Sunday, February 7, 2016

Lonar Crater Lake - Marvel of a Meteoric Encounter...

   Meteorites hitting the planet earth has provided leads to intense research in all areas of science, particularly, in man's quest to determine the composition of other planets and heavenly bodies. Scientists have traveled far and wide to distant corners of Earth, just to study the impact of meteor strike on the ecosystem, traces of minerals left behind, and to find answers to some of the many questions about extra-terrestrial world.  

    But, for a traveler like you and me, what could be so interesting about that? The big crater left by the impact? Well, what if I tell you that the crater is believed to have been formed around 500 thousands years ago, long before the dawn of human civilizations, and it is the largest crater lake on basalt rock  in the world, having alkaline and salt water? and, that it has thriving population of  micro-organisms not found anywhere else on Earth? For a student of science or an enthusiast or just a curious mind, it is like getting into a unique natural laboratory in the midst of wilderness and witness mysterious phenomena, first-hand, and the best part is it is accessible without any restrictions. It feels like being back to school, revisiting some of the basic concepts of physics and chemistry at play! It still seems to hold many more secrets about the extra-terrestrial impact than it has actually revealed till now. Doesn’t this sound like a marvel? Well, despite all this, it still remains a lesser-known and rarely traveled destination even now. Welcome to Lonar Lake!

Image: Lonar Lake - By Manoj Nair (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Reaching Lonar lake from Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Reaching Lonar Lake from Aurangabad
An approximately 3-hour drive from Aurangabad, where renowned Ajanta and Ellora Caves are captivating the visitors,  this enigmatic site and no-less-than-a-wonder is located in Buldhana district in interior Maharashtra. First impression is that of a place which does not seem to be on Earth. It seems like a different world, with so many amazing trivia, and many more still veiled under those hundreds of thousands of years. With so much to explore, we checked into the Maharashtra tourism (MTDC) resort, which is right next to the crater and the only place to stay here, a trek of the lake and its surrounding places was beckoning us. 

The crater, around 4.8 kms in circumference, is surrounded by hills land on all sides, covered with forest with its own wild flora and fauna. The area is primarily composed of basalt rock and yet the impact had caused a 450 ft depression on the rock bed causing the crater. Water is infested with micro-organisms, smells like Hydrogen sulphide, and easily turns red litmus paper blue with a PH value of 10.8, indicating its alkaline nature, as we witnessed ourselves, thanks to our guide from MTDC. The soil near the lake too majorly contains iron particles as we found out using a simple magnet. Taking a MTDC guide is always recommended so that time is saved in figuring out the right path to go down to the lake and temples around it, through the forests and getting all the trivia.The rocks used for building these temples had developed strong magnetic properties, due to impact of meteor and one can easily determine that using a compass.

Image: Lonar lake from its bank - By Akash Sharma (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
  This region was once ruled by Emperor Ashoka, then by Satavahanas, Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas and subsequently by Mughals.The lake also finds mention in ancient scriptures, Skanda Puran, Padma Puran and then in Ain-a-Akbari. Ain-e-akbari even mentions of therapautic properties of this water and how it was used for soap-making in those times.

What makes this place more intriguing is a steady perennial stream of fresh potable water that has been emerging inside the Gomukh temple, one of the several temples on the bank of this salty alkaline lake. Pilgrims visiting the temple make it a point to bathe in this water. This is simply more amazing considering the fact that it is arid region and there has been no rainfall in last three years. Local people say that this could be ground water  traveling 18 kms from its source, and it has been that way forever.

Image: Lonar Dhar - Perennial Stream - By Satish-ansingkar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
We were told that scientists from various renowned institutes and agencies, including NASA have been visiting the place for research and that water here could resemble water found on the surface of Mars and the Martian craters recently. Truly, this place just doesn’t seem like a place on Earth and this belief gets reinforced more and more, as one gets to know it better! 
    Daitya Sudan temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and located in the middle of the town is another attraction. Mythology has it that Lord Vishnu had slayed demon Lonasura here, and thus the place came to be known as Lonar. This temple was built during Chalukyan rule somewhere between 6th and 12th centuries and  has striking resemblance with erotic carvings and artefacts at world-famous Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, which somewhere re-affirms of the glorious era when the temple architecture and craftsmanship flourished far and wide, across a bigger part of India, under the patronage of contemporary dynasties.

All in all, it is a MUST SEE place for those curious minds who wants to be mesmerized by mysterious environment and wants to feel the touch of extra-terrestrial impactful contact, for a day.