Around 5,00,000 years ago, a massive rock from space came hurtling towards Earth, and landed in the midst of Maharashtra. Travelling at a speed of 90,000 kmph, and weighing 2 million tonnes, the meteor slammed into the ground, burning the land around it, and shifting the soil. The evidence that remains is in the form of an impact crater in basaltic rock hosting an alkaline and saline lake in its midst.
Four hours away from Aurangabad, the remnants of extraterrestrial activity has been christened Lonar, after the demon, Lonasura. While it isn’t the Earth’s largest, it is the most accessible for Indians. Yet, only locals, devotees, and the occasional trekker are seen lingering in its surrounding jungle.
Flaky cracks in the earth at the periphery of the lake, ancient glass formations, deep-red geology, volcanic rock moulded by dried lava, and the chemistry of the lake, with its surrounding perennial streams, have intrigued scientists for years. The site serves as what is known as an astrobiological analog, used as groundwork to study planets, and moons, sporting similar compositions.
In February this year, the writer/photographer accompanied a team from NASA Ames, Mars Society Australia, and Amity Space Centre on a two-day field trip to the crater. Siddharth Pandey, Project Coordinator of the NASA Spaceward Programme and head of the Amity Space Centre, hopes that the preliminary study paves way for a longer mission to this astronomical pool. The research will help an upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission to the Jezero Crater on the red planet, thought to have once been flooded with water.
But while the science of the land is palpable in the soil, divinity lingers in the air. The trek to the crater is dotted by ruins of 8th/9th century temples built during the Chalukya Dynasty’s rule. The land also holds a few secrets to the Ramayana too, proving that faith and mythology find a way to exist, even in alien lands.
All photos are by Zahra Amiruddin.
Zahra Amiruddin is an independent writer, photographer, and teacher based in Bombay. She's published stories on art, culture, and travel with various publications. She calls herself a certified nomad who's constantly in search of the best light, and practices conjuring the perfect patronus in her free time.