The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has identified certain geological sites across the Northeast for promotion of geo-tourism as some States in the region prepare to ‘unlock’ from September.
Sikkim has already opened for tourists while Assam and Nagaland are planning to withdraw COVID-19 restrictions from September in view of the dip in the positivity rate and an increase in the number of vaccinated people.
“Twelve locations in the Northeast are included in the 32 approved geo-tourism or geo-heritage sites in the country. These are scenic places that can be top attractions through responsible tourism,” a GSI official said, declining to be quoted.
Of the 12 sites in the Northeast, three are in Meghalaya, two each in Assam and Tripura, and one each in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim.
Mawmluh Cave: Near Cherrapunjee in the East Khasi Hills district, this cave led scientists to the Meghalayan Age associated with a major climatic event – very abrupt, critical and significant drought and cooling – 4,200 years ago. A stage of the Meghalayan Age is defined from a specific level in a stalagmite from this cave. According to geologists, speleothems from the cave provide important records of Holocene paleo-climate and paleo-monsoon. The cave is about 55 km from the State capital Shillong.
Mawblei or God’s Rock: Situated near Syntung village in East Khasi Hills district, it is a huge balancing rock slanting at an angle of about 45 degrees in the south-southeast direction on a hill slope at 1,303 metres above mean sea level overlooking the Wahrashi River valley. The rock is composed of the reddish-purple Mahadek sandstone belonging to the Khasi group of cretaceous age. Thin partings of shale are also observed in the boulder. Mawblei in the Khasi language means God’s Rock and is a sacred place for the local populace. The rock is about 63 km from Shillong.
Therriaghat: Also in East Khasi Hills district, it is probably one of the best-preserved and most complete Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary sections in India. Most of the large vertebrates, planktons and many tropical invertebrates suddenly became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period. A new assemblage of ammonites recorded recently probably represent a few of the last representatives just before the mass extinction in which the complete sub-class Ammonidea vanished from the face of the earth.
Majuli: A river “island”, among the world’s largest, Majuli is a district at the mercy of the Brahmaputra. The river erodes the island every year but also deposits soil to ensure a constant change in its shape. The island is also the hub of spiritualism in Assam because of a number of ‘satras’ or Vaishnav monasteries established by the 15th-16th century saint-reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva and his disciples. The island is about 330 km east of Guwahati.
Umananda: One of the smallest inhabited islands in the Brahmaputra, Umananda is off the administrative hub of Guwahati and sports an old Shiva temple. The island is actually an inselberg, composed of the rocks of the Assam-Meghalaya gneissic complex.
Chabimura: In Gomati district, this site is known for its panels of rock carving on a steep hill wall on the bank of river Gomati. The huge images of Shiva, Vishnu, Karthikeya, Durga and other gods and goddesses date back to the 15th-16th century and the biggest carved deity is about 20 ft. The hill range is covered with thick jungles and one can reach this abode of gods after trekking through the foliage but rafting or boating on the river is the only option for a view of the rock-face carvings. The site is about 82 km from the State capital Agartala.
Unakoti: This site in the Unakoti district has numerous rock-cut sculptures and temples made between the 7th and 9th centuries. The hilly environs and waterfalls are an added attraction at Unakoti, which means “one less than a crore”. The place is a historic Shaiva pilgrimage 172 km from Agartala. The central Shiva head, known as ‘Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava’ is about 30 feet high, including an embroidered headdress that is 10 feet high.
Sangetsar Tso: Popularly known as Madhuri Lake, this waterbody in Tawang district is close to the border with Tibet and was formed due to the damming of a river during a major earthquake in 1950. The lake is surrounded by a lush valley and snow-capped mountains.
Loktak Lake: About 40 km from State capital Imphal, this lake in the Bishnupur district is the largest freshwater lake in the Northeast. The attractions of this lake are the ‘ phumdis’ or floating biomass and the ‘phumsangs’ or huts of fishermen on them. The Keibul Lamjao National Park, the only floating wildlife habitat on earth, is on the southwestern part of the lake and is the last natural habitat of the sangai or brow-antlered dancing deer.
Reiek Tlang: About 29 km from State capital Aizawl, this hill is a cuesta formed due to erosion of the tertiary sand shale alternations. Cuesta means a ridge with a gentle slope or dip on one side and a steep slope or scarp on the other. The local authorities host the annual anthurium festival at a heritage village near the Reiek peak.
Naga Hill Ophiolite: Geologically referred to as NHO, it is in the Pungro region of Kiphire district and about 240 km from State capital Kohima. It refers to the ophiolitic rocks of mantle and oceanic crust percentage at the continental plate margin with vast potential for intensive research and economic growth. The NHO consists of a variety of Mesozoic and the subsequently Cenozoic rocks – magmatic, metamorphic and sedimentary – that originated at the India-Myanmar convergent plate boundary. It has been assigned ages ranging from Cretaceous to Paleocene.
Stromatolite Park: At Mamley, about 80 km from State capital Gangtok, this site comprising stromatolitic (algal) development – boulder outcrops with circular structures – hosted in the limestone of Buxa Formation was discovered a little over a decade ago. It provides one of the rare examples of early life on earth in the Sikkim Himalayas. The age of the Buxa Formation is tentatively assigned as Meso-Neoproterozoic based on the available evidence of stromatolites and organic-walled microfossils.