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Where a 180 million year old history is fossilised

This is another of the Jaisalmer’s most underrated places after Desert National Park. This is a park as well, a parkin desert of real trees which were here just about 180 million years ago, only difference being that they all are fossilised now. You won’t find any tourists here too, but then who will come to see some caged fossils resembling some unknown graves covered in iron enclosures, lying around in a rocky and barren terrain of the Thar desert.

Slice of 180 million year old history

Akal Fossil Wood Park isn’t a usual place though. It is one of the only seven geological parks in India. It houses some of the most important remains of geological history from the Indian deserts. Actually, we have 26 National Geological Monuments in India and out of them seven have been declared as Geological Parks. All of these are Fossil Parks- three are Fossil Wood Parks, two Stromatolite Parks and one each vertebrate and invertebrate fossil park. Akal fossil park was declared a National Geological Monument in 1977. The park was maintained by GSI till 1985, when maintenance was handed over to the Forest Department of Government of Rajasthan. Now, the park is maintained by the authorities of the Desert National Park.

Fossils in cages

The Akal Fossil Wood Park is located 18 kilometres from Jaisalmer town on the Jaisalmer-Barmer National highway 15. Occupying an area of about 21 hectares the park exposes several gymnospermous fossil wood logs of Lower Jurassic age (about 18 crores of years old). To protect the fossil logs from the removal by scores of visitors (something not unusual in India, unfortunately), these have been preserved inside the wired metallic cages. Individual logs upto about 13 m length. Enthusiasts can see huge fossilised tree trunks and antique seashells here. It is said that if further excavations are done then even more fossils are expected to come into the light. This is the reason that the park is also a learning centre for students and geologists.

Two of the longest specimens of fossils in the park

The wood fossils are a unique feature of the Thar desert depicting the geological changes that had occurred in the region. When the fossilisation took place the whole forest composed of huge trees was petrified. The dominant land plant species of the time were gymnosperms that were vascular, cone-bearing and non-flowering plants such as conifers, which produced seeds without a coating. It was typical of that age. Trees were similar to pine, deodars or red woods of lower Jurassic age. The presence of gigantic trees suggests the land that turned into a desert, once had hot and humid climates, which supported a luxuriant forest. The trunks of these trees, buried in sediments in a horizontal form and petrified, became fossils. The fossils are of petrophyllum, ptyllophyllum, equisetitis species and dicotylethe donous wood and gastropod shells of lower Jurassic period. Geological upheavals such as weathering by wind and water erosion exposed these fossils to the surface.

Listed as the preferred monument on the website of the Geological Survey of India (GSI), the park has about a dozen fossils- wood logs put horizontally in random orientation. Out of the 12 such fossils the cage number 12 has the longest specimen of about 13.4 m x 0.9 m. It is considered to be a rare fossil. The park has 25 petrified trunks in total. A few of the petrified wood fossils are neither marked nor preserved inside enclosures. A large number of petrified logs and innumerable pieces of fossils now remain scattered in the park.

Fossils are also believed to be deep inside earth and may be unearthed if explorations are taken up.  It is also said that the rocks found in Jaisalmer are rich with fossils of sea animals. The geological upheavals had led to disappearance of forests and rivers, and invasion of sea before the desert was formed. Tourists hardly visit the park. But those interested in geology or history and students like to come here. But surely, we were the only persons there when we went there. But that was some time ago.

Chief Wildlife Warden of Rajasthan Dr G V Reddy believes that the park has the potential to attract tourists like Ranthambore and Sariska wildlife reserves. He said some time ago in an interview to a newspaper that tourists should visit this park to know that the desert state is beyond forts and dunes and has a lot to offer. This place is a mystery in itself. Fossils present here suggest that Jaisalmer was once a tropical region. And the discovery of sea shells has amused researchers all over the world. The park is more than a tourist spot.

There is a museum close to gate of the park. It is hut shaped room with a thatched roof. It displays the various fossils through photographs and a small description. Main fossils are bit inside. As I said earlier, park is managed by the forest department. Open between 9 am to 6 pm every day, there is a nominal charge for entry. There had been a plan to make the Akal Wood Fossil Park a centre of attraction for the tourists for a few years now. But it hasn’t moved ahead a lot. Idea was to convert it into an international geographical heritage spot with modern exposure and use of technology in preserving as well as showcasing the fossils. It indeed has huge potential but to materialise things on ground, it takes a change of mindset that has yet not happened. Until that happens, lets enjoy this post.

It also has some historical structures and pillars. They might be memorials for the locals. But there is no official account of them.

Have you been to the Akal Fossil Wood Park? How was the experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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