Travel, Kolvi, Rajasthan State Highway no. 19 A, Columna Basalts, Columnar jointing, Travelling Geologists, Igneous rock, Geological Structure, Igneous structure. Deccan Basalts, Magma Chamber

Travel Shot: Columnar basalts on Rajasthan State Highway 19A

It is about a quarter past 9 on that November morning of 2016, and we (my friend Niti and I) are on our way to visit the Buddhist rock-cut caves at Kolvi from Jhalawar, Rajasthan. A brief halt at Bhawani Mandi for a breakfast of poha, jalebi and tea later, we are more that half way into the 2 hour drive to the caves on Rajasthan State Highway 19A.

The view from the car window is of a largely flat countryside lit up in the wintry sunlight. We pass village settlements, farmlands, a river crossing… all in all very peaceful and idyllic.

Suddenly Niti asks, “What’s that?”

I’m seated behind the driver and have to twist to look at what she is pointing at on her side of the road.

And as soon as see it, I tell the driver, “Stop. The. Car. NOW.”

Manoj, our driver, not only stops the car, but reverses it so that we can get a better look. At any other time, I would have chided him for reversing on a highway, but at that point in time all I could do was to wait impatiently for him to stop and the jump out of the car to get a better look.

“What are we looking at?” asks Niti.

“This, my friend, is what is known as columnar jointing in rocks,” I say. And add with a touch of drama, “There aren’t many sites like this; I know of only two in India.”

Travel, Kolvi, Rajasthan State Highway no. 19 A, Columna Basalts, Columnar jointing, Travelling Geologists, Igneous rock, Geological Structure, Igneous structure. Deccan Basalts, Magma Chamber
The view from Rajasthan State Highway 19A

Continue reading “Travel Shot: Columnar basalts on Rajasthan State Highway 19A”

Sifting through the sands of time in the Thar

The mid-day sun in July is hot and harsh as is the landscape around. I am somewhere in the Thar Desert — about 30-40 km west of Jaisalmer city — and the ground is hard, dry, and stony in most parts with some sandy patches. It is the end of summer in this region and I scan the skies for signs of monsoon clouds, but there are none to be seen.

All around me are limestone and sandstone ridges with the meanders of rivers and streams that once flowed here cutting through the rock layers. In the distance, cenotaphs and memorial stones to the dead can be seen. The occasional pops of green from the desert flora provides visual relief (and shade !) in the otherwise arid and barren landscape (see photograph below).

Desert Trail, Thar Desert, Suryagarh, Jaisalmer, Geology, Travel, Rajasthan, Silk Route
Millions of years in this one frame !

It is a sight that leaves me awestruck for this one frame encapsulates millions of years of history of the region — natural as well as human. A history that is as rich as it is varied and one that has changed and evolved through space and time.

Continue reading “Sifting through the sands of time in the Thar”

Summer of 1992

1992 was a very important year for me. A turning point, you could say. A coming of age even. I can’t pinpoint to a particular moment or event for there were many that made the year so memorable. But two of them were really special and, interestingly (or maybe not !) both involved travel. It was not the kind of travel I do today; rather, it was travel for the purpose of study as part requirement of the Master’s programme in Geology I was pursuing at that time.

In May 1992, I arrived in Bhuj (in Kachchh district of Gujarat) with AK, a classmate, to undertake a 15-day field trip for our Master’s dissertation in Geology. Though both of us were based in Bhuj and had a common faculty guide, we had separate field work sites (about 15 km away) and our field work was individual. Our faculty guide was scheduled to join us in Bhuj after about 10 days when we would have finished the bulk of our field work and be able to present our preliminary findings to him.

I was very excited about this field trip to Bhuj for this was to be my first solo field trip. Previously, I had always been part of a larger group of classmates. Having a geological hammer, compass, and topographical map all to myself and not share it with anyone made me feel quite grown-up, important and empowered ! 😛

Bhuj, Smainarayan Talav, Mandvi Road, Geology field work, Summer of 1992, Sudha Ganapathi
First day of field work in May 1992. Just look how delighted I am !

The first day of field work was exhilarating and as perfect as a young geologist like me could hope for — excellent rock exposures, variety in rock structures and textures, fossils, some intriguing geological puzzles… It was also very distracting, but I soon settled down and within the next day or two established a field work routine.

Continue reading “Summer of 1992”

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. Continue reading “The wood fossil park at Akal”

Why didn’t you take up Arts?

Yesterday, a colleague had dropped in to my office. Not to discuss work, but to talk about this blog of mine. She had recently come across my blog and to my surprise, had actually gone through each one of them ! Over a cup of tea, she offered some comments and suggestions, and then out of the blue asked me, “Sudha, why did you study science? Why didn’t you take up Arts?”

That one question was enough to transport me back to January 1992, a time when I was doing my M.Sc. in Geology. The first semester results has just been declared then and I was feeling quite pleased with myself as I had done very well. It was also the time to choose our optional subjects for the coming year. In my Department, a dissertation was an optional module in lieu of 4 papers, something that was preferred by most students. But since I was rather keen on a research experience, a dissertation it was for me, which meant that I had to find a teacher willing to guide me and supervise my work.

So off I went to Prof. A, who was a good teacher and seemed like someone who could be a good guide too. Prof. A first heard out my desire to do a dissertation and have him as my guide. Then he gave me a lecture on the rigours of field work, the dangers for a girl like me to be out in the field alone, how I would be better off opting for the 4 extra papers rather than doing research, how I had all the time in the world to do research, etc. He cited examples of women students who had left their research halfway unable to cope with field work and the problems it created later. He sent me off after telling me to think about what he had said.

I thought over it and next day, I went back to him more determined than ever before to do a dissertation. The same conversation ensued and this ping-pong game lasted for a few days till Prof. A burst out with impatience and irritation, ‘Why didn’t you take up Arts? Why Science and why Geology, in particular? Geology is not for girls.’ After ranting in a similar vein for some time, Prof. A finally refused to guide my dissertation.

Though very disappointed, I did not lose heart and approached the other professors in my department. All of them refused.

Their reason: My gender.

Continue reading “Why didn’t you take up Arts?”

Rocks, minerals, fossils, and a meteorite…

“I’m taking the afternoon off,” I announced to my department colleagues.

“Ok,” they said.

“You are supposed to ask me why,” I growled at them.

“Er… you are the boss here,” they murmured. “You don’t really need to tell us. Maybe, you need to tell that to your boss.”

I glared at them.

“Ok, why are you taking the afternoon off?”‘, they asked resignedly. “You look very pleased with yourself,” they added for good measure.

“I’m going to see an exhibition on ‘Rocks, Minerals and Fossils’ at Mumbai University’s Convocation Hall today afternoon,” I announced grandly.

Silence. “An exhibition on rocks?” they asked with collective skepticism and disbelief. “What is so interesting about an exhibition on rocks and minerals?”

I looked down my nose at them (which was actually difficult as I was sitting and they were all standing) and announced haughtily, “I am not even going to bother to explain. When I show you the photographs, you will know.” And, indeed, when I showed them the photographs taken at the exhibition , they knew how interesting the exhibition was and what they had missed !

Presenting some of the highlights of the exhibition on “Rocks, Minerals and Fossils” organised by the Centre for Extramural Studies, University of Mumbai, in collaboration with Deccan College, Pune, Institute of Science, Mumbai, Mr. Muhammad Makki, Pune and INSTUCEN, and held at the gorgeous Convocation Hall in the Fort Campus of the University of Mumbai, from 4–7 January, 2012.  

The exhibition at the Convocation Hall, Fort Campus, University of Mumbai

Continue reading “Rocks, minerals, fossils, and a meteorite…”