The ‘mysterious’ step-well at Lonar

Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. ~ Lawrence Block

I first saw the step-well on my way to the hotel from Lonar bus stand from the auto rickshaw.

A sunken structure in black basalt, I think I was lucky to notice it in the first place as the step-well is not on the road itself, but a little inside. I also think I noticed it because of the sudden break between the rather drab looking houses on the road and because it was so different from everything around it. From the quick look that I had in a passing rickshaw, I guessed it to be a water body of some sort. Maybe a step-well or at least an old  water tank?

I immediately asked the driver of the auto rickshaw I was travelling in. “What’s that place we passed just now?”

“What place?”

“The place with the black coloured stone and the one that looks really old.” (Yeah, I know, a very clever and lucid description indeed :-P).

“That thing? It’s a water tank. Nobody uses it or goes there.” These words were uttered with such a tone of finality that I didn’t dare ask him anything more.

Later that evening, after a day spent exploring Lonar, I told the guide about the step-well  / water tank that I had seen earlier that day. The guide was equally dismissive saying that it was a broken down structure, and not really interesting and why should I want to see something as boring as that?

That did it. The word “boring”. I decided that I wouldn’t leave Lonar till I had paid a visit to the step-well / water tank. So next morning, before I left for Aurangabad (my next destination), that’s what I did.

And the first thing I realised when I saw it is that it was not a water tank, but a step-well. Not an elaborate one, but a step-well nevertheless.

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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.

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RTE: Right to Education, Elitism or Exclusion?

Maha delay in notifying RTE Rules: State’s Slowness Has Ensured That Destitute Kids Won’t Get Admission In Pvt Schools This Year.

This was the headline of an article in the Times of India of June 13, 2011, the day all the State Board schools in Maharashtra re-opened. According to the article, along with  15 other states and union territories of India, Maharashtra had yet to notify the norms of the Right of children to free and compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009. The RTE Act, which came into operation on April 1, 2010, has the same legal status as other rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Two of the defining rules of the Act say that (i) every child from 6 to 14 years of age has the right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school, and that (ii) private schools must take in 25% of their class strength from “weaker sections and disadvantaged groups”, who will be sponsored by the government.

The RTE is a much discussed Act with its share of supporters and critics; one can find many critiques of the Act—you can read an excellent one by Parth Shah here and this blog that is entirely devoted to the RTE. Most of the critiques that I have come across discuss the lack of clarity (particularly with regard to the economics involved) in the rules of the Act as well as its implementation. In an article in Mint Lounge on how an English-medium education is a way out of life in the slums for many, Aakar Patel weaves in how the RTE Act could be used to achieve this goal. He also discusses as well as the possible hurdles in achieving it—hurdles that are not just economic, but social, i.e. those related to caste, class, etc.

In my opinion, the RTE Act is noble and idealistic in intent, but completely un-implementable in letter and spirit. Like Aakar Patel, I too believe that the reasons are not economic, but social due to the class-ridden and casteist nature of our society—a society that very clearly propagates differentiation of an “us” and “them” at every level. I draw from my experience to support this opinion. Let me elaborate.

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The Banashankari and Mahakuta temples: Examples of neglect and apathy

My recent trip to some heritage sites in North Karnataka (Aihole, Badami, BijapurHampi and  Pattadakal) was an eye-opener in more ways than one. While I was amazed to see the excellent work done by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in restoring and maintaining the sites, as well as the efforts taken by the Karnataka Tourism Board, I was appalled to see condition of heritage sites not maintained by the ASI. My visits to the Banashankari Temple and the Mahakuta Temple Complex, both near Badami, are perfect examples of this.

The Banashankari Temple site has been a place of worship for about 14 centuries or so, though the current temple building is only about 200 years old. The temple’s name is derived from its location in the Tilakaranya forest. The main deity, Banashankari is also known as Shakambari or the vegetable goddess. Banashankari was the kuldevata or the tutelary deity for the Chalukya kings of the 7th century.

Our tour group arrived at the Banashankari Temple after spending a magical and enchanted evening at the Bhoothnatha Temples and the Agastya Teertha, near the Badami Cave-Temples. And came back to earth rather rudely with a ride through narrow, dusty, potholed and dirty access road to the temple. It was an inkling to the state of the temple itself.

Outside the Banashankari Temple. The guard-cum-lamp tower at the entrance to the Harida Teertha in the centre of the photograph

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Pataleshwar caves: A hidden heritage of Pune

I mentioned in my previous post that I had gone ‘site’-seeing when I was in Pune last week. One of the places I went to was the 8th century, rock-cut Pataleshwar Caves.

Situated on Jungli Maharaj Road, the entrance to the Caves is through a small garden with this magnificent banyan tree.

The beautiful banyan tree

In spite of its size, the banyan tree was homely, if you know what I mean. If the grounds had not been wet from the rain, I would have snuggled up to the tree with a book. I had to be content with just hugging the tree and moving on to the Caves.

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