Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ghoori Ghaleh Water Cave

The Ghoori Ghaleh Water Cave (غار قوری قلعه) is one of the outstanding tourist attractions of the western Iranian province of Kermanshah. Located 84 kilometers from the city of Kermanshah, Ghoori Ghaleh is believed to be the largest of its kind in the world and the longest water cave in Asia. The cave is located on the slopes of Shahou Mountain in one of the most mountainous areas of Iran. The valley where Ghoori Ghaleh is located is one of the most beautiful valleys of the province which is covered with forests and has been made more beautiful due to existence of spectacular springs.  

Some locals hold that the cave is named after a nearby Sassanid castle, which the Kurdish inhabitants of the region called 'Goura Ghaleh' -- meaning the 'big castle'. Over time this name changed into 'Ghoori Ghaleh'. Others believe it was named after a village of the same name, which was surrounded by numerous castles, one of which was built in the form of a teapot (Ghoori in Persian).  

A group of British and French speleologists discovered Ghoori Ghaleh between 1976 and 1977. The team explored 620 meters of the cave but was forced to cease further exploration and return after reaching a point where the water level was as high as the cave's roof. They then thought that it was the end of the cave and went back. Of course, some local officials maintain that villagers had discovered the cave many years before the foreign expedition. After Speleology Committee was established in the country and after five years of studies, a group of spelunkers penetrated 2,030 m deep inside the cave in 1989. In the second stage, they reached a depth of 3,140 m. They went through about 12 km of tortuous paths inside the cave and drew up their map. Therefore, Ghoori Ghaleh Cave was registered as the biggest and longest water cave in Asia.  

Made of Cretaceous and Triassic lime sediments, Ghoori Ghaleh dates back to the second geological age, about 65 million years ago. The cave has yielded a number of archeological finds, including coins, plates and crockery, which date back to the time of Sassanid king Yazdgerd III. The remains of a Sassanid castle can be seen near the cave and archeologists also found a number of human skulls, prehistoric earthenware and circular crockery adorned with animal designs and arabesque and lotus floral patterns. Initially the entrance to the hall was blocked by a huge rock. A young man from the nearby Ghoori Ghaleh village volunteered to hammer the rock into the cave, who was then given the title of Ghoori Ghaleh Farhad -- Farhad was a Persian hero who was exiled by his rival in love, the monarch Khosrow II, and was forced to carve stairs out of the cliff rocks of Bisotun mountain.  

Ghoori Ghaleh includes numerous halls, which are named after the nature-created shapes of the stalactites and stalagmites decorating them. Mary, Ferdowsi, Amir Kabir, Beethoven, Mushroom, Pisa Tower, Elephant, Heart, Ship and Waterfall are among the names given to the cave's many halls. After passing through the entrance corridor of the cave, you reach a vast area which is called “Maryam Hall”. It is like a big lake which is surrounded by stunning stalactites and stalagmites in beautiful shapes. The shapes of those structures at various parts of the cave have determined the names of those parts. For example, a stalagmite which is like statue of Mary is the reason why the first hall of the cave has been called “Maryam (Mary) Hall”. At a depth of 1,000 meters there is a hall which contains one of the world’s most beautiful water pools. There are stalagmites in the hall, that when touched, produce sounds like musical instruments. Therefore, the hall has been called Beethoven Hall. At a depth of 1,500 meters, there is “Bride Hall” which is beautiful beyond description. The stones in that hall are made of white and shining crystal and if somebody passed over them, their footprint would remain on them. From the ceiling, stalactites are hanging which look like pens. They are made of lime sediments and are similar to crystal. Their length vary from 2 to 8m and the stalactites are so transparent that if you touch them, they easily collapse. At a depth of 2,700 m, there are four waterfalls, each 10-12 m high and the scenery is quite magical. Another part of the cave is called “Purgatory Tunnel”, which is known as the most horrific part of the cave. It is 220 m long with a width of 3 m and half of it is filled with water. Of course, thus far, only 500 m of the cave has been equipped with lighting and is open to public. Zoologists maintain that the cave is the habitat of a rare species of bat named mouse-ear. However, apart from those bats, no other leaving creature has been found at the cave. Cultural heritage experts maintain that the available information shows that a great number of vertebrates including species of bats and salamanders have lived there before it was opened to public. With a temperature between -7 to 11 degrees Centigrade and a relative humidity of 89 percent, Ghoori Ghaleh is considered an all-season tourist spot. Ghoori Ghaleh Cave has been registered as one of Iran's seven national natural heritage sites.


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