Exploration 2015

Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project

Synopsis of the cave expedition to Meghalaya, North East India

3rd to 26th February 2015

The 2015 Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Expedition took place between the 2nd to 27th February 2015, returning to the Jaintia Hills District in order to continue the ongoing exploration in the Umkrypong area and to undertake new exploration in the Lakadong area in the South Jaintia Hills as an ongoing development of exploration in the area (Lakadong/Umlatdoh) in 2014.

This year, the now traditionally International Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Expedition Team comprised of 32 cavers at its peak drawn from Austria, India, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, USA and the UK. In addition to this the expedition team was accompanied by 5 associated scientists from India, Switzerland and the UK who conducted ongoing bio-speleological studies of the areas.

The 23-day exploration period (February 3rd to 26th) in the Jaintia Hills was divided into 2 phases with the first being a week (3rd to 8th Feb) in the Umkrypong Area where two known caves were extended and 8 new caves located of which 6 were fully explored and mapped. Following this the second phase (9th to 26th Feb) comprised of the main expedition which focused on exploration in the South Jaintia Hills in the Lakadong area in which some preliminary reconnaissance and exploration had been undertaken in 2014. Here 4 existing and partially explored caves and 35 new caves were explored and mapped. Overall the 2015 expedition explored and mapped 15.3 kms of new cave passage.

In late January 2015, as a warm up to the pre-expedition and the main expedition a brief reconnaissance visit was made to Mawlongbna, near to Mawsynram in the East Khasi Hill District where the resurgence cave of Krem Pamskei was explored for 450m and is ongoing.

The main achievements of the 10 strong Pre-Expedition Team based at Umkrypong in the Jaintia Hills were:

The main achievements of the 28 strong team that formed the main part of the expedition in the South Jaintia Hills in the Lakadong area were:

To date (March 2015) the whereabouts of over 1,580 caves and cave locations are known in Meghalaya of which 970 have been explored or partially explored to yield in excess of 427 kilometres of surveyed cave passage, with much more still waiting to be discovered.

Much of the cave that has been explored and mapped in Meghalaya over the last 23 years consists of impressive river cave mixed with massive and often richly decorated relic passage along with magnificent clean washed shafts that create cave systems equal in size and beauty to those found elsewhere in the world, maintaining Meghalaya’s status on the world-caving map as a significant caving region.

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 from: The Meghalaya Adventurers Association (Shillong), the Government of India Tourist Office (East and North East India) Kolkata; the Meghalaya State Tourism Department; Officials and Government Departments within Meghalaya, The Grampian Speleological Group; and, most importantly, the People of Meghalaya.

Simon Brooks and Thomas Arbenz
2015 Expedition – Caving in the Abode of the Clouds Project, Meghalaya, India.


Caving in the Abode of the Clouds 2015 – Bio-Speleological Overview

Several team members present as part of the Caving in the Abode of the Clouds project in 2015 took an active interest in the Biology/Speleo-Biology associated with the caves. Their efforts included targeted surveys of particular animal groups like bats and microscopic crustaceans as well as broad ranging observations and recording of cave invertebrates.

The bat surveys involved capture and release of bats feeding in the forests around the caves using mist nets as well as inspection of underground bat roosts. These efforts made a significant contribution to expanding the existing body of knowledge about the bats of Meghalaya. The cave roost of the very rare bat Otomops was re-surveyed with the encouraging conclusion that there was no evidence for a decline in bat numbers and no indication of any adverse impacts by humans. The bat team also continued their successful efforts to raise awareness of the issue of bat conservation and this included an extremely well-attended public talk at the village near the main Otomops roost.

A PhD student (Shabuddin Shaik) from the research group of Professor Ranga Reddy of Nagarjuna University in southern India conducted targeted surveys of microscopic crustaceans in the cave and river sediments. His work is part of a much wider programme of studies intended to document the biodiversity of India. Knowledge of microscopic groundwater fauna is limited in general and this is certainly the case within India. Professor Reddy has described numerous new species from India including some from Meghalaya. Shabuddin collected numerous sediment samples from the Meghalayan caves in 2015 and is currently engaged in processing the samples and assessing the fauna.

Observations and photographs of macroscopic invertebrates were gathered from a number of new caves to supplement the extensive existing records on Meghalayan cave biology.

One noteworthy site was Sait Shyrba where guano from a substantial bat colony and large amounts of flood borne debris support an unusually high population of cave millipedes. The streamway of the cave is also remarkable in supporting large numbers of fungus gnat (Mycetophilidae) larvae. Their webs form dense draperies suspended from the cave ceiling and larvae were photographed feeding on flies trapped on the sticky stands of the webs. Pseudoscorpions were numerous below the bat colony and blind white troglobitic cockroaches and harvestmen were noted elsewhere in the cave.

A two day visit was made to the Shnongrim Ridge to descend and photograph the pitches of Swiftlet Pot. The cave is used as a roost and nesting site by large numbers of Himalayan Swiftlets (Aerodramus brevirostris). At nightfall a stream of birds fly down the entrance shaft and penetrate deep within the cave. Their echolocation clicks are clearly audible and they enter the cave in such numbers that the air throbs with their wing beats. The lower reaches of the cave are filled with the stench of the guano which forms substantial piles at the base of the final pitch. Swiftlet bones, carcasses and nest debris are scattered on the cave floor and support numerous millipedes and other invertebrates including troglobitic cockroaches.

The Meghalayan cave expeditions have a long and distinguished track record of mapping cave passages. But ever since the initial expeditions in the early 1990s the participants have also taken an interest in the biology of the caves. This biological exploration of the caves has continued and blossomed in recent years with the participation of specialist biologists. The Meghalayan caves are under continuing threat from mining and other industrial developments. It is probable that some cave species and ecosystems will become degraded or extinguished in the coming years. All biological information gathered by the Meghalayan cave expeditions is of value as a record of the current biological condition of the caves against which to measure future degradation.

September 2015

Prepared by Dr Dan Harries (UK) from information supplied by Oana Chachula (Romania), Dr Manuel Ruedi (Switzerland), Shabuddin Shaik (India) and Dr Adora Thaba (India) – Team Members 2015