Satish C Tripathi

DDG, Geological Survey of India, Hyderabad;
General Secretary, The Society of Earth Scientists

Geoheritage – A Window to the Past

The breaking away of the Gondwanaland about 180 million years ago (mya) resulted in the separation and isolation of the dynamic Indian subcontinental landmass. As Madagascar split away ~85-90 mya (Late-Cretaceous) India took a northward flight right across the equator, ultimately colliding with Eurasia to birth the magnificent Himalaya. India in fact continues to move northward at a rate of 1.5 cm per year. The myriad features fashioned out of bare rocks during India’s long odyssey have fuelled the imagination of humans for centuries, driven as it were by changing climate, catastrophes and erosional agencies.

India therefore is abundant in geological diversity—yet the sense of heritage that these magnificent creations instill, is bereft of a spotlight. Our ancestors were aware of this richness, according cultural and spiritual values to geosites such as hot springs, hills and more. In fact the remnants of ancient mining and metallurgy dating back to ~2500 years indicate a great knowledge of  geological processes. As early as 1970s, several geosites were declared ‘National Geological Monuments’ by the Geological Survey of India, much ahead of the world—marking an underlying understanding of geosite conservation. However, developing them in to a geopark could not be prioritised. As a result, geotourism never gained momentum.

Geosites have an immense potential in educating the masses about earth processes, signatures of past climatic changes and catastrophic events, evolution of life and role of palaeovegetation in making our planet livable. It can help understand sustainable environmental management within a developmental framework. Integrated with India’s cultural ecosystems geosites would help reconnect with the dynamic past.

Despite several geosites being conserved—caves, hot springs, rock gardens, etc., its geoscientific component is either absent, negligible or misleading. It would be a good starting point to address these sites in priority. Geo-conservation is not only important for tourism, it is imperative for safeguarding future research activities that will service generations. The current challenge is to interpret geoheritage meaningfully in order to cater to dedicated geotourists as well as casual visitors. Geoheritage literature is meager with few and far between popular geoscientific literature, films, interactive shows, geo-guides and the like. Geoscientists therefore need to don an additional mantle of lucid writing and speaking in a language that all understand.

The Society of Earth Scientists (SES) is dedicatedly working on geoheritage conservation and global geoparks. It is also developing a suitable legislation towards it. The special ‘India’s spectacular geoheritage sites’ issue of G’nY is therefore an attempt to build an enabling environment for future interventions.