India Interior

Lo, behold the crater at Lonar!

N. Shiva Kumar | Updated on February 22, 2020 Published on February 22, 2020

A facelift is being given to a ‘geological gem’ in Maharashtra, a unique site ‘visited’ by a meteorite 50,000 years ago

Arun Gulabrao Mapari, a web designer, had worked for 20 years in Aurangabad. But one day in 2015, he simply gave up the ordeal of city life and decided to settle in rustic Lonar, 140 km from Aurangabad, in Buldhana district of Maharashtra.

Similarly, Sachin Ramdas Kapure, a software consultant, quit urban life in Pune to set up a boutique hotel in Lonar. Even though Aurangabad is a recognised tourist hub connecting world heritage sites like Ajanta, Ellora, Shirdi and Daulatabad Fort, Lonar was and still is far from the madding crowd.

Lonar village’s population is some 25,000. Very few visitors come by. And those who do are mostly day tourists who take a dip in the natural spring around which an ancient, little-frequented temple survives. The tiny hamlet, nevertheless, ranks as one of the topmost ‘geological gems’ in the world as the Lonar crater here is considered unique.

Dating back 50,000 years, the Lonar crater is the youngest and best-preserved impact crater formed in basalt rock and is regarded as the only one of its kind on earth. “Only a handful of scientists and wandering tourists with intense curiosity would take a peek at the lethargic Lonar geography and it has been neglected and abused over the years. When NASA space scientists, astrophysicists and moon-rock sample seekers revere the location, why cannot we pay a little more attention to this unique formation formed by a huge extra-terrestrial rock?” wonders Mapari.

Cosmic visitor

The Lonar crater was formed by a blazing ball of fire that weighed over one million tonnes; it was a meteorite travelling at an awesome speed of 80,000 km per hour. It pierced our blue planet and hit the earth with such fire, force and fury that it dug a deep depression of about 150 metres in the rock-solid Deccan plateau.

It crashed, exploded, erupted and spewed liquefied rock, creating a magnificent crest on the rim covering almost a 2-km diameter. First discovered in 1823 by J.E. Alexander, during the days of the Raj, it was initially thought to be a deep-throated volcanic formation, which was later refuted by scientists who concluded that it was moulded by a piece of flying moon-rock or most probably a vagabond meteorite. Maskelynite, a kind of naturally occurring glass only formed by extremely high-velocity impact, has been found in the crater.

The country’s landmass has some incredible topography, but none as extraordinary as the Lonar crater located not far from the Ajanta and Ellora caves. A lake formed over the years in the centre of the crater has stagnant saline and alkaline water with high concentration of chemicals bubbling with methane gas.

Sudhakar Bugdane, a retired school principal, who was the first to publish an informative booklet on the Lonar Crater, rues the degradation of the environment around the crater.

“It is evident that urbanisation, coupled with ever increasing population, has led to an indiscriminate invasion of human activities in the Lonar lake and has created a constant threat to the ecosystem and its remarkable biodiversity” he says.


Saving the Lonar crater, which started as a hobby 40 years ago, has become a mission for 74-year-old Bugdane. He regularly lectures about it and encourages the youth to research and celebrate the rare cosmic collision with earth.

Meanwhile, Santosh Jadhav and Vilas Jadhav, employed with the State Government and active in social work, have joined two others, Arun and Sachin, to promote the site. Collectively they have inspired the inhabitants of sleepy Lonar to lead by example.

The four have started a movement of sorts, christened ‘Mi Lonarkar’, beseeching the local population not to neglect the site that is known worldwide.

They launched a local campaign, ‘One great hour for Lonar’ that entailed cleaning up the crater and its surrounding areas. It was a low-key campaign. They simply sent out SMS and WhatsApp messages.

Dummy caption   -  Pics: N Shiva Kumar


Trekking routes and nature walks were charted out to the centre of the crater. ‘Walk and pick up trash accumulated over the years while communing with the ecology in the crater’ was the idea. World Environment Day on June 5, 2017, was a landmark one as people voluntarily participated for an hour and once a week, particularly on holidays, in operation clean-up. What started with four people went on to become 40-strong in four months, swelling up to 400-strong in four years.

Mapari and Kapure explain that Bugdane was the first man to have started the battle for active conservation of the Lonar Crater many years ago. “We saw his aggressive approach for the cause of the crater — engaging doggedly with various departments. Despite many failures, he brought Lonar into the limelight. We decided to further the cause, but with a different stance and gathered similar-minded people to make it a movement. Without approaching the authorities, we started in a small way and spearheaded easy methods of implementing schemes without treading on their toes. Steadily, various local and State departments began to understand our point of view without going to court for solutions.”

Today, after four years of constant team work, ‘One great hour for Lonar’ has managed to put up a fencing around the crater rim and stop religious processions within the crater, cutting of trees and drainage of municipal waste into the lake. Regular patrolling is on to protect the crater. Even the archaeology department is mending the cluster of heritage temples in the vicinity as many are over 1,000 years old.

The forest department has declared it as the Lonar Wildlife Sanctuary and is reaping the harvest of practical conservation methods as native flora and fauna is thriving and, surprisingly, a family of leopards have made it their home. A bird-watching festival this month in the area recorded over 150 species of birds. “Our team has gained the confidence and involvement of not only the citizens but also politicians and bureaucrats, while scientists were always backing our effort”.

The writer is a wildlife enthusiast and photographer based in Noida

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Published on February 22, 2020

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