Maharashtra has remains of a celestial event – a crater of extraterrestrial origins.
Ajanta and Ellora caves are most popular tourist destination in Marathwada region of Maharashtra, and are every history and architecture enthusiast’s dream. A short distance from there is a crater lake in the small town of Lonar, Buldhana, which sits in world’s largest basaltic impact crater. It was created by a meteor impact on Earth and is every science and nature enthusiast’s dream!
(In picture: Lonar crater)
How was it formed?
Studies have shown that approximately 57,000 years ago, a meteor weighing millions of tonnes and with a temperature of 1750 degree Celsius, hit Earth, creating an impact crater. Vegetation took over around the lake in the form of dense jungle, which has a unique ecosystem.
Initially, it was believed that the lake is of volcanic origin. However, on further studies it was found that the crater was formed due to extraterrestrial impact. Its shape, raised rim, and most importantly, the presence of Maskelynite (a type of glass formed when hyper velocity meteor hits Plagioclase, a rock forming mineral at high temperture) were reasons behind the discovery.
The lake looks green in color, due to the presence of blue green algae. It is around 1.8 km wide and 150 meters deep. It is both alkaline and saline (pH between 7 to 10), which is probably a unique combination, and so it’s subjected to scientific studies for a long time. There are two streams (Dhara and Sita Nahini) and freshwater springs that drain directly into the lake, acting as its water source.
Ambar lake, a small water body near the Lonar lake, is believed to have been formed when a splinter from meteor that created Lonar lake, hit the ground. It is called Chhota Lonar by local residents.
Several unusual stones are found in the region. Our guide showed us transparent crystals, magnetic stones, porous stones, and ones that have lower density than water and hence float on its surface. These are believed to be a part of the meteor that hit Earth, or formed due to the impact.
(In pictures: Our guide showing us magnetic stone, stone lighter than water, and transparent crystals)
India has two more craters – Ramgarh crater in Rajasthan, and Dhala crater in Madhya Pradesh. What also makes Lonar stand out is its rich biodiversity. The region has reptiles like monitor lizard, birds like robins, larks, magpies, swallows, tailorbirds, parakeet, and tree cover of tamarind and teak trees.
Pradakshina and temples around the crater
One of the best experiences was touching the water of lake on a pradakshina of lake or a walk along the circumference of lake. The rim is raised a few meters above water body, and the soil is moist at some places. A few ancient temples can be spotted on the walk, which are mostly abandoned and occupied by bats.
There are around 12 temples around the lake, dating back to 6th to 12th century, and have stone engravings. Many temples are built in the Hemadpanti style of architecture.
It is a Vishnu temple, dating back to 6th-12th century, and shows the deity in his Daityasudan avatar. It has carvings on the ceiling and exterior walls, and is one of best preserved temples in the region. Some folk stories mention a demon named Lonasur/Lanavasur residing in the region, and was defeated by Lord Vishnu in his Daityasudan avatar. The temple was made in his honor.
(In picture: Daityasudan temple, Lonar)
Dhar temple/Gomukh temple
One of the tanks in the temple is an eternal water source, hence it derives its name ‘Dhar/Dhara’ from it (meaning water stream). Many sculptures in the temple depict mythological stories about the formation of Lonar lake.
(In picture: Dhar temple, Lonar)
Kamlaja Devi temple can be easily spotted along the rim of lake, owing to its white colour in greenery, and is one of the few structures that aren’t ruined.
(In picture: Kamlaja Devi temple, Lonar)
Every few years new articles and studies are published about the crater and lake. Some of them relate it to the craters on moon, and some to the rocks found on Mars. The place continues to awe scientists and tourists alike, and is truly a natural and scientific mystery!
Information about the place was imparted by Mr. Sudhakar Bugdane. He has served as the principal in a junior college in the biology department. He has not only aided research in the region, helping scientists from Meteorite Project GSI to University of Mexico, but also enlightened us about the science behind the crater and explaining the biodiversity found there.
Thank you very much for your time if you’ve read so far.
All pictures are taken by yours truly.
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