Lonar: Geology, mythology, history and today

I eyed the steep and stony descent with some trepidation. The trail, or what passed off as one, appeared to be made for goats, not humans.

“It’s okay. The path is perfectly safe. Nothing will happen to you,” said Rajesh, my guide.

“That’s easy for you to say,” I told him, as I placed my camera in its protective case and put it in my backpack. As an afterthought, I also put my cellphone in as well, not willing to take any chances with it while climbing down..

“Are you sure this trail is safe?” I asked.

“Not only is it safe, it is also the quickest way to descend.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” I muttered to myself, as I looked around to see the vista spread out before me. Beyond the goat trail that is.

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake
The orange flags of the Kamalja Mata Temple can be seen as a speck

An almost circular lake, tranquil and pretty as a picture — ringed with a thick green cover and dotted with temples around its periphery — stretched out below me. This is the Lonar Crater Lake, which was created when a high-speed meteorite slammed into the basaltic lava flows about 52,000 years ago. The meteorite is believed to be buried deep within the lake.

Though the Lonar Crater was ‘discovered’ in 1823 by a British military officer, C.G. Alexander, it wasn’t until 1973 that it was found that the Lonar Crater was a one-of-its-kind. It remains the only meteorite impact crater in basalt in the world.

According to local belief, Lonar derives its name from the mythical demon Lonasura (also called Lavansura). This demon used to harass and trouble the local people so much that Lord Vishnu descended to earth to vanquish him. The crater, and the lake that now fills it, was formed when Lonasura was pushed back into the netherworld with tremendous force by Vishnu!

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline LakeI first ‘saw’ Lonar Crater as a grainy picture in a slide show as part of an undergraduate class in Geology. It wasn’t particularly impressive and I didn’t think much of it.

Three years later, as a postgraduate student, I ‘saw’ Lonar crater again. This time it was through a stereoscope.

I still remember that moment when the satellite image (quite like the picture on the left) of Lonar crater turned into a 3D stereoscopic image and the details came into focus — the circular shape, the lake inside the crater, the ridges, the shadows cast on the lake, the steep sides of the crater…

It was a mesmerising sight and one that I had to wait for 21 years to see for real. Last December, an overnight train journey from Mumbai to Jalna, followed by a 3-hour bone rattling bus ride got me to Lonar and to my first look at the crater and the lake. For real 🙂

Lonar 24
My first glimpse of the Lonar Crater Lake

The Lonar Crater Lake was much bigger and deeper than what the photographs and satellite images had conveyed with a mean diameter of 1.8 km, and sides sloping inwards at nearly 75 degrees. As for the lake, it was an unbelievable shade of green — not moss, not acid, not olive but a mix of all three and kind of mysterious that just begged to be explored. And that’s exactly what I did once I checked into my hotel and freshened up.

That day in Lonar turned out to be a day of revelations for me. I had arrived in Lonar with only some knowledge of its geological history. What I was not aware of, and what Rajesh (the local guide that my hotel arranged for me) went to great lengths to impress upon me, was its mythological and historical associations as well.

Lonar has been ruled by Ashoka, the Satavahanas, the Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas and the Devagiri Yadavas. Lonar was also a trading centre in the past, especially for salt and soap. In fact, the Ain-i-Akbari reportedly mentions that Emperor Akbar liked the quality of soaps from Lonar. The town has also had a history of glass making in the not too distant past. Today, none of these industries exist and when I walked through Lonar town, it was difficult to believe that it once was a bustling centre of trade.

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Viraj TirthThe only thing that Lonar retains of its past is the crater and 32 temples, of which 19 are protected by the Archaeological Society of India. Most of the temples are in various stages of ruin and some continue as places of worship.

The temples are spread out in town and some are ringed around the lake. Though it is possible to visit all the temples in a day, I did not want my only day in Lonar to turn into a temple hopping tour. Instead, I decided to concentrate on visiting a few of the prominent ones and also explore the Lonar Crater.

The first temple I visited was the Viraj Tirtha, locally known as Lonar Dhar. Situated near the southern rim of the Lonar Crater, it has many shrines located within its complex. The Viraj Tirtha has a tank whose waters are considered to be holy and on the day I visited, it was full of pilgrims taking a dip.

There are steep steps leading from the temple straight down to the edge of the Lonar Crater Lake. I went down halfway to see the ruins of some temples and then came right back.

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Viraj Tirth
The Viraj Tirtha
Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Viraj Tirth
The steps leading from the Viraj Tirtha to the Lonar Crater Lake
Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Viraj Tirth
Ruins of a temple near the Viraj Tirtha
Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Viraj Tirth
Shiva or Buddha? A statue with its head missing.
Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Viraj Tirth
Papahareshwar tank, which is nothing but a place for washing clothes for the locals near Viraj Tirth

The Daitya Sudan Temple, perhaps Lonar’s best-known temple, was the next temple I visited. Located in the heart of Lonar town, its unique architectural style makes it stand out from the other temples in the town. The absence of a temple spire (the guide was not very clear whether it was destroyed or whether it was even built in the first place) does make it look a little funny and ‘truncated’, but the sheer variety of exquisite carvings on the external walls make up for it. The guide kept referring to the Daitya Sudan Temple as being similar to the Khajuraho temples; but not having visited the latter, I couldn’t really say if he was saying the truth or not !

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Daitya Sudan Temple
The Daitya Sudan Temple
Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Daitya Sudan Temple
Principal Deity at Daitya Sudan Temple: Lord Vishnu standing on the vanquished Lonasura
Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Daitya Sudan Temple
Detail from carving on the external walls of the Daitya Sudan Temple

A visit to the Kamalja Mata temple was next, for which I had to descend into the crater. This was the moment I had been waiting for — this was to be the highlight of my trip to Lonar. Of course, when I saw the goat trail, all my excitement vanished and I debated whether I should descend or whether I should just walk around the crater instead. But when I saw the challenging look on the guide’s face and the beautiful crater lake below me (see the first photo in this post), I knew that I had to descend into the crater.

And so I set off — slipping and sliding at times, descending gracefully and calmly at other times. But always carefully. I gave many of the locals who were on their way to the temple or returning from the temple a lot of entertainment with my bumbling descent. I am offered advice (“Take off your shoes”), encouragement (“You can do it”), and also some good-natured teasing (“You city people are all alike”). They, of course, climbed or descended the goat trail like the sure-footed goats locals that they were.

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline LakeIt took me about 40 minutes to hit level ground and I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I felt then. A short walk and I was standing before the Kamalja Mata Temple.

The temple is much revered by the people of Lonar and nearby towns. Apparently, the annual yatra of Kamalja Mata sees lakhs of pilgrims congregating at the temple every year. The temple had a calm and soothing atmosphere with families relaxing and children playing. I was really glad at that moment that I didn’t chicken out of descending into the crater.

The temple is not very big and as soon as one enters the garbha griha is right in front, with the idol of Kamalja Mata staring right back at you. I don’t mean to be irreverant but the expression of surprise and the exaggerated ‘O’ of Kamalja Mata’s mouth was very cute and had me smiling widely.

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Kamalja Devi

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake, Kamalja Devi
The main idol of Kamalja Devi at the Temple

As I mentioned earlier in this post, the waters of the Lonar Crater lake are a deep, mysterious green. This is due to the presence of a blue-green algae which lends the lake that particular colour. Standing at the edge of the lake and watching the gentle ripples fan out and then still, imagination runs wild about the lake and what could lie beneath.

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline LakeWith sunset a little over an hour away, the guide suggests that we turn back. We decide to walk around the lake and take another path to the top. It’s a lovely walk with birdsong and sunlight filtering through the thick canopy of trees. I’m tree-identity challenged and can only recognise teak trees with some degree of confidence !

We also pass ruins of temples and though I would have liked to explore them, the overwhelming smell of bats is a big deterrent. It was sad to see the external walls of all these temples defaced with graffiti and slogans. Though one sees things like this at most Indian monuments, I don’t think I can ever get used to it. 😦

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake
Ruins of another temple at the base of the Lonar Crater

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake

The path to the top does not appear to be as bad as the one I descended from. At least there appears to be some semblance of steps to climb! The climb starts of well, but within minutes I find the going fairly tough as the steps are steep and tricky. The ascent is slow and soon I am huffing and puffing my way up.

I don’t know how I manage to climb or even how long I take, but when I do it is such an exhilarating moment. That moment when you wonder if you really did what you just did, if you know what I mean. I am also in time to see one of the most beautiful sunsets I have experienced.

Lonar, Lonar Temple, Travel, Maharashtra, Kamalja Devi, Meteoric Crater, Alkaline Lake
Sunset at Lonar Crater Lake

I left Lonar the next day. Over the weeks and months that have passed since the visit, I haven’t been able to get that visit out of my mind, but this time it isn’t for the right reasons:

  • Considering the geological importance and the uniqueness of the Lonar Crater Lake, and also the presence of so many temples on its banks, there are no security guards.
  • The Maharashtra Tourism Department must be the worst state tourism in the country. There was hardly any on site information available in any of the places that I visited.
  • Rajesh, my guide, was a bit of a mystery. I could never make out if he was cooking up information or if he was actually narrating the recorded history of the area. It didn’t help that he mumbled, rather than speak. And he was supposed to be a student of history and a trained guide !
  • I’m not even going to get into the facilities for stay or eating at Lonar. Let’s just say that there is scope for improvement. Lots of improvement.

I wonder why we can’t strike a balance with regard to places of interest in India. Either they are promoted to death (like the Taj Mahal or Kerala) or are not spoken about at all (like the wood fossil park at Akal). Though Lonar is known in travel circles, the facilities and infrastructure leave a lot to be desired, in spite of having the potential to be a fabulous getaway. It’s so frustrating !

I hope this little rant of mine at the end has not put you off from visiting Lonar. It’s a place that deserves more than a visit. It deserves some love from discerning travellers like you. 🙂


Note: Rushikesh Kulkarni of Breakfree Journeys visited Lonar recently and met Bugdane Sir, former school principal, Lonar resident and someone who has been fighting a lone battle to preserve Lonar’s heritage. Bugdane Sir has written a booklet on Lonar and Rushikesh got one copy for me, which I have used for part of the background information given in this post. Thanks, Rushikesh.

39 thoughts on “Lonar: Geology, mythology, history and today

    1. A very warm welcome to “My Favourite Things”, Prashanth. Very happy to see you here. 🙂

      Glad you found the post informative. Looking forward to reading about your visit, when you visit Lonar, that is !

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  1. Today I cleaned my house, got my hair cut and traveled thousands of miles to see an amazing meteorite lake. Thank you, it was a fascinating trip on an otherwise tedious day.
    But on a serious note, what if anything can we do about this global obsession with meaningless graffitti? We were in Oporto last month and religious monuments and old city walls etc are defaced in the same way. So sad to see it in such meaningful location as Lonar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jane. I’m so happy that you found this trip worth it. 🙂

      I really liked this term that you have used: “meaningless graffiti” as it differentiates vandalism and defacement from graffiti as a form of street art. I have not come across vandalism in my few travels abroad, but here in India it is a common sight. Seeing a monument without some degree of defacment or vandalism is rare.

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    1. Thanks, Mukta.

      Not only do neglected places in India need attention, they also need the right kind of attention. I recently heard that MTDC wanted to build a motorable road to the crater bottom to allow vehicles to come down. Just imagine what will happen if this were to be built – a fragile ecosystem within the crater would be under threat. That is not the attention the Lonar crater needs.

      In other news, MTDC wants to develop the seafront near Sewri Fort in Mumbai with restaurants and observation decks. That area is flamingo ground. Imagine what would happen if the MTDC were to actually carry this out.

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    1. Hi Niranjan. Many people make a day visit to Lonar from Aurangabad, but I wouldn’t recommend that. There is quite a bit to explore and discover and it is best done on foot. Also, Lonar gets very hot during the day, so mornings and late afternoons and evenings are the best. An overnight stay works best. Hope you get a chance to visit it soon.

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  2. I have heard a lot about this lake from Vinni who goes there on his bike and seen pictures too, but got the info on it only from this wonderful post. I admire your going down the slope in whatever manner you did 😛 I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do even that! The water indeed is so lovely to behold. And you are right. The goddess looks cute! I love it when I can see the deity clearly. Most of the garbha grihas are so dark and dank 😦

    And….and….please please, can I have the sunset pic for my desktop? Resized of course 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In retrospect, the ascent and descent seems like a breeze. 😛 But I found the ascent more difficult than the descent as it was really steep, perhaps one of the steepest I have done.

      Dark garbha grihas irritate me too. I still remember how angry I was when I couldn’t see anything at the Chidambaram temple.

      Of course, you can have the sunset picture. I’ll mail it to you in a while.

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  3. We only hear of the crater as students of geography/geology. Years later I heard about the Lonar Crater when my son went there on a school excursion. Nice pictures – I hope I can go there some day and see the beautiful green waters of the crater lake. The wooden pillars framing Lord Vishnu are beautiful. Wish they could be better preserved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Neena. I wish Our college/university had taken us for an field trip to Lonar Lake. It would have been such a rich learning experience.

      The temples are actually quite beautiful. Plain in some parts, carved in others, I’m still trying to figure out if lack of ornate carvings was due to the nature of the stone or lack of skills.

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  4. And oh, I forgot to add that I am not too unhappy about the place not being ‘developed’ as a tourist destination. Else it would lose it charm and pristine beauty. Of course the government should make all efforts to preserve the lake and the archaeological treasures around it. Levy a hefty fees of tourists who want to visit the place, maybe. But wonder if even that would deter the vandalising tourists and locals from defacing monuments and dirtying the environs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. By development, I don’t mean turning Lonar Lake into an amusement park (oh the horror), but to have certain basic things in place. Signboards, Information Boards, simple maps and a couple of decent places to stay and eat. Trained guides who talk, don’t mumble and who certainly don’t make up stories to make the place more touristy.

      But most of all make the local people aware of their own heritage and instill pride in them and not the tendency to exploit.

      Am I asking for too much? 🙂

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  5. Wonderfully written. But then that’s no surprise:-) . While I’m happy Lonar is not ‘marketed’ I wish there was more information readily available. People should know about this amazing meteorite crater lake with pride not just by accident. I visited Lonar in 2010 and my bones still hurt from that bus ride. Tks for making the ascent and descenr come alive again. To ore future writings Sudha; and at least one travel together?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Zaynti.

      That bus ride to Lonar. Its surprising (or maybe not0 that both of us remember that bus ride. That and the time it took get to Lonar from Jalna was one of reasons to forgo proceeding to Aurangabad by bus and hire a car instead.

      By development, I don’t really mean marketing Lonar to death but to have information on the place available if not on the net, then at least to those visiting the town. There are no signboards, no history, no signboards, no nothing…

      Of course, we’ll travel together one day. I’m not so bothered about the where. It is the when that I want to know !

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  6. Excellent write. I wish I had a wide angle camera so that I could capture the entire lake. It has some lovely birds. I also captured a few of them. Thanks for refreshing memories…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wished I had a wide angle lens too or had at least taken my old camera with me, which had that feature. During this trip, I had a new camera and quite forgot to try the panorama feature in it.

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Nutsure.

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  7. THAT irritation with how little we care for our own country and its heritage is ever-present for me. The number of exquisite temples in the South that are totally neglected is horrifying. It took Westerners to make Mahabalipuram, Kanchi Kailasanatha temple and Ajantha and Ellora famous. No doubt we are waiting for them to tell us what else is worthwhile in our country!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I want to know understand, why are we so callous towards our heritage. I have not travelled much in the South, but have heard and read enough to know about the treasures that are neglected there.

      Not only do we want the Westerners to identify and tell us what is worthwhile in our country, we also want them to repair it, fund its upkeep… We don’t want to do anything.

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  8. I had read a snippet of the Lonar Crater sometime back and harboured a wish to see it someday.Thanks for bringing up this post, Sudha. There are so many beautiful and interesting places to explore in India and yet India Tourism concentrates on milching only the known circuits.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Your post inspired me to go look at some other lakes created by craters in the world. You are right, Lonar is the only one that has been created due to meteorite impact in basalt. The rest, mentioned in the link below are all a result of volcanic activity. I have seen the first one, in person, may years ago. Its waters are as blue as Chelpark ink and the beauty takes your breath away. I hope to add Lonar to my list of visited crater lakes soon.

    http://twistedsifter.com/2012/05/the-most-beautiful-crater-lakes-in-the-world/

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    1. Lonar is a great place to visit for a day or two and now with MTDC Guesthouse recently being renovated, it will also be a comfortable place to stay in.

      I love, love, love this description “Blue as Chelpark ink”. When I read it, that exact shade of blue just popped into my mind. I wonder why people don’t use such descriptions in common usage.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome here, Santosh, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Everyone says that the temple is equivalent to that of Khajuraho, but nobody says why. Now, if you have visited Khajuraho, you would know that there are many temples there. So, which particular temple does the Daitya Sudan Temple resemble? Also why id it equivalent to Kahjuraho? Please tell me.

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      1. You just caught me. I haven’t been to Khajuraho yet 😦 I am sure that I am one of those idiots who only correlate erotic sculptural art with Khajuraho.
        I am planning one motorbike ride soon to Khajuraho..and I am sure that my understanding will be killed for sure..!

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        1. Welcome here, Santosh. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.I really appreciate it.

          I haven’t been to Khajuraho either, though I have heard so much about it and read so much about it too. But I can tell you this much that the erotic sculptures in Khajuraho probably form about 5-10% of the total sculptures there. There is much more to see in Khajuraho. Have a good trip. 🙂

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  10. I worked in Lonar crater for five years.I would appreciate any authentic mythological reference regarding Lavanasur and Lord Vishnu. Regarding origin I still believe that meteorite is buried in the south western part of the crater rim along NE-SW fault line.

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    1. Hello Sibananda,

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I have yet to come across any epigraphical sources for the reference to Lavanasur and Vishnu. Whatever I have heard is only as oral history. However, if I do come across something, I will share it with you.

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