MG: Being an earnest caver, how do you rate the caves of Meghalaya in world perspective?
TA: The caves that have been explored in Meghalaya to date are either impressive river caves connected to huge relic passages, or magnificent clean-washed shafts that give access to impressive underground stream passages. They create cave systems equal in size and beauty to any found elsewhere in the world, putting Meghalaya firmly on the world-caving map as a very significant caving region.
MG: Why caves are so important to be protected and explored?
TA: There are scientific reasons:
1. The understanding of subterranean drain systems is vital for communities in karst areas. Where does the water flow to, and what quality has it when it reaches springs and resurgences? How do activities on the surface affect water tables and drinking water resources? What happens to wells and springs if underground streams are deviated or blocked? Answers to these questions can only be found within the caves.
2. To understand climate changes we need to know the climatological past of an area. This can be read in the sediments and soil deposits and these again are mainly to be found in cave sediments and cave formations. To destroy a cave means to tear irreplaceable pages off the book of earth history.
– Caves are unique homes to rare and specialised animals and plants whose significance for the ecosystem is of eminent importance. In Meghalaya, bats are a good example: They hunt and eat insects, among others millions of flies and mosquitoes. Many of these are carriers of malaria and other tropical diseases. So, if the caves are destroyed or their environment is changed, the bats will leave the area concerned. Insect population will grow and so will the risk of people being infected by malaria.
– Caves are a fascinating world to most human beings – to have the chance of visiting this world, to explore it, to take part in an extraordinary adventure is a dream of many. A well-organised and expertly managed tourism where caves are a part of the scheme can create many jobs – raise the income and reputation of a community and create long term sustainable and eco-friendly businesses.
MG: What was the point of contact and how did you happen to caving in the Abode of Clouds in one of the remotest corners of India?
TA: In 2002, I was invited by the leaders of the Caving in The Abode of Clouds Project to take part in the expedition – mainly because of my expertise in surveying and mapping. I have stayed with the project ever since and am now the chief surveyor of the project. I have come to love this country and have found many friends in Meghalaya who share my passion for the hills and their caves.
MG: How did you feel after being named for the ‘Habe’ award. Would you like to dedicate it to something or somebody in Meghalaya?
TA: I felt pride and gratitude. Pride because a long and ardous – but always challenging and satisfying work – has found great international recognition. Gratitude to all the people who have been friends and companions, who have helped us along for many years and without whom the exploration of these caves would not have been possible: Cavers from all over the world, the Shillong-based Meghalaya Adventurers’ Association (MAA), the Meghalayan authorities, and – most important – the people of Meghalaya.
In the past ten years, I have explored the caves of the Jantia Hills and had the privilege to experience the hearty and welcoming hospitality of the local people – my special thanks go to the Jaintias.
Above all there are my friends In Shilong to whom I want do dedicate the France Habe Price: Brian D. Kharpran Daly, Maureen Diengdoh, Lindsay Diengdoh, and to my “little sister”: Shelley Diengdoh.
MG: Where, according to you, Meghalaya is lacking in getting noticed in the world arena through cave, or rather, nature tourism?
TA: Adventure tourism is a booming business all over the world. Meghalaya’s natural features – jungles, forests, hills, cliffs, waterfalls canyons and caves – have so much potential to become part of this. It’s all there. It just needs initiative of entrepreneurs and well-placed funds.
MG: Would you like to suggest some measures to Meghalaya government so that more foreign tourists like you visit the state?
TA: Support the development of toursim companies by granting reduced taxes, “slim” bureaucracy and the possibility to set up bases in relevant areas on government-owned land. Establish a scheme of “tourism ambassadors” who visit international tourism fairs and promote Meghalaya as a potential adventure tourism destination.
MG: When do you have your next plan for caving in Meghalaya.
TA: I am again visiting Meghalaya in February 2014. The Caving in the Abode of Clouds Expedition will take place between 1st February and 1st March. We will explore caves in Jaintia Hills and East Khasi Hills.