” he says invitingly. “The bats’ eyes shine like little jewels.”
What the hell?
That’s 24-year-old Mayank Desai talking about what he does for fun. Turns out, exploring caves is a bonafide adventure activity, one with its own set of rules and safety guidelines. It’s called spelunking and there’s more to it than walking headlong into dark caverns. There are awe-inspiring rock formations, hidden species, and underwater springs — an entire world that is normally hidden.
Is it tough?
Like all adventure sports, there’s a degree of risk, but if you’re well prepared, you’re good to go. Start with easier caves then move to tougher ones that involve rappelling. With proper gear and a guide, you have nothing to worry about, except not seeing a blind fish.
As in, blind as a bat?
Yes, like bats, which also live in caves. Caves have an eco-system of their own and speleologists, the people who study caves, call these life forms troglobites. Most cave dwelling animals are endemic, which means that a fish found in a cave in Alabama will not be found in Amboli. But they all evolve in similar ways. So, they’ve given up certain characteristics like the ability to see and, instead, developed a sense of touch, with sensors over their bodies.
How do I get started?
First, get a good headlamp. Then, read up just enough on the snakes in the area so you can tell the poisonous ones from the rest. According to Arun Sawant, director of Campfire Camps, an adventure tour company, that way when you encounter one, you know whether to panic. Your chances of encountering a venomous one are slim, though.
Got any tips?
Get yourself some good gear and wear full-sleeved shirts, pants and good shoes. Let some locals know what you’re planning and inside the cave, try to be quiet (loud noises have been known to cause landslides in limestone caves). Once you’ve explored a cave, write in to tell us you felt the rush!