If you love nature, history, ancient temple architecture, archaeology, ruins, geology, adventure trekking in the jungle, bird watching and sunsets then the best place to satisfy all these urges at the same place and same time is LONAR located 135 Km from Aurangabad & 75 Km from Jalna in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
Here in Lonar is a meteor impact crater which not only looks visually beautiful but also attracts geologists & scientists from across the world because of its geological, ecological and scientific importance. It is well preserved and easily accessible. Its oval shape, highly salty water, bio-diversity and ancient temples in its periphery make the crater a unique site.
Not yet spoilt by hordes of unruly tourists this relatively unknown obscure place is a perfect destination for a peaceful retreat!! I experienced all these and much more during my recent trip to this place.
Lonar Crater Lake has been declared as a National Geo-heritage Monument. The lake is oval in shape and has a mean diameter of 1.2 kms.
There is a reference to this lake in Rig Veda, Skanda Puran & Padma Puran. The legend of a daitya Lavanasur is associated with this lake and is said to have given this place its name. There is reference to this lake in Valmiki’s Ramayana and also Kalidas’s poem – it is called ‘Panchaspar’ as it is believed that five underground streams flow into this lake. The lake also found mention in Mughal period in ‘Ain-e-Akbari’. Later for years together it remained hidden under thick vegetation and unknown to people till it was discovered by a British Officer G.E. Alexander in 1823.
With a young, energetic & knowledgeable guide & photographer Amol as my companion the experience of going on an early morning trek around the crater & lake turned out to be quite thrilling & fulfilling!!
My three and half hours trek with Amol began at 6.30 in the morning just as the sun was rising. There was a chill in the air as we reached the rim of the crater and had a panoramic view of the lake in the morning light and began our 400 feet steep descent to the lake from the rim of the crater via a rugged rocky path with only the sound of the birds giving us company. After 25 minutes we reached the first set of two ancient temples among the 12 dotting the periphery of the lake. From there it was another 7 minutes of jungle trek (it has been declared a sanctuary in 2015) to the shore of the lake. On the route I saw big honeycombs hanging from the trees. This sanctuary is home to leopards, neelgai, wild boars, gazelles, chinkara, peacocks, langurs & monitor lizards. We came across several langurs & peacocks. We sighted a neelgai at a distance and a day old pug marks of a leopard. As soon as we came out of the thick foliage, the lake could be seen in its full morning glory. There was a 600 feet walk in the sandy soil to the bank of the lake.
There was not a soul in sight and for the next two and half hours only & I Amol were the masters of the lake except for those animals who might have been lurking behind the trees and the birds!
The lake water looked bluish-green and there was a pungent smell of hydrogen sulphide emanating from the lake – due to lot of algae formation which at places had acquired pinkish hue. Near the shore, the soil was slimy & wheatish in colour. The birds especially flamingoes feed on the algae. The water of the lake is salty and alkaline at the same time with a ph level of 7 near the shore and 11 in the middle part of the lake. A little away from the shore near an old temple fresh sweet water was found on digging a well. The locals named the sweet well as ‘Bahu’ (daughter-in-law) and the salty (khara) lake as ‘Saas’ (mother-in-law)!! There are underground water streams that act as source for the lake.
The lake is a bird watchers paradise and is known for supporting a wide variety of migratory and resident birds like swallows, robins, magpies, tailorbirds, larks, hoopoes, parakeet, baya weavers, blue jays, red wattled lapwings, herons, teals, shovelers, shelducks, grebes, brahminy ducks, black-winged stilts and flamingoes specially during the winter months. We could spot 5 to 6 varieties of birds. There was a family of peacocks feeding on worms near the shore but flew away as they sensed our approaching feet!
We stopped at one of the temples and watched squirrels at play and also refreshed ourselves with some dry fruits, khakras, biscuits & nimbu pani that I was carrying in my backpack. Energized we continued our trek around the lake. We decided to take another route for climbing back and at one place in the forest, Amol stopped me in my tracks and showed me fresh potty of a leopard!! The next few minutes were passed in suspense – a feeling of thrill & fear at the same time!! We saw a couple of more temples on our climb back.
By the time I reached back to the MTDC resort (only decent place for stay in Lonar) after a 7 km trek, it was 10 am – time for quick shower, breakfast & final pack-up!! A two hours drive to Jalna and from there four and half hours by train brought us back to Nasik with exciting memories of a short but fulfilling trip!!!
If after reading my blog you feel tempted to plan a trip to Lonar anytime in future, do book Amol Sadar (9975447088) or his brother Shailesh Sadar (9763545169) as your guide in advance. They are undoubtedly the best and know every nook & corner of Lonar. The best time to visit Lonar is the winter months.
By Ramesh Kabra