My fingers pressed down against the rough grains of sand. My knees ached as they tried to balance the arch of my back and the weight of my body. Every muscle was screaming in pain but the eerie silence hung heavily in the cramped place. As I sat there, I thought about my uncle, he’d said “Do not go to Kavala caves at any cost.”
It was 2001. We had decided to spend that summer vacation at Ambikanagar. My aunt‘s house. It is 20kms away from Dandeli. We planned a day’s clandestine trip to Kavala caves. My cousins aged 16 & 9 and I embarked on this forbidden journey. After walking for an hour we were inside the forest. When I looked around, huge trees formed a canopy. It was as if we were standing under giant cauliflowers. The forest looked like a green emerald. It took quite some time to realize that it is the same earth we share even in Bangalore.
We took a thin path on which short bushes grew haphazardly. I felt the rush of adrenaline. I was treading on the untrodden path. The air was fresh with the smell of the first showers. We walked briskly and talked loudly. This scared many furry animals away. But I was delighted to see this little guy, a squirrel, hold a nut with his tiny hands and nibble away. He gazed at us with large brown eyes. As if he was welcoming us into his land. In his unspoken language he implied that if this isn’t paradise. There is none.
After sometime we realized that we had stopped speaking , the eerie silence engulfed us. We could hear our heavy breathing. The leaves rustled in the wind and the bark of smaller trees creaked like an old door. Our pounding hearts added rhythm to the other sounds. Suddenly, a shrill haunting whistle shattered the silence. All this reminded me of Zee horror show! We quickened our pace and finally with flushed faces we saw the caves ahead. Inside it was supposed to be a shiv linga. We checked our flashlight and geared up for the expedition!!
We took a while to get adjusted to the dim light. It was big enough for all of us to walk upright. The air was musty with the pungent smell of bat’s droppings. In the light we saw snake’s skin on the wall. By now we were totally scared and followed each other closely. Inside, it was so cramped that we had to crawl on all fours, after sometime we reached the linga. In the torch light it gleamed like gold. It was decorated with flowers and looked like a saint deep in meditation. There were 2 other caves which no one had explored. We moved on and saw a puddle of water and squatted around it. My cousin shone the light at the roof and lost his grip and dropped the only light we had.
There was profound darkness!! I felt the cave was closing in on us. We sat there in awkward and painful posture. I tried to force the scream down my throat. In that darkness, my short life came whizzing before me. This felt like a punishment to some unknown sins. Finally, my youngest cousin started wailing and broke the silence. We were thankful to come back to our senses and sent silent prayers. We decided to hold each other’s clothes, bang the walls of the cave and grope our way out. We were scared that we might enter the unexplored caves. After what seemed like eternity we saw some light. Like a lone candle in the heart of darkness. We followed and it brought us to the exit. We ran away without looking back. It was as if the forest and caves had conspired against us. We settled down at a clearing. A soft rippling sound greeted us. The stream nearby was playing hide and seek with the sun. We drank this elixir. The cool, sweet liquid washed away our thirst and our fear.