The Marabar Caves - page 1

So we are here at last. The key location of the film. But nothing is as straight forward as it at first seems...

Painting in P&O office of the Marabar Caves - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Painting in P&O office of the Marabar Caves

In the first few minutes of the film, Adela Quested sees a painting of the Marabar Caves as she waits for her ticket, in the London offices of the P&O shipping company. That image stayed with her as she travels to India, and has stayed with me, over the years, as I've made my own jouneys across the magical sub-continent. At one point, I made a serious effort to find the location that David Lean used, and wrote to some of the actors in the film, care of the actor's union 'Equity'. Some replied, most didn't, but even those that did were vague, and could not pinpoint the position exactly.

Miss Quested climbs the elephant - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Miss Quested climbs the elephant

Then one day, after many years of wondering, it was a comment in a book seen in a bookshop in the West of Ireland had led me to Savandurga, a tiny village in Magadi taluk, some 30km to the west of Bangalore. Was this to be end of the search at last? I booked a taxi for the day, and set off to find out. The gently rolling countryside around Bangalore became steeper and more rugged as we approached the village, and larger mountains crept up out of the plains until the landscape had turned into a mountainous scene fit for any movie...

Villagers wave to the elephant - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Villagers wave to the elephant

The elephant sets off through the village - Click to show full-size image in new browser
The elephant sets off through the village

Before I go any further, it might be useful to explain what is happening in the film at this point. Dr Aziz, Mrs Moore, Miss Quested, and various servants and helpers have arrived by train at the Marabar Hills station, which we don't see. The Marabar Caves, as Dr Aziz has been warned, are some distance away from the station, so he has organised his great surprise, an elephant, that will take the party to their 'basecamp'. This spot is just outside the lower cave. The party arrives, chairs and tables are set up, food is cooked, and the elephant takes a bath in a convenient pool, just outside the lower cave.

..and into the hills - Click to show full-size image in new browser
and into the hills

Back to the present. I arrived at Savandurga after driving along many bumpy roads. The village itself was very small, just a few houses and a shop, which I visited for refreshments and further information - maybe someone there would still remember the film being made. I struck lucky at once. The owner of the shop, Lakshmi Kantha, did indeed remember the film being made, and the huge excitment and disruption to all in the tiny community when the film crews came to town. I asked him about *the* caves: did he know where they were?

Map of Bangalore and surrounding area
Map of Bangalore and surrounding area

Indeed he did, but here was a surprise that I had not forseen: *the* caves were in two locations! The 'lower' section used in the film, where the picnic is set up, the elephant takes its bath, and the cave that Mrs Moore goes into were indeed at Savandurga. The hill that Dr Aziz and Miss Quested start to climb was also here. But the 'upper' row of caves at the top of the mountain, my image from years back, where the imagined 'incident' takes place was not here at all, but at a different mountain some 25km away! The trickery of the cutting room brings them together in the film.

Towards the lower cave - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Towards the lower cave

Despite my excitement to see *the* caves, the first thing to do was to explore the 'lower' section, and see some locations used here. Savandurga, which at 4,050 ft is one of the tallest peaks in the region, translates as 'The Fortress of Death'. It is actually two hills separated by a deep valley. The darker one is called the Karigudda or black hill; the other one further down is the Billigudda or white hill. At one time, there was a heavily fortified citadel here, built in the 16th century by Kempe Gowda. It was first captured by the British under Cornwallis in 1791. Some walls can still be seen - they are the ones on the 'and into the hills' picture above.

Towards the lower cave - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Towards the lower cave

Two brothers were found as guides for me: Prasanna and Nayaran Kumar. They were instructed of the best route to take, and the highlights to be seen along the way, and we set off through the rough jungle that soon thinned out as we started to climb along the rocky slopes of the mountain. Lots of butterflies were flying about, or resting on trees along the route. After some time, we arrived at the natural valley where the lower cave was located. The brothers showed me drill-holes in the rock at the entrance to the valley - apparently the rock was so slippy, the film-crew had to make a special ramp that the elephant could use to get in to the valley safely.

The Valley of the lower cave in 2002 - Click to show full-size image in new browser
The Valley of the lower cave in 2002

In the film, the valley had been specially cleared out. When I got there, many trees and bushes had grown back, and the valley was quite over-grown again.

Approaching the lower cave - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Approaching the lower cave

In this photo, the guides are walking around the side of the valley, towards the cave. This is the rock-face that Dr Aziz slides down as he comes back from the upper caves.

Miss Quested at the lower cave - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Miss Quested at the lower cave

Entrance to the lower cave in 2002 - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Entrance to the lower cave in 2002

Here, at last, was the lower cave itself. But this was another suprise for me. There was no cave at all, just a cave entrance, cut into the rock, going back some 6 or 8 feet, but no more.

Mrs Moore at the lower cave - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Mrs Moore at the lower cave

This shot from the doorway of the lower cave shows Mrs Moore peering in, and in the background, the chairs and tables brought for the picnic. It must have been quite crowded in that doorway as the camera-man took this shot.

Valley of the lower cave - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Valley of the lower cave

The elephant takes a bath - Click to show full-size image in new browser
The elephant takes a bath

Savandurga village and countryside - Click to show full-size image in new browser
Savandurga village and countryside

Please go to the Marabar 2 page to read the next page in my story...

 

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