A town in the Buldhana district of Vidarbha, Lonar’s claim to fame is the huge meteor crater that is not only visually dramatic but also of ecological and scientific interest. It is made all the more interesting because the crater is believed to have references in the most ancient Indian texts such as the Valmiki Ramayan. And in addition to the crater, Lonar in itself is a beautiful place, just ideal for a short break to get away from urban pressures.
Lonar is situated around 550 kilometers from Mumbai and 160 kilometers from Aurangabad, a little more than a four-hour drive from the famous Ajanta Caves. Most tourists come here to see the crater, now considered a rich heritage site. Ranked among the world’s five largest craters and the third-largest salt water lake in the world, the crater was first discovered in 1823 by a British officer, C J E Alexander.
For ages there was much debate over whether the crater had been created by a meteor or whether it has a volcanic origin because of its perfectly round basin-like structure with definite edges. Geologists, for quite some time, were in favour of the volcanic theory but recent research has proved that it was definitely created out of the impact of a meteor due to the typical glassy material found around the crater, created due to the heat generated at that time.
The crater, and the lake at its centre, has also been associated with the distant past. It has, for example, a reference as Panchapsar in the Valmiki Ramayan and has been later written about by the epic poet Kalidas 16 centuries ago. He too has termed it the lake Panchapsar in his famous text, Raghuvansh. According to mythological lore, when Lord Rama was flying overhead on his way from Sri Lanka to Ayodhya, his capital, he showed his beloved Queen Sita the crater, which looked like a moon among clouds. Researchers are of the opinion that he was definitely referring to the lake at Lonar. As for the name Panchaspar, it has been derived from the fact that there are five different streams that feed the lake. The Lonar crater also finds a mention in ‘Ain-e-Akbari’ which was authored during the later Mughal period.
Further, the crater finds a link with the Daitya Sudan Mandir in Lonar. As per a folk tale, Lonarasur, a demon, used to stay in the crater’s saline waters. Vishnu, the god known for sustaining life, killed the demon in the Lonar Lake. Inspired by this story, one of the Chalukya kings built the magnificent Daitya Sudan Mandir. This 6th century masterpiece still remains among the finest sculptures of ancient times and serves as an example of the impressive architectural sensibilities that were prevalent during those times. At Lonar you will also find many other temples such as the Shankar-Ganesh Mandir, Wagh-Mahadev Mandir and Ambarkhana Sun Temple.
For those drawn to study how temples were built in the old days, the ones in Lonar may be of special interest because they used the Hemadpanthi style of architecture i.e. constructed without the use of cementing agents. At the lake itself, one of the amazing sights is that of the hundreds of peafowl which live inside the crater. Snakes, monitor lizard, mongoose, fox and deer are some of the other wild life sightings possible in the vicinity of the crater.
Things to Do
Earlier known as Shivgaon because of the presence of a temple of Lord Shiva, Shegaon mainly draws the faithful to the ‘samadhi’ of Sant Shri Gajanan Maharaj. A holy man, he brought about tremendous change in the lives of many people with his spiritual knowledge and power within a short period of 32 years. In 1908 he drew a line to his incarnated life and also hinted at exactly the place where his final resting place would be. The temple is now a source of inspiration and spiritual insight for millions of devotees.
Ajanta is located 107 kilometers from Aurangabad and 60 kilometers from Jalgaon. A cluster of 32 Buddhist caves not far from a medieval village of the same name, the site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India. Moreover, since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the most fascinating archaeological sites in Maharashtra, Ellora dates back to the Rashtrakuta dynasty, about 1,500 years ago, and is the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. The 34 caves are actually structures excavated out of the vertical face of the hills of Charanandri and you will find here evidence of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain ‘viharas’ and ‘mathas’ which tell the story of how social and economic order was often represented through religion. A protected site under the aegis of the Archaeological Survey of India, Ellora’s Cave 16 popularly known as Kailash Temple, has been given the status of a World Heritage Site.
Bibi ka Maqbara
A smaller tribute to the same architectural sensibility that gave form to the Taj Mahal at Agra, Bibi-ka-Maqbara is the final resting place of Dilras Banu Begum (1622-1657). Known posthumously as Rabia-ud-Daurani (Rabia of the Age), Dilras Banu was the first wife of Emperor Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughal emperors.
How to reach:
The nearest international airport is at Mumbai.
Aurangabad is the nearest airport, located about 122 km away and is well connected to major Indian cities.
Aurangabad is the nearest major railhead. It is connected to cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Madurai, Bhopal and Delhi by regular train service. Aurangabad is located about 145 km. away. Jalna is another railhead, located about 102 km away.
Reaching Lonar by road is most convenient and preferable. State transport buses ply regularly to Lonar from Aurangabad, Mumbai, Pune, Alibag and Daman. Aurangabad, the nearest city, is also well connected to several cities.
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