Lonar Crater, India, January 2016

As a youth, I was dragged on geology-themed family field trips more times than I can remember. "Look, it's Oregon's only nickel mine!"; "Let's go vist a gravel pit"; "I think there's a really interesting road cut up at this exit." When my dad visited me in Flagstaff one summer, of course we headed to Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest NP. (Hey, all of Arizona is geology, which is why he loved going to grad school there.)

In early 2016, one of my colleagues at PSI was headed to India for his fourth trip to the Lonar crater. At about 2 km across and 50,000 years old (*), this is one of the better-preserved craters on Earth. It's some 500 km from Mumbai, accessible by a flight to Aurangabad and a three-hour drive. Shawn flew there from the US and spent a week collecting rocks.

By coincidence, one of HH's colleagues in Mumbai has a close connection to the crater: her father, Dan Milton, was one of the geologists from the USGS who came out in the 1960s and 1970s to do the initial surveys of the site. With his daughter and new grand-daughter in India, and the irresistable temptation of a Scrabble tournament in Bangalore, Dan couldn't stay away any longer, and planned a trip to coincide with Shawn's. I heard that Beth was headed out too, so I too was unable to resist, and joined them all for a few days of crater exploration.

The crater is off the regular tourist route through India (Lonely Planet has only a few sentences), but worth a trip even if you're not a geologist. The attraction is not just the lake, but the set of more than a dozen intact rock-built Hindu temples that have been built around the lake's rim. Some of these date back close to 1000 years. Most of them are in good shape (in some cases reconstructed), although some have fallen down and are now piles of beautifully carved rocky blocks with peacocks, elephants, and dancing ladies.

In the past the lakebed has been used for agriculture... even a decade ago, there were banana farms in the crater itself, and people living there. Most of this has moved out now, but there is still one large house / temple / farm on the lake's edge.

The easiest lodging option is the government-run MTDC hotel. There's no visitor center or map, but I've put one sketch from a paper below. The town is also worth a visit. Our guide Anand Mishra knows the crater and the area well, and has worked with Shawn on many of his trips here.

Also check out someone else's trip to the crater during the Navratri festival -- beautiful photos and a lot more people and bananas than we saw in January.

(*) Shawn says the erosion makes him think it's closer to 500,000 years.

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Henry Throop

Last modified 01 Jan 2021