IN THE DEPTH OF THE CITY

Scuba Diver Australasia - - Contents - By To­bias Friedrich

We could smell the sub­trop­i­cal heat and hu­mid­ity. Ev­ery­one who en­tered the Mol­nár János no­ticed that im­me­di­ately. With ev­ery step deeper, the heat in­ten­si­fied, till I felt the sweat run­ning down my back. This was a stark con­trast to the cool out­doors of Bu­dapest, thanks to the hot ther­mal springs that heat up the flooded cave to a warm 28°C. As im­pres­sive as the first steps into the cave are, the out­side is un­spec­tac­u­lar. The en­trance to the cave is in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of the Lukáz ther­mal bath. No sign, no ad­ver­tis­ing, just an old slid­ing gate be­hind a small car park. Who would guess that one of the most in­cred­i­ble div­ing sites in Europe were lo­cated here?

Stern dark brown eyes in­spected ev­ery new­comer. These eyes be­longed to At­tila

Hosszú, the only licence holder of the Mol­nár János in Bu­dapest. He alone sets the rules, and for good rea­son. Since a diver died in the cave, the gov­ern­ment com­pletely pro­hib­ited div­ing, till they ap­proved Hosszú’s licence. Even then, strict mea­sures are in place to pre­vent fur­ther ac­ci­dents; a diver must be cer­ti­fied with a ba­sic cave div­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion, have in­sur­ance that cov­ers cave div­ing, and use ei­ther open-cir­cuit dou­ble tanks or a re­breather. In ad­di­tion, ev­ery dive must be ac­com­pa­nied by a guide.

“It is very im­por­tant to fol­low all the rules if you want to re­turn home safely,” Hosszú warns. In­side, the cave sys­tem snakes in many di­rec­tions, up to 100 me­tres deep. Some cor­ri­dors con­verge; oth­ers lead to dead ends. Hosszú and his as­sis­tants have set up seven kilo­me­tres of cave lines, though there is still much undis­cov­ered be­hind them.“For the mo­ment, we have reached the limit of four to five hours, even with the re­breathers, un­for­tu­nately,” Hosszú ex­plains.

We walked through the mas­sive slid­ing door, which felt like a gate­way to an­other world. Jump­ing into the warm wa­ter, all the warn­ings were for­got­ten, and ex­cite­ment built as we an­tic­i­pated the im­pend­ing ad­ven­ture. A large plat­form and mas­sive lad­der served as an en­trance to the large pool. The high rocky walls were sus­pended with large steel nets to pre­vent any sud­den rock­fall from in­jur­ing a vis­i­tor.

In the light cast by the lamps, the high rocks of the en­trance ap­peared like a syn­a­gogue of light and shade, while the pitch-black depth of Mol­nár János lay be­neath us. As we de­scended into the dark­ness, our eyes be­came des­per­ate for a ref­er­ence, but only the fine sed­i­ment that cov­ered the cave walls greeted us even af­ter a few me­tres into the dark abyss. The high risk in­volved in this dive be­came ap­par­ent – one buoy­ancy mis­take made too close to the walls would run the risk of zero vis­i­bil­ity fast.

I fol­lowed closely be­hind, as af­ter a few min­utes, no di­rect as­cent was pos­si­ble; I sure did not want to get lost in this dark maze. At 10 me­tres, there was a ther­mo­cline layer where the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture dropped to 18°C, mak­ing a longer pen­e­tra­tion with­out a dry­suit im­pos­si­ble. For cer­tain pas­sages, the dry­suit is even pre­scribed, mainly be­cause of the ad­di­tional buoy­ancy it pro­vides.

It is a dark world in the cave. As lamps cast their light on the sharp-edged rocks, we re­alised the unique for­ma­tions that sur­rounded us, formed over thou­sands of years. Tower-high cathe­drals of rock were re­vealed in frac­tions of a sec­ond as cam­era flashes burst in sym­phony; and deep col­umns hinted at the long his­tory of the cave. Who knew such an alien world ex­isted be­neath the his­tor­i­cal city of Bu­dapest?

Jump­ing into the warm wa­ter, all the warn­ings were for­got­ten, and ex­cite­ment built as we an­tic­i­pated the im­pend­ing ad­ven­ture

Mol­nár János Cave is a wa­ter-filled cave sys­tem in Hun­gary, Bu­dapest

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