We are driving from Aurangabad to Amravati in Maharashtra. For company, I have forester friends and a guest from US. One of the forester friend’s friend from Amravati advises us to visit Lonar on the way, and also have lunch at the Forest Rest House there. This is a great offer to give us a break in 350 plus kilometre drive on not so good roads. I Google for Lonar, and it come as a huge surprise for me to know Lonar is a ‘lake created by a meteor’ ages ago and is the only known ‘hyper velocity impact crater in basaltic rock’ anywhere on Earth! That’s amazing site to even think of. I am all for it and almost get prejudiced to like it.
We land up at the Forest Rest House at Lonar and see the amazing large crater, with a lake at bottom with greenish water. Crater wall is almost vertical with well forested sides. First thing which registers in my mind is that there is no drainage from the lake, which mean that the water loss can be only by evaporations and all salts and minerals are going to remain in and around the lake itself. Local foresters have arranged for a knowledgeable guide, Ramesh. He rattles out well remembered statistics – Lake diameter is about 1.2 kilometre; it is about 140 metre below the crater rim; meteor crater rim is about 1.8 kilometre in diameter. He even tells us about its chemistry – the lake is both saline and alkaline and talks of some very high pH and protein richness. Whatever that may mean, I am not immediately concerned.
My two forester friends decide to go down the crater to have closer feel of the forest and touch the water at the special lake. Pratap and me opt out. It’s somewhat hot. We do not want to perspire and tire ourselves. Guide tries to tempt us – “Sir, its just 10 minutes climb down and climb up is easier.” How can that be? I am sure it is at least one hour’s tough to and fro trek. We do not bite bait – Just happy to cool around the Rest House.
I can see some birds – from top, they are tiny spots on the lake. I pull out my binocular. Oh! I can recognise, Brahminy Ducks and some smaller ducks and waders. Later, the guide is ready with answer. He recites a list of birds of Lonar which includes black-winged stilts, grebe, shell-duck, shoveller, teal, heron, red-wattled lapwings etc.
I am pained to see ‘vilayati babul’, a good for nothing, non-native, bushy growth which spreads like fire but carries a rather attractive scientific name, Prosopis juliflora! It’s quite conspicuous, right there all around on the rim and at the edge of the lake below. Local foresters are embarrassed. They try to make me feel easy – they are going to uproot it systematically in next few years. I tell them, they better do that, otherwise, it will be Juliflora and nothing else around.
Sitting at the edge of the crater rim at the FRH, it’s cool to watch the panorama. We have the luxury of hot tea as well. The drama is unfolding every other moment. Now, we see three persons at the edge of the lake carrying heavy sacks on head. Some forest produce? Yes, we later find, it’s delicious Custard Apple collected from the crater forest.
Two wild boars dash out from the forest towards lake, like bullets, chasing each other. Yes, though a small patch of forest, surrounded by people, village, roads, visitors…. there is still some wildlife, including leopard, surviving. A forest guard tells us “Massive monitor lizards are commonly seen”.
Oh yes! Our countries omnipresent feature, a temple, is right there at the edge of the lake, down there at the bottom of the crater! Can you believe, there are around six temples in the crater, itself. I am compelled to say, ‘Oh My God – So many Gods!’ But, there is encroachment, pollution, destruction of forest, weeds…
It is good that the Forest Department has provided Lonar crater, lake and forest legal protection by declaring it a wildlife sanctuary. There are lot of positive voices from various departments. Lone question is, will they crystallise into protecting and preserving the natural wonder as unique as Lonar?