dong Underground palace -


Nom de la grotte : Underground palace -
Province, Préfecture, District :
Hainan 海南省, , Changjiang 昌江县
Latitude Nord - Longitude Est :
19.022500 - 109.169667
Altitude (m) : 540
Développement (m) : 0
Profondeur (m) :
Profondeur - / + (m) : 0 /
Volume (m3) :
1Entrée : Underground palace ,


Description 1

Visit to Jiangchang Underground Palace, Hainan

by Zhang Fan

Just as we were all waiting outside the Dayan Village government office at 9:00 am, feeling confused, up came our guide appointed by the village party chair; “Hello there!” He was a middle-aged man dressed in pre-revolution military camouflage. I was struck by his friendly greeting, not because of his accent, but because of the strong smell of alcohol coming from him. “Really?! Are you kidding me?!” I thought. Exploring the world with CERS in the past 25 years, I have met many heavy drinkers, but I have never had a guide who arrived already drunk! How Man and I were dumbfounded by the scene. I was not hiding my disapproval as my colleague Wang Jian asked about him. The guide observed our discomfort, and said “My name is Han Haiqing. I had a couple of drinks, but am not drunk. Don’t worry. I will take you to the Underground Palace.’

“The Underground Palace,” as is referred to by the locals, is where we were planning to conduct a spelunking expedition. It is located in the Wang Xia County of Chang Jiang, Hainan Province. For the past 4 years, CERS has been working on a conservation project in the same county in a traditional Li village, Hong Shui. During past expeditions, we explored a nearby cave named “The Emperor’s Cave.” Local villagers also told us about the “Underground Palace,” saying it is beautiful, and rarely visited by people. Now that we are again in the Hong Shui village for our CERS project, we want to survey the ‘Underground Palace’ in neighboring Da Yan Village.

Looking at the guide’s camouflage clothes, I guessed he was a forest ranger with good knowledge of the local trails, because this is usually how Chinese forest rangers dress. These forests are part of the Ba Wang Ling National Nature Reserve, so it made sense that Han Haiqing is a staff member. However, the strong smell of alcohol did not ease my hesitation to follow his guidance. We really did not, however, have any other choice. November is the busiest season for farmers on Hainan Island, so it is difficult to find an adult guide in the village. Plus, the village party chair highly recommended this man for his knowledge of the trails. We had to stick with him.

Da Yan village and the CERS’ project site in Hong Shui Village both belong to Wang Xia County. The two villages are about 6 km apart as the crow flies. The country road connecting Da Yan village to the Underground Palace is about 10 km. Not only is it narrow and winding, but also very bumpy. When we were 4 km away from the cave, we found out the road ahead was blocked by a landslide. Together with the guide and my colleagues Wang Jiang and A-Su, I continued walking to the Underground Palace, leaving our car on the side of the road, while How Man and the rest of the crew took the other car back to our base in Hong Shui Village.

I had the spelunking equipment on my back, feeling uneasy following our guide. Han Haiqing still smelled like alcohol, but walked fast without any hesitation at intersections. The rest of us had to make an effort to catch up with him. He started chatting with us while walking through the trails that he knew like the back of his hand. It turned out that last night he got up in the middle of the night to harvest rubber in the rubber tree forest, and did not come home until the sun came up. He was having a couple of drinks to relax himself before going back to bed when the village party chair called. He said that another villager led a group of researchers to the cave not long ago, but the trails are too confusing. That group came back without even seeing the entrance of the cave. He emphasized the fact that he was not drunk, and that he would take us to the cave. I then, understood why the locals start drinking so early, but still could not fully relax. Drunkards always claim to be sober. We shall see this time.

In the dense tropical rainforest, our so-called trail was just a footpath. If one did not follow the person ahead, one would immediately get lost. After trekking for some time through the forest, I noticed under the piles of rotten leaves that the rocks were no longer granite or shale. Instead, I saw limestone. Later, I saw many stone flutes sprouting from the ground, a typical Karst features. I had a feeling that we were getting close to the cave. Finally, at 2 in the afternoon, we reached an area with giant rocks. Our guide pointed at the base of the rocks and told us that was the entrance to the Underground Palace, and now that his job was done, he wanted to head home. I was glad that we had him as our guide. Without him, we would not have made it to the cave. I thought it would be late by the time we got out of the cave anyway, and out of appreciation, I took out all the food and water we brought with us and shared with him. I did not forget to tease him a little before he headed home: “Too bad we didn’t bring any wine.” Sitting outside the entrance to the cave, I took out my GPS device: N 19°01’21.0”, E 109°10’10.8”, 540m above the sea level.

We got out the equipment from our heavy packs and began our descent. The entrance part of the Underground Palace was a tunnel almost vertical to the ground. The opening was in the shape of an ellipse in the ground, 5m wide and 3m deep. From the opening downward, there were four levels into the cave. Every level was about 5 to 10m deep. The first three levels were not very spacious, each about 4 to 8m in width and 5 to 10m in height. Caves with this leveled structure indicate that this area experienced uplift intermittently during the Himalayan Plate Movement. No matter how winding the ancient development history of this cave was, a spelunker’s job was to get to the end of the cave. We found ladders made with tree branches and vines between each level of the cave, which meant a number of locals had entered this cave already. Thanks to the ladders, we quickly reached the third level of the cave without having to repel down a rope.

Under the high-powered flashlight, I realized the last level was a huge hall. We actually stood at the center of the hall. Looking around, this hall was 40 to 50 m wide, 120m long, and the tallest part was about 30m high. From this level to the bottom of the hall was about 10m, too tall to trust the rotting ladders built by local explorers. We tied our rope to a stalagmite, and repelled down to the floor of the hall.

I looked around the hall of the cave, and was stunned by the walls. The walls were covered with striped marble. It looked like a giant Chinese water color painting: all the rare beauty of Mother Nature was well interpreted in the painting. I was at a loss for words to describe this gorgeous painting, and could not believe that everything in front of me was a work of Nature. The twisting stripe patterns were formed when the geological structure was under great pressure during metamorphism.

Many rocks on the floor came from the ceiling when part of it collapsed; indicating the hall went through tremendous rock tumbling when it first formed. In the main hall, there were many tall columns and speleothems. In a side tunnel, we found some unusual calcite crystal flowers and curling stones. These calcium carbonate sediments formed slowly after the cave rose from an underground water system. It was as if the cave experienced an unsettling adolescence, and then entered a peaceful and stable maturity.

Just as I was pondering this metaphor of my life, I was called by A-Su about a “strange cave animal.” I hurried to find out that it was a big creature with countless feet. The body of this cave animal was about 10 cm long. Together with its feet, it was almost the same size as an adult’s hand. It was a Great Cave Centipede, which is in the Myriapod family of arthropods. Just like regular centipedes, it had 15 limbs, and two legs attached to each body segment. However, the feet of this cave centipede were much longer than regular centipedes, and the last pair of feet was longer than all the others. While erect, the centipede looked like a monster standing on scaffolding. A-Su crawled onto a rock to get a better look. I asked him to catch it and put it in our special sample bottle. He was concerned that it would bite, since he had never seen a centipede this big before. I gave him my caving gloves and reassured him; “This kind of centipede is very well- behaved.” A-Su acted very bravely, and caught the animal. After he had sealed the bottle with the creature inside, I grinned and told him that the Great Cave Centipede is actually far less innocent than I suggested. It bites when attacked, and hunts for small insects, a typical predator in the cave ecosystem.

I carefully examined this ferocious-looking predator, imagining how it got to be the top of the food chain in the cave system. The Great Cave Centipede has a pair of mandibles, which can eject poison when hunting. Also, the 15 pairs of feet help when running on the surface of rocks. Little animals really have no chance against this cave centipede.

Many cave animals lose their vision because it is of no use when living in the cave, and the Great Cave Centipede is no exception. Its compound eyes have become a decoration. To survive in such an environment, the Great Cave Centipede must possess its own unique skills. What could it be? Can it detect ultra-sound waves, or faint odors? More investigation is needed. It could also be a ‘Low Carbon Living Model,’ because it has a very slow metabolism, consumes little, and lives a long life. On a funny note, this invertebrate with low fertility is portrayed as a “pervert” in many Chinese folk tales. Maybe it is because of its evil look.

Checking my watch, I realized it was 7pm already. We spent 5 hours in the cave without mapping the hall. Considering it may take another 5 hours to map the cave and a few more looking for the way back in the forest, we decided to come back to the cave another time and complete the mapping. How Man and the rest of our team were waiting at the Hong Shui village and must had been worried. Just before heading out, I took a look at my thermometer: 22.3o. On the way out, we saw many bats resting in the cave. 2011-12 is recognized by United Nation Environmental Program as the Year of the Bat. Unfortunately, among 155 bat species in China, many are threatened, but none have made it to the National Key Protected Animal List. It is very unfair for bats, which play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

Along the way out of the cave, I noticed the cave wall and stalagmites were marked with phrases like ‘XXX, I love you!’ I wondered, in a day when people are calling for bio-diversity conservation, why cave and cave biology is rarely noted by the society.

Walking on the trail back to the car, I called How Man for an update, and decided that I want to share the story of the Great Cave Centipede with the middle school students from Hong Kong who make great 3D animation films. The image of this monster predator living in a cave has almost all the characteristics a Hollywood movie star requires. We can hope that featuring it in a 3D animation film will help raise awareness among people about cave ecosystems and the wonders that they hold.

[Zhang Fan]

Zhang Fan, 2012, Visit to Jiangchang Underground Palace, Hainan.
China explorers China Exploration and Research Society CERS newsletter,p.18 à p.23,VOLUME 14 N°. 1 Spring 2012.
Analyse :
Description d’une exploration de Underground palace (Hainan, Changjiang, Wanxia ). 9 photos couleurs.

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Bibliographie 1

Zhang Fan, 2012, Visit to Jiangchang Underground Palace, Hainan.
China explorers China Exploration and Research Society CERS newsletter,p.18 à p.23,VOLUME 14 N°. 1 Spring 2012.
Description d’une exploration de Underground palace (Hainan, Changjiang, Wanxia ). 9 photos couleurs.
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