It was hot. Though still “spring,” the dry earth and parched twigs crackled in the heat under the relentless bleached sun. Nestled in a yawning hollow below me was a murky saline and alkaline lake. There was no path leading down. Just boulders and a smattering of clear patches.
I asked myself what the hell was I doing here.
High on every geologist’s bucket list, Lonar is the only hyper-velocity impact crater in basaltic rock on our earth. It was created some 52,000 years ago by a meteor weighing 2 million tonnes, hurtling at a speed of 90,000 kilometres per hour. Some believe the meteorite is still stuck inside the lake. But I am no geologist. For a devout Hindu, it holds in its folds scores of medieval crumbling stone temples. But I am no devout Hindu either. For the hiker, it is an opportunity to hike down and then up, an attractive enough deviation from the ordinary. Perhaps that was it.
But now, up since the crack of dawn, and after a 4-hour drive from Aurangabad, all I could wonder was if I was even going to be able to make my way down.
“It is beautiful in the monsoons. All lush and green.” Mahesh my guide, gushed in enthusiasm, breaking into my rambling thoughts. “But the paths become difficult. Some of them turn into rivulets. You have chosen the perfect time to visit. We can go right around the lake!”
By now Mahesh had figured I was not the type to sprint down. Every few yards I was either gaping in dismay at the loose sand and rocks giving way under my feet or gaping in awe at the sight of the lake embedded deep in the earth, reaching out to me with every step I took towards it.
“Tell me, Mahesh, what made you become a guide?” I reckoned talking would distract me from the evils of the treacherous path ahead.
“I used to sell guide books when I was a child, right here in Lonar. But there was no money in it. So, I decided to study the books I sold and become a guide instead.” He broke into a happy laugh on this admission, a laugh that made his eyes smile in contentment.
An hour later, we were inside the 1.8-kilometre-wide crater. 137 metres closer to the molten core of our earth and surrounded by basalt cliffs. The air within was hot and still, and mute.
Infested with snakes and small wild animals, and a one-of-its-kind eco-system in its lake, Lonar is bereft of electricity and becomes a black hole once the sun goes down. There was hardly a soul inside at high noon either.
A couple of Brits wandered randomly at a distance and local villagers held watch at the temples peppered on the slopes. Not much is left of these temples which date back to 1000 – 1200 AD. But their names live on, stoic and determined. Ram Gaya Mandir, Bageecha Mandir, Kumareshwar Mandir, Gomukh Mandir, Kamalja Devi Mandir, and a dargah in honour of Gaibansha Wali Baba. Outside, in Lonar town, is its architectural centrepiece—the 1,000-year-old Daitya Sudan Mandir on the lines of Khajuraho.
These temples soon became my pit stops. Refuges of calm and cool, both whilst going down and on my way up. The many stories recounted to me by the local villagers I met, as much a part of Lonar as the stone temples and saline-alkaline lake.
Their absolute conviction of the existence of Lonasur, the demon who once lived in Lonar and was destroyed by the god Vishnu according to Hindu mythology. Lonasur, for them, was still under the meteorite, deep in the lake, wriggling and shrieking. Their encounters with wild animals where both humans and beasts had decided to leave the other alone. Their childhood memories of scrambling over the temple ruins when Lonar was not yet on any tourist map. The site only came into public notice in 1979 when it was declared a National Geo-Heritage Monument.
“Come back in the monsoons. It is a sight to behold!” Everyone I met insisted I return.
After devouring my own bottle of water and that of Mahesh’s as well, I wondered—second trip? I was not even sure why I had made the first trip.
At times we choose our destinations. At times destinations choose us. For no other reason than to imprint themselves on our memories. Even today, almost a month later, when I close my eyes, I can smell Lonar’s still air and feel the cold surface of the basalt rock temple floors under my feet.
Who knows? Maybe I will be back in the monsoons. ❤
Lonar crater lake. View from a ledge half-way down. The little temple on the right-hand corner is the Ram Gaya Mandir.
Close up, Ram Gaya Mandir named after Lord Ram’s departure for his 14-year banwas [exile].
Ganapati aka the god of remover of obstacles carved on one of the pillars of Bageecha Mandir. I made it down the crater so I guess he’d waved his magic wand. 🙂
Inside the Lonar crater.
Self-portrait. Standing on the salt and soda-packed earth lining the lake.
My guide, Mahesh Vijay Mishra. Super happy and knowledgeable. I was lucky to have him showing me around!
My secular India. A dargah [tomb of a Muslim saint] on the crater’s slopes.
Left: Ruins of Kumareshwar Mandir. Facing it is a freshwater stream which sprouts from the living rock in stark contrast to the saline-alkaline lake below.
Gomukh Mandir on the crater rim with its infinite stairs leading down to the crater lake [left] and kund [tank] fed by a perennial spring for ritual bathing [right]. Pilgrims believe Lord Ram’s wife Sita had a bath at this exact spot.
Aren’t these women beautiful? I chanced upon them at Gomukh Mandir. I just loved their bright red sindoor bindis and green saris.
Left: An engraving of a woman on a stone floor slab at Gomukh Mandir. Right: Shrines at the entrance of Lonar’s architectural gem, Daitya Sudan Mandir.
Daitya Sudan Mandir meaning Temple of the Destroyer of the Demon. The Destroyer being god Vishnu and the Demon being Lonasur.
Note the Islamic interiors of Daitya Sudan Mandir. Outside, a couple make erotic love on the stone facade, reminiscent of Khajuraho.
Kamalja Devi Mandir on the lake’s shoreline bursts into life during Navratri celebrations. The day I visited Lonar, it was as desolate as the rest of the crater.
My last view from the road leading out of Lonar. Good bye. Till we meet again in the rains perhaps, when you are all bedecked in green.
- Timings: Sunrise to sunset. Open every day. Try for early mornings. But for that you may need to stay overnight at Lonar.
- Guide: Mahesh Vijay Mishra, a local young man with in-depth knowledge, wonderful attitude and a warm, ready smile. Cell no. +91 95 2797 9538.
- The MTDC restaurant on the crater rim offers simple, clean meals and snacks.
- Getting there: Lonar is a 4-hour drive from Aurangabad. I hired a car for my entire 5-day trip from KM Holidays run by Mangesh Kathar. Cell no. +91 99 6007 7444.