Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project, Meghalaya, North East India

The Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project takes its name from the Sanskrit meaning of the word ‘Meghalaya’ which literally translates to ‘Abode of the Clouds’. This reflects the fact that due to its geographical location Meghalaya is often cloaked in cloud and as a result receives world record rainfall. The rain, added to a warm climate and extensive areas of limestone, has provided the perfect mix to created many fine caves, making Meghalaya of great interest to the International Caving fraternity. In 1992, a small team of four European Cavers were able to visit Meghalaya and the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo hills, finding many caves and, more significantly, realising the huge caving potential within the state. In 1994, contact was made with Brian D. Kharpran Daly and Donbok Syiemlieh of the Shillong based Meghalaya Adventurers Association and from then onwards the systematic exploration of caves across Meghalaya has been undertaken as an enduring partnership between Indian, European, Middle East and American Cave Explorers. Through this productive collaboration, supported by the Meghalaya State Tourism Department the following cave exploration visits under the banner of the ‘Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project’ have been made.

1992 – Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills9+ kms2006 – Jaintia Hills15.4 kms
1994 – Khasi Jaintia and Garo Hills14+ kms2007 – Jaintia Hills15.9 kms
1995 – Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills10+ kms2008 – Jaintia Hills13.9 kms
1996 – Jaintia Hills9+ kms2009 – Jaintia Hills12.7 kms
1997 – Jaintia Hills25+ kms2010 – East Khasi and Jaintia Hills25.1 kms
1998 – Khasi and Jaintia Hills26+ kms2011 – Jaintia Hills10+ kms
1999 – Khasi and Jaintia Hills27+ kms2012 – Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills12.9 kms
1999 – Jaintia Hills4+ kms2013 – Jaintia Hills9.1 kms
2000 – Khasi and Jaintia Hills20+ kms2014 – South Jaintia Hills12.8 kms
2001 – Khasi and Jaintia Hills35+ kms2015 – Jaintia Hills and South Jaintia Hills15.3 kms
2002 – Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills22.5 kms
2002 – West Khasi Hills6+ kms
2002 – South Garo Hills2.7 kms
2003 – West Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills25.7 kms
2004 – Jaintia Hills17.1 kms
2005 – Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills19+ kms

Distances and new cave passage explored and surveyed during each visit.

To date (March 2015), the whereabouts of over 1,580 caves and cave locations are known, of which 970 have been explored or partially explored to yield in excess of 427 kilometres of measured (and of which a significant portion is mapped) cave passage, with much more awaiting discovery. Many of the caves explored to date contain impressive river passages, deep shafts and large and ancient relic passage. Together these features create cave systems equal in size and beauty to those found anywhere else in the world and put Meghalaya firmly on the world-caving map as a significant Cave and Karst Region. Within the caves is a rich variety of unique cave fauna and alongside the exploration foreign biologist and their Indian counterparts, most recently in partnership with the Lady Keane College in Shillong, have continued to record and document this finding in the process species that are completely unique to Meghalaya.

In the achievement of the above the ‘Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project’ is indebted to the help and support it has received over the years from; the Meghalaya Adventurers Association, the Government of India Tourist Office (East and North East India) Kolkata; the Meghalaya State Tourism Department; Officials and Government Departments within Meghalaya; and, most importantly, the People of Meghalaya. Acknowledgement is also given to the Grampian Speleological Group, UK for its regular financial support and the Ghar Parau Foundation, Mount Everest Foundation and NSS International Grant Fund for financial help at various times.

However, the abundance of limestone (and coal) in Meghalaya makes the state not only of interest to the caving fraternity but also of interest to the commercial world, as both are valuable economic resources. Initially small-scale extraction of limestone and coal has been replaced by larger commercial operations seeking to fuel economic growth in the region. To protect the environment, the unique landscape, natural history and particularly the wonderful caves of the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills. It is essential that the limestone and coal is extracted in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable manner if irreversible damage to the landscape and these unique natural features (The Caves of Meghalaya) is to be avoided.