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Sky high caves of Nepal.

Archaeological Mystery: 10,000 or More Caves were Dug into the Himalayas Over 2,000 Years Ago

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One of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries is hidden in the Himalayas. 10,000 man-made caves have been tunneled through the rock from above or dug into the cliffside. Who built these ancient structures and why?

Archaeologists from Nepal and the University of Cologne began exploring the caves situated 155ft. (47.24 meters) above ground in the mid-1990s. They found the remains of dozens of people who had lived 2000 or more years ago. Several other groups of researchers have followed in their footsteps since. Those who’ve seen the remote Upper Mustang site tend to liken its appearance to a giant sandcastle.

Some of the caves.

Some of the caves. (Min Kumar Sharma/CC BY SA 4.0)

Cory Richards, an adventure photographer who joined a team of explorers to unearth hidden relics of the ancient and remote caves, said, “Quite honestly when I got there it was even bigger and more grand than anything I ever could ever have imagined.”

The climb to reach and enter the caves is dangerous. Some people have suffered broken bones (or even backs!) from falls, fractures are also highly possible due to falling rocks. Assessing all the potential risks associated with the climb into the caves makes you wonder how the original inhabitants made the perilous journey to build and then live in the caves. As Richards said, “This was real exploration. It's dangerous it's loose rock it's scary. Everything is loose, everything around you feels like it's crumbling. You feel like when you're climbing everything is going to collapse.”

Although many of the caves have been empty, some have shown their use for domestic purposes in the past: sleeping spaces, hearths, and grain storage bins have been found. A minority of the explored caves have been even more intriguing with their elaborate Buddhist murals and carefully calligraphed manuscripts.

Buddhist murals have been found in a few of the caves.

Buddhist murals have been found in a few of the caves. (NepalAdvisor)

Three main time periods have been identified at the caves: they were used as burial chambers from as far back as 1000 BC, they provided living quarters for safety from conflict in the 10th century, and they were transformed into meditation chambers, military lookouts, and storage units by the 1400s.

Richards tried to sum up his experience and the beauty of the caves: “Essentially at the end of the experience, what was illuminated to me the marriage of science and exploration and culture is the ultimate in how we bring the world to everyone.”

Top Image: Sky high caves of Nepal. Source: NepalAdvisor

By: April Holloway



Congratulations to those who undertook this project.

The loose 'rock' looks like concrete. The peaked mountains in which the 'caves' are located are like melted high rise apartment buildings clustered together. Perhaps they are an ancient city that is much, much older than the shrines that have been made in the 'caves' which could have been the apartments or offices of people in an ancient and technologically advanced civilization. The narrator at one point refers to looking out a window and so it is possible that my suggestions are not new to those involved in the project.

I wish I could take credit for seeing things in that way. I have been watching You Tube channels Wise UP and Mudfossil University and so no longer see things as I once did.

aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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