The wood fossil park at Akal

“I want to go to the Wood Fossil Park at Akal.”

I am at my hotel’s reception in Jaisalmer and am trying to work out an itinerary for the day with Sushil, the car driver-cum-guide arranged for me by the hotel. The hotel’s owner and the receptionist are also there offering suggestions and advice.

Silence greets this statement of mine and three pairs of eyes turn to look at me. Since I receive no response, I repeat: “I want to go to the Wood Fossil Park at Akal.”

At this, the hotel owner clears his throat, puts on his most persuasive expression and says: “But why, Madam? There is nothing in Akal. Nobody goes there and it will be a waste of your time. You will be very disappointed.”

“I don’t think it will be a waste of time or that I will be disappointed.”

But the hotel owner, receptionist and Sushil do not agree and try their best to persuade me to drop Akal from the list of places I intend visiting. It takes them a while to realise that I have no intention of listening to their ‘advice’, and after about 15 minutes of back and forth, they grudgingly agree and send me off with dire warnings of grave disappointment in store for me.

Akal Wood Fossil Park, Akal, JaisalmerAkal is about 17 km from Jaisalmer and after an uneventful drive, we are at the gates of the Wood Fossil Park. The gates are shut and when Sushil toots the horn, a security guard appears but does not open the gates and keeps staring at us.

Sushil gets off to find out the reason and comes back after a discussion involving a lot of looks in my direction. The security guard finally opens the gates, and Sushil gets back into the car. As drive into the Park, Sushil asks me: “What is so special about the place we have come to? Why did you want to come here?”

And I tell him that to understand what makes this place special, we have to travel back in time to about 180 million years ago.

It was the Jurassic Period of the Mesozoic Era and a time when Akal did not have the arid climate it has today, and instead had a hot and humid climate. Akal was not rocky and dry as it is today, but instead supported a luxuriant forest of towering trees. It was also the time when the continents that we know of today did not exist. Instead, there was a single land mass known as Pangea, which had just started breaking up around that time. This resulted in the sea water rushing in to fill the gap left, often submerging large tracts of land.

Wood Fossils, Akal, Jaisalmer, Travel, Rajasthan, Geology
Close up of a petrified tree trunk at Akal

And that is what happened at Akal. Sea water suddenly entered the area along with huge quantities of mud and sand and buried the forest there. The sudden submergence and steady pressure from the weight of mud and sand began a process known as petrification, whereby the wood of the trees in the submerged forest turned into stone, cell by cell. In other words, the organic cell matter got replaced with mineral matter, usually silica. The slow process enabled the preserving of features like texture of bark and as well as cell structure, which can be seen duringΒ microscopic examination.

And then millions and millions of years later, through the great dinosaur extinction, formation of the continents as we know them today, receding of the sea from the region, the coming of humans, rise and fall of civilisations and royal kingdoms, formation of nation-states across the world and India as a republic, weathering and erosion … the petrified wood fossils at Akal got discovered in the 1960s.

Wood Fossils, Akal, Jaisalmer, Travel, Rajasthan, Geology
Inside the Akal Wood Fossil Park

The Wood Fossil Park at Akal is spread out over a 10 sq.km. area and appears quite harsh and forbidding due to the rocky outcrops and very little vegetation. One also does not see any petrified wood fossils around. While I wasn’t expecting to find them lying around waiting for me, I certainly did not expect to see them like this either in cages. Looking at this rather sad display, I could hazard a guess as to what must have happened for this to come about.

Wood Fossils, Akal, Jaisalmer, Travel, Rajasthan, Geology
Caged ! This is how we protect fossil wood

Akal Wood Fossil Park, Akal, JaisalmerThe discovery of wood fossils in Akal must have generated a lot of interest and brought in geologists, paleo-botanists and other scientists. Samples must have been collected, catalogued, and identified. Results of the studies conducted must have been presented in conferences and published in journals. This discovery must also have brought in people eager to collect the fossil wood and sell it for a price. Between the researchers and the collectors (and sellers), Akal must have been stripped clean of wood fossils in 2-3 decades.

Sushil tells me that the government museum in Jaisalmer has many pieces exhibited there, but I know from experience that this effort must have come in only after some of the best pieces were taken away by others. The horrible fossil cages must have been the only way to protect and preserve what was left. As I walk around the Wood Fossil Park, I now understand what everyone meant when they said that there was “nothing” in Akal.

But am I disappointed with the visit? Yes and no. Less disappointed and more saddened and angry at yet another example of how an area of rare fossil heritage gets stripped in the name of research, in the name of building someone’s private collection, and as a means to earn some money.

And yet, I am not disappointed as there are still some wood fossils lying around, albeit in cages. In fact, after a while, I am happy that I have a chance to play geologist once again after a long time (for those who do not know, I have Masters in Geology πŸ™‚ ). It is like being in the field and I spend two very happy hours observing and noting details; sketching the more interesting rock formations around me and then photographing them; trying to recall classes and lectures; attempting to identify the rock textures and structures, etc. And to my absolute delight I see two petrified wood fossils, which are neither marked or caged.

Wood Fossils, Akal, Jaisalmer, Travel, Rajasthan, Geology
This petrified log was half buried in the sandy soil. It took some time to clear away the rocks and soil to be able to see the texture of the bark
Wood Fossils, Akal, Jaisalmer, Travel, Rajasthan, Geology
Tree rings can be seen on this petrified tree trunk, which was nearly a metre in diameter

If I did not have other places to go to, I might probably have spent the whole day at the Wood Fossil Park. As we were leaving the Park, Sushil stopped to say something to the security guard in the local language, which again involved a lot of looks in my direction. When we were back on the highway, I asked Sushil what the whole thing was all about.

Sushil smiled a little sheepishly and said:

Did you know, Madam, that you are the first visitor in 10 days? When we came here the guard thought that we had lost our way ! He also said that there is not much to see. And how could I allow him to say that after you showed me and taught me so much about this place? So when we were leaving, I had to tell him that there are lots to see and that I am bringing my children here to see this place and he should also do so !

Need I even elaborate any further as to why the visit to Akal has been so special? πŸ˜€

 

35 thoughts on “The wood fossil park at Akal

  1. No place is not worth seeing. I am sure you must have seen something beautiful and listened to your heart despite everyone saying no. Cheers:)

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    1. Yes, Vishal. You are absolutely right when you say that “no place is not worth seeing”.

      But at the same time, I can understand why I was dissuaded from visiting Akal β€” there really is nothing to see. At least not if one is a layperson. If I did not know what I could expect to see and the knowledge and training to seek it out, I might not have gone there.

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  2. wonderful post, Sudha! Had been looking forward to this one, since I hadnt even heard of this place before…. i guess its ur geology background which alerted you to its presence, and the next time i am there, will surely go…. coming back to the post, i guess yes, the experience would have been more about sadness than of disappointment…. that we can not even preserve something so wonderful and special…. whether it is natural wonders like these or beautiful sculptures, we need to cage everything in horrible iron cages just to protect them…. i guess that speaks volumes about us, as a whole…. and the same thing extends to everything, with protection being synonymous with bars and iron, rather than with care and love…i just hope i can go there someday.

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    1. I had vaguely heard of Akal in college and, quite frankly had forgotten all about it. Till a former classmate reminded me to visit the place. And that’s how I came to be at Akal. Sure, I was not surprised at being dissuaded or also that there was nothing to be seen, at least not for the layperson.

      The Park is not an easy place to navigate due to the geographical spread, and lack of or poorly worded and rather hilarious description of the wood fossils, which is sure to leave a layperson more confused than enlightened.

      We do not treasure our heritage and let it be. No we have to deface them with our name or sell it or bring them home with us, and also remove it in the name of research. Maybe this is not the way to “protect” or “preserve” but I don’t really see any other way. And I also wish an onsite museum was built at the Park rather than have it in Jaisalmer city

      I would actually love to go back and map the area, pinpointing locations for sighting. This place has so much potential, Anu, and mind is just buzzing with ideas to give visitors a greater and more enriching experience.

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    1. There are actually quite a few fossil wood parks in India. Akal, Tiruvakkarai and Sattanur are the better known ones and are listed in the Geological Survey of India site and you can read more about them here: http://www.portal.gsi.gov.in/portal/page?_pageid=127,529552&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

      There are also parks in Saketi in Himachal Pradesh and in Mandla in Madhya Pradesh. I have also heard of a wood fossil park in Gujarat. And even Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park has a large petrified log on its grounds.

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  3. What an interesting place! I am so glad you ignored the well-meaning advise offered to you, and visited the park! πŸ™‚

    We have often, on our tours, visited places we have been warned against. We have almost always enjoyed the places where guides and locals told us there was ‘nothing’ more than the usual tourist attractions. So, I could absolutely relate to that part of your post.

    And, you are such a sakala kala valli. πŸ™‚ A post-graduate degree in geology?! Impressive! Is there anything you haven’t done, madam? πŸ™‚

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    1. I’m quite stubborn about certain stuff, and if it relates to travel then I am even more stubborn. πŸ™‚

      Locals and tourists will rarely see a particular thing in the same way. I believe that both can learn from each other. I have definitely benefited from reading about my own city in other blogs.

      Shh.. don’t tell anyone, but I only write about what I know and that only fills my blog. As for what I don’t know there are the thousands of blogs around. πŸ˜‰

      Thank you, TGND. I have many interests and try to make the most of them. And if I can combine all of them at one go, then I’m in heaven πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you, Meera. Very happy that you liked it. One of the reasons for my wanting to visit the US is to see how they have maintained and taken care of their geological past through controlled and sustainable tourism.

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  4. I’ll be honest. I probably won’t go there but that’s because I am not so much into it. But I applaud how you stood your ground and finally got your way πŸ™‚ It’s nice to see and explore places you’re passionate about – come to think of it – why just places, it is always worth the time, effort and fight that we put up to connect with anything that’s connected to passion!

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    1. And I appreciate your honesty. πŸ™‚ Much as I enjoyed it, it is a fact that not everybody will like the place.

      I should probably add a PS to the post saying that this place is really not for everybody; at least till is properly signposted and there are more wood fossils on display.

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  5. Very interesting and informative Sudha. The wood fossils are so well preserved. The last two pictures reveal so much. I would love to visit this place sometime. Somehow, Akal reminded me of my trip to Ladakh, where the road trip was literally transformed into a geology/geography class coming alive.
    As for the lack of visitiors, I guess we belong to the category of ‘stone nuts’ (as my family members call me). Therefore, we are the privileged few…..

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    1. I haven’t had the fortune of visiting Ladakh yet, so cannot really comment, but can imagine when you say that it would have been a geology/geography lesson coming alive.

      The quality of preservation of the wood fossils is one of the reasons why researchers and collectors were drawn to this site. So a good thing actually turned out to be a bad thing. And yes, this place is a paradise for rock/stone nuts. But I request to all those who go there to not pick up any rock samples from Akal wood fossil park. There is hardly anything left there.

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    1. Welcome here, Elena, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. If you like a place which is deserted and have an interest in fossils and would like to search for them in the Park, then this is the place for you.

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    1. The wood fossil park is not there in most guidebooks, and those who ask locals for recommendations will be dissuaded. So I’m not really surprised that you hadn’t heard of this one.

      Glad you liked the post and hope it has interested you enough to want to visit it. πŸ™‚

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    1. It appears so. πŸ™‚ I love it when people get enthused enough to see a place through another’s eyes. I may have inspired Sushil to bring his children to Akal, but Sushil was equally if not more inspiring with his knowledge and insight of local customs, which I didn’t find in any guidebook. That is the joy of meeting people and interacting with them.

      As a sometimes teacher, I hope I inspire my students as much as they keep me on my toes and inspire me to be 2 steps ahead of them and have up-to-date information. πŸ™‚

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  6. Sudha, really happy to read the write up. Sorry to see all those caged fossils. When I was there 13 years back, it was not caged. I was there for 3 years and I was one of the frequent visitor to show my relatives and friends. Alas! no digital cameras, mobile phones in those days and no internet. I had taken many photos and most of them are misplaced by now. Thanks a lot for the credit but I really admire your work. I never ever thought of writing, may be to busy with my daily choirs. Yes, my geology also awakes whenever I see any geological structures anywhere though I left soon after my PG.

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    1. Hey Sam, so good to see you here. And thank you so much for reminding me of Akal in the first place as I would have missed it completely otherwise. I wonder when the fossils got caged. It was so sad to see them this way, but I guess the authorities had no choice. Still, a lot can be done to improve and enhance the experience of the visitors.

      This trip to Rajasthan was also a geological delight, particularly in Jaisalmer, Kumbhalgarh and Jodhpur. I will be writing about those places as well and will share the links with you.

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