The tales tell that more than 100 years ago, during the Qing Dynasty, the villagers nearby would drown fornicators here, dropping them to the bottom in a cage
Exorcism Cave is located in Nanning, the capital of China’s Guangxi Province. The landscape of Guangxi is striking, marked by unique karst landforms, creating beautiful scenery that has given it an international reputation. The limestone geology means that the place is dotted with caves, sinkholes, and underground rivers.
As diving in China gains popularity, so places like these, unique underwater worlds of rivers and caves scattered among the karst crests, are also being gradually unveiled. Although first “found” by cave divers Liang Hui and his instructor Ms Wei Qinghua in 2011, the place is very much off the beaten track and has, so far, gone undiscovered by the Chinese diving community. I am one of the first and only freedivers to dive here.
I was introduced to this hidden spot not long ago, by a friend who began to tell me stories of an underwater river, with a deep cave full of clear water. Apparently, the place was a well-kept secret amongst a few divers, even though it is only 80 km southwest of Nanning. As it turns out, the cave is also very close to my mother’s hometown – a fact which gave me a strong desire to visit it.
Getting to the cave feels like an adventure. Pulling off the highway onto small side road, the route becomes increasingly more rugged. After leaving the paved road, and following a muddy track for nearly half an hour, the reservoir appears in front of you. Surrounded by surrounded by mountains covered in vegetation, the scenery is incredibly beautiful. At the foot of the mountain, a short 60-metre climb brings you to the entrance of the cave, where a cool blast of air greets you, carrying with it the promise of fresh, still water.
Following a 25-metre stairway, we descended into the darkness. On my first visit, the chilly gloom made me a little nervous, unaware of what would be waiting at the bottom. But my fears could not overwhelm my curiosity, and so didn’t stop my feet.
Above the water, the cave is dome-shaped, about 70-metres wide, 50-metres deep, and 15-metres high. There’s a small hole at the back where the sunlight streams in, though it is still too dark to see how deep the water is. Stalactites drip from the ceiling, and our torches illuminate hidden rocky crevices, waking the bats which stream out on droves. It is the perfect setting for a horror movie, and I had to consciously override my more primal desires to leave – I wanted to keep exploring. After a while, our eyes adjusted to the darkness, and soon we were ready to gear up and get into the water.
The whole environment is spectacularly quiet and mysterious, accentuated by the legends that surround this place. The tales tell that more than a hundred years ago, during the Qing Dynasty, the villagers nearby would drown fornicators here, dropping them to the bottom in a cage. This is the tale that lends the cave its scary name, “Qu Mo”, or “Exorcism”, Cave. These stories kept people away for many years (no one would dare to swim here for fear of the ghosts of lost lovers), until recently when daring adventurers rediscovered this unique place and began to explore it.
Surprisingly, underwater it was brighter and warmer than I had imagined – between 23 and 25 degrees. The visibility meant that I could easily see all the way to the other side of the cave, which I estimated, conservatively, to be about 100 metres away. I could see all the way to the bottom, and took a deep full breath and dove straight down, slowly observing the rocky formations.
Of course, the cave’s legend played through my mind as I dove. I had to keep reminding myself not to think about it, and to focus instead on the cave’s surreal beauty. On my assents, I would look up at the surface, and could see the beautiful stalactites through the clear water. The surface is mirror-flat, giving you the illusion that you are not in the water at all, but suspended in the air instead. This is a water world unlike the ocean, unlike any other I have ever seen; the only comparison I can think of would be the Mexican cenotes.
The pool is funnel-like, deep in the middle, sloping up towards the rim. The floor is scattered with huge boulders, and cave-diving guide-lines can be seen disappearing into the underwater channels. There is a 70-metre-long tunnel close to the entrance, which connects to the lake outside, a tempting challenge, but one that I didn’t risk; there are no airspaces along the way, and the attempt is incredibly dangerous. Instead, I turned my attention to the little fish swimming around the rocks, all translucent having evolved in an environment almost devoid of sunshine.
It didn’t take me too long to dive towards the other side, where, in the darker water there is an abandoned industrial water pump. Huge pipes extend towards the surface, from an enormous metal framework at around 10 metres. In the clear water, it looks like a spaceship in outer space. I kept diving around this bizarre man-made structure, until the power in my torch ran out. By then, incredibly, I had already spent two hours in the cave, and, unfortunately, it was time to leave. I resolved to bring more batteries and extra equipment for the next adventure.
Since that first trip, I have started coming here regularly – it is a perfect place for freediving training. And I have made my peace with the cave’s haunting past, bringing new life and energy to this peaceful, hidden pool in the mountains.
This article was originally published in Asian Diver “Discoveries”: Click the image to head on over to the shop
Cover Photo © AFreedivingStudio