Limestone Marvels: Postojna Caves

 

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A visit to a cave is unlike any.  It gives us goosebumps to be walking into the very soul of the earth – a vast underground that is concealed by the ground beneath our feet. To think that’s where the origins of the human race lie! After all life began in cave dwellings, didn’t it?  Metaphorically, it’s a journey into the deep recesses of our consciousness – as though it were an atavistic throwback to the hunter-gatherer era.

The 146 year old train that used to be pulled manually by the cave guides later got a gas engine which has today graduated to an electric one. It took us through a 5 km ride open to the public within the Postojna Caves in Southwestern Slovenia which is 243 kilometers long. It is part of the karst (limestone cave) system typically found in parts of Eastern and Central Europe.

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For millions of years, drippings from the Pivka River through the rock crevices have resulted in massive stalactite and stalagmite formations, the most stunning column being rightly called Brilliant. The pure calcite sinter deposits on the column give Brilliant its  snow-white sheen. My memory that often plays truant seemed to have developed claws that dug deep within at that very moment drawing out the crystal clear voice of my Geography teacher Mrs Nunes. “Don’t get confused,” she had said, “When the tites come down, the mites go up.” Well, here, in the ancient Postojna caves, several tites and mites had fused together to form magnificent columns.

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The train drops us off at one point to let us stand and stare, amble around awe-struck and yes, even pick up a souvenir at a cave store! One of the wonders of the cave is the olm. Commonly known as salamander, in the Slovene language it’s called moceril which means “the one that burrows into wetness.” According to mythology, it is supposed to be the dragon’s baby! It is white, eats, sleeps and breeds in water and being almost blind, is extremely sensitive to light. We were repeatedly told by the guides that photographing the olm is banned as the light could harm it. However, as we all know, the world has its share of folks with misplaced defiance that blatantly broke the rule much to the chagrin of the guides who have the hard task of maintaining a delicate balance between taking care of the caves on the one hand and the silly egos of the tourists on the other.

The central dance hall inside the cave is a one of its kind. Brilliantly lit up by chandeliers, the large hall surrounded by limestone walls plays host to weddings and music shows. It is here that the olm is preserved in glass cages. Other halls are Spaghetti Hall, White Hall and Red Hall – names that reflect the colour and shapes of the stalactite and stalagmite formations.  It’s a wonder celebrities from Bollywood or the cricketing world have not yet discovered this location for their eminently avoidable fairy tale weddings.

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The above image is from https://www.google.co.in/

Sadly, it is difficult to find even a single spot in Europe that is untouched by the gory history of the World Wars. The blackened walls of the cave entrance stand as grim testimonies to the horrors of World War II.  The German forces stored about 1,000 barrels of aircraft fuel, which were destroyed in April 1944 by the Slovene Partisans. The fire burned relentlessly for seven days, destroying a large section of the cave and blackening the entrance.

Gita Viswanath

 

 

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