The Hindutva express chugs into Kumaon

The Patal Bhuvaneshwar comprises a network of natural caves located in the Gangolihat in Pithoragarh district. The state government has identified 15 caves which they want to link with each other. This scheme is being grandiosely dubbed as the ‘Cave Circuit’. Some of these caves include Patal Bhuvaneshwar, Amar Maha-kali, Boleshwar, Gupt Ganga, Melchor, Daneshwar and Shaileshwar which were, thus far, under the protection of the ASI.

K.B. Sharma, an archaeologist with the ASI posted in this area, claimed that he was not aware of the project. However, another ASI officer said on condition of anonymity that there was no precedent—anywhere in the world—of caves like these being connected in such a haphazard manner.

“It is a huge undertaking which requires a great deal of research. It is a very bad idea to try and monetise natural resources like caves, rivers and hills. The state is already suffering because of these so-called developmental activities. We need to learn from our mistakes,” he said.

The Katarmal sun temple located 17 km from Almora is the second most important sun temple to have been constructed in India after the Konarak sun temple. With 44 smaller temples, the entire complex was built by the Katyuri kings in the 9th century. Being a monument of national importance, it too was maintained by the ASI.

With encroachments having come up steadily around this complex as well, precious panels and carved doors have been moved to the National Museum in Delhi for safekeeping.

This complex is going to be developed as Kumaon’s first ‘spiritual village’, with facilities such as a yoga centre, café and meditation centre to be built at a cost of Rs 13 crore. The state government has already sanctioned Rs 83 crore for this.

Last year, the state tourism minister, Satpal Maharaj, had called for amending the ASI rules so as to allow construction around these temple complexes and provide facilities for tourists within the temple precincts. In June 2023, a notice was placed by the National Monuments Authority (NMA), which works alongside the ASI, to the effect that the draft heritage by-laws for the Katarmal sun temple were being reviewed and that the public were welcome to offer their comments and suggestions.

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