Centuries ago an oval shaped meteorite chose this place to land on earth to create this one of its kind basaltic rock crater. Centuries later, ancient dynasties which thrived here, sculpted unique temples encircling this crater lake to supplement its unparalleled beauty. And today, eventually all we can do today is understand and preserve this exceptional geological and cultural heritage that is passed on to us.
In Mystifying & Fascinating Lonar – Part 1, we looked into the geological magic of the lake. In this blog, let us take you through the heritage trail around the lake. We got up early and hiked our way down through the forest. It is a medium hike of around 7-8 kms around the border of the lake, which starts right opposite the MTDC resort and ends at the Gomukh Temple. It is a scenic trail through the forests but it is advised to go with a guide and as per the instructions of the ASI (Archeological Survey of India) and the forest officials and not to venture out in the wild alone. The forest is known to be home to a few leopards, hyenas wild boars and foxes. It is paradise for bird watchers. Our guide showed us a lot of rare birds that according to him were migratory birds and were there for just a couple of weeks.
Right form the top of the crater, where we start the hike, we can see this temple, which is the first one that we come across. The Ramgaya Temple is a unique temple of Lord Ram, as it is one of the only temples having a solo statue of the Lord. It is said that Lord Ram left for vanawas from here. This temple is built in hemadpanthi style and has beautiful sculptures all over the pillars. Around 3-4 years ago a new structure was excavated right next to this temple, which is still halfway inside earth. The insides of the temple are so dark that you cannot see anything without a strong torch. This temple has a peculiar rectangular Shivlinga.
We walked our way through the jungle trail until we reached the Shiva temple. This one is mostly in ruins. It was from this temple that a small footway lead us towards the lake. The first glimpse was majestic. The sun had just risen and the lake shone with the golden rays. The little tree trunks on the outskirts of the lake shined bright twice along with the reflection. We could see the migratory birds frolicking around the lake. The sight was sublime.
We walked along the lake for a while and again ventured inside the forest just to stumble upon the next temple, the Wagh Mahadeo Temple. The guide told us that most of the temple parts facing the lake are getting eroded due to the salty winds flowing from the lake. This is an unfortunate process and we really hope that the concerned department takes care of its restoration. Broken pillars with beautiful carvings and structures are seen lying all around these temples.
The Shri Kamalaja Devi Temple is visible even from the topmost viewpoint of the watch tower. This is one of the most preserved temple and is visited by pilgrims during Navratri. This series was like a treasure hunt of temples hidden in the forests. Each temple had its own character and had its own stories hidden in its pillars.
The Ambarkhana or Sun Temple, The Mahadeo Temple and a couple more rock cut Shiva temples were in line to mesmerise us. We did lose the count of temples after a while.
A few sculptures are pretty unique and are said to be rarely found elsewhere. Historically, Lonar must have been a thriving empire and the temples stand evidence to the artistic richness. When you drive on the main road and reach the lake, if no one tells you, it is almost impossible to believe that a treasure like this nests in the forests down in the crater.
Standing near a temple in the forest, looking at the lake, feeling the salty breeze swaying the trees, we could not help but feel like being in an episode of ‘History’ channel or in a mythological movie. The Kings and its people must be riding down the lake on horses and the Maharishis must be calmly meditating in the veranda of one of these temples. Would the sky have looked more blue? And the forests more green at that time?
One can spend hours at each temple reminiscing and cruising in the imagination world. We now feel that a single trail is not enough to appreciate each aspect of this rich heritage. The lake with its magnificent properties and origin, the temples, with their rich heritage and stories, and the forest combine to give you a magical experience.
We climbed up to reach the last temple on the trail, the Gomukh or Sita Nahani temple. This temple is built around a 24 hour 365 days fresh water outlet, the origin of which is not believed to be known. The legend says that Sita had bathed in this stream. The water is fit to drink and the stream never stops. The structures with gorgeous carvings, built around this temple are beautiful with a series of steps leading to the stream.
The Daityasudan temple right in the middle of the village of Lonar is a reminiscent of Khajuraho temples. The Hemadpanthi styled temple is preserved beautifully and the carvings and sculptures depicting ancient stories are spellbinding. The premises of this temple also have a unique statue of Lord Bramha, very rare to be seen. We walked through the quaint lanes of Lonar village with pretty old styled wooden houses.
Thanks to google maps, we also came across a phenomenal step well, almost on the main road near the Bus station. We reached there past sun set and were lucky to be the only ones there. It is protected by a neat fencing and a caretaker. The well is astounding with steps leading inside from three sides and an artistic Jharoka on the fourth. I really marvel at the design and architectural concepts of such step wells. One cannot see anything from outside of the well unless you are standing right on its edge. India has a treasure of such step-wells spread all over the country.
As per renowned experts, since basalt is one of the most common rock in the solar system and as Lonar is the only lake formed out of basaltic rock, it offers an immense opportunity to study the outer space. Activists are taking huge efforts for preservation of this geological wonder. Our responsibility as citizens of our country and planet Earth is to give our little share by being environmentally cautious.
P.S. India is a magnificent country and we live on a beautiful planet. Please do not litter. Be a responsible traveller.