The term batcave holds special relevance for the readers of DC Comics as that is where eccentric millionaire Bruce Wayne became Batman, one of the most popular superheroes of all time. However, very few people are aware of the presence of an ancient batcave in Assam, just 20 kms away from Nagaon. While there is no Bruce Wayne in this case, the legend associated with it is no less fascinating.
One misty morning, we set off for Kondoli near the Nagaon-Karbi-Anglong border. The place which falls in the Barhampur constituency, the Assembly seat of former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, has barely seen any development. With no proper roads, this place is still alienated from the mainland during monsoons. Solsoli is the nearest village from the cave. The village has 60-70 households and comprises people from diverse ethnicities like Tiwa, Karbi, Kacharis and Ahoms.
While most of the inhabitants are aware about the mysterious cave, they generally avoid it and are also not very interested in talking about it. Finally, we located an elderly person named Narendranath Gogoi, who earlier used to teach at Ananta Kondoli High School, the lone high school in the village which was provincialised in 1995. Gogoi told us about the legend of the cave which is fascinating and at the same time, creepy.
‘Once upon a time, there was a kingdom in Baduli Xurung comprising entirely of women. From civilians to the military, everybody in that kingdom was a woman and the entry of any man was strictly prohibited. However, one day, a hermit managed to enter the kingdom in the guise of a woman. He was though soon caught and severely punished for trespassing into the forbidden kingdom. Enraged with the humiliation, the hermit cursed all the citizens of the kingdom and turned them into bats. All the bats inhabiting this cave are believed to be women from Baduli Xurung. One interesting fact about these bats is that they never cross the threshold of Baduli Xurung’ says Gogoi.
Initially, none of the villagers were too keen to accompany us to the cave. At our insistence, ultimately Narendranath Gogoi sent his grandson along with us. Bhargav Gogoi, who studies in Class XI led us to the cave which is around 800 meters from the village. The cave was surrounded by a dense forest and Bhargav said that elephants and leopards have been spotted there in the past.
He requested us to leave our shoes near the entrance of the cave and assured us that as this is a secluded place, there is no chance of them being stolen. The locals consider cutting trees around the cave, spitting, peeing or even entering the cave wearing shoes as disrespect. In fact, there are rumours that people who had entered the cave mysteriously disappeared. They say that one person cutting a tree near the cave had died while some people who entered the cave never came back. Thus, locals keep their distance from the cave.
Inside the Cave
The cave is housed under a rocky hill; several huge boulders are arranged at the front as a rocky rampart. A single big boulder has found its place to the front of the cave in such a way that the passage has been partially blocked. Though the interior of the cave is dark, we could see a huge colony of bats sitting on the ceiling and walls of the cave. However, as soon as they saw us, they fled indicating that they are not really used to human intervention.
Bhargav said, ‘A mela takes place in Kondoli after Shivratri and people from all around Nagaon and Morigaon visit the place during that time. Some of them go inside the cave also. During the cave, no bats are seen though at other times, they are pretty visible.’ Nobody knows the exact depth of the cave as it has not been explored at length. Mohd Rahman had gone 50 feet deep inside the cave but he returned for he feared getting lost.
Potential Tourist Hub?
Despite its great scenic beauty, a yearly mela and the mysterious cave, it is difficult for this place to turn into a tourist spot even though locals want it to become one. Dipen Bikash Das, a school teacher living in Solsoli said, ‘We will be happy if this place becomes a tourist attraction as it will give us the much needed exposure. However, till now, that has been lacking precisely because of poor roads and lack of connectivity. This area’s MLA has been the Chief Minister of Assam for two terms and when he hasn’t done much, it would be unfair to blame others.’
Noted environmentalist and member of Aaranyak, Firoz Ahmed, however, says, ‘It is difficult for this place to attract tourists because watching bats are unlikely to be a huge draw for the tourists. Secondly, even if tourists come, there is a very slim chance that they will actually be able to see them because bats are allergic to light and sound’. Ahmed however mentions that the place can be a big draw for naturalists and adventure seekers.
Words- Nabarun Guha
Photo Credit- Ranjan Jyoti Mahanta