Thursday, Jul 07, 2022

Into The Cosmic Wonder 

Otherwise known for its historical carvings, Maharashtra is also home to a geo-heritage monument — the Lonar Crater

An aerial view of the Lonar Lake
An aerial view of the Lonar Lake Shutterstock

I quickly tried to adjust my eyes to the sudden bright light. I stepped out of the bus, still slightly groggy from my power nap and looked as far as my vision permitted — a vast, desolate stretch of land with not much in sight, barring a few trees, and the blazing sun. I walked a few steps further and spotted a sliver of green, which soon paved the way for a massive lake, shining under the harsh sun.  

After an excruciatingly long and seemingly endless journey from Aurangabad, we reached the Lonar Crater on a hot, dusty afternoon. According to mythology, Lonar acquired its name from Lonasura, a demon who was killed by Lord Vishnu. The crater and the lake which reside in a quiet corner of the Buldhana district in the state of Maharashtra made headlines nearly two years ago, when the water of the lake turned pink (more on that later), once again grabbing eyeballs after almost two centuries — since its discovery. Talking about the lake’s discovery takes one back in time, almost two centuries ago when J.E. Alexander first discovered it. 

The lake turned pink nearly two years ago
The lake turned pink nearly two years ago Shutterstock

Over the years various stories — both mythological and scientific — revolved around the creation of the crater, its water and its significance. But what was upheld in the end was a result of a deep scientific study that took a while to come to fruition. Classified as a Geo-heritage monument — with both saline and alkaline water — the crater is believed to be a result of a meteor collision. Today it even stands as a wildlife sanctuary for the conservation of animals, plants as well as the water of the lake. 

The crater and the lake generally come alive during the monsoons, I’m told, when the lush green cover surrounding it is cleaned off of all the dust and sand that generally covers most of the Maharashtrian belt during the blazing summers. The Lonar crater is nestled quietly in the Deccan plateau — a massive plain of volcanic basalt rocks that have over the years been created by eruptions. 

I battle a few rusty leaves and some twigs to move a little further and get a closer look. My mind immediately runs back to the pink colour I spotted in pictures almost two years ago. While the country was well into the pandemic and witnessing multiple natural occurrences, headlines about the Lonar Lake turning pink overnight cropped up, leaving all stakeholders baffled. In June 2020, the forest department spotted the pink colour of the lake and sent the sample for further investigation to the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEER) as well as the Agharkar Research Institute in Pune. After much research, it was concluded that the lake turned pink due to the presence of haloarchaea microbes — a bacteria culture responsible for creating a pink pigment and existing in saline water. 

One of the temples near the lake
One of the temples near the lake Shutterstock

A slight rustle of the leaves and I was brought back to real time, only to dive back into Buldana’s history and its ancient tales. The Buldana district where the Lonar Crater is located has traded various hands in terms of its rulers. It was once a part of the Maurya empire and later ruled by the Chalukyas, Mughals, Yadavas, Nizams and the British for significant periods of time and it was during the reign of these rulers that trade flourished in the region. While not all rulers left behind a historical trail, the Yadavas have left a legacy behind in the form of temples, namely Gomukh, Daitya Sudan, Kamalja Devi amongst others. While here, one can find numerous small temples dotted along the periphery of the lake. Known as Yadava temples, they are flocked by the locals during dawn and dusk. As for us, the heat was a major deterrent, and hence the best advised time to visit the crater is during the months of October to early March. 

A few metres away from the main lake — approximately seven metres if some are to be believed — lies a small circular depression that is believed to be caused by a fragment of the main meteor. And right next to this small lake — known as Ambar Lake or the chota Lonar — one can find a Hanuman temple. It is only upon visiting that one realises that the area surrounding the lake is doused in history, mythology and science in equal measures. 

The Lonar Crater is truly a cosmic wonder. Come to think of it, a slight movement in the cosmos and an indelible imprint — as deep as 500 feet and 1.8 kilometres wide — has permanently found home in a plateau in Maharashtra.