Langza at an elevation of 14,500 feet is commonly known as the “Fossil Village” in the brutally stark cold desert mountain valley of Spiti devoid of vegetative cover. The treacherous roads of Manali through Rohtang Pass to reach Langza is definitely not for the faint-hearted. The bad roads with almost blind corners with no barriers on the side and a sheer drop in the abyss and dizzying heights is quite a challenge even for the physically fit.
It is indeed a scenic but tough journey with blue skies, melting glaciers that create traffic chaos typical to this region with none of the drivers turning a hair, bare mountains and perhaps a light snowfall seen in the distance on the peaks.
Photos and videos can hardly do justice to this picturesque backbreaking exploration of the “The Middle Land”. It is quite likely that you may not see anyone for hours or perhaps even the whole day if you travel in the off-season but, there is nothing like the mountain and the mountain air to give you some real perspective on life and the universe.
The silence of the Himalayas is awe-inspiring and the total lack of communication and availability of modern resources might be scary for some, welcomed by a few and humbling for others.
I travelled to Langza in September from Manali with many “Indiana Jones” fantasies in my head. I had learnt that the locals were aware of the existence of the fossils and had been advised by many geologists not to sell the fossils to tourists and instead to preserve this treasure and not to encourage any of the fossil hunting tours as well. But it has probably not been entirely accepted by the locals as their main concern for the winter is fuel.
I learnt on my arrival from the locals that the fossils are found all over the road and will definitely turn up with a little bit of light digging. The fossils found here and in Mudh and Guling are believed to be from the collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates that led to the formation of the Himalayas in the Cenozoic period, nearly 50 million years ago.
To just think about a time on earth when the dinosaurs roamed free while the mighty Himalayas lay submerged beneath the sea is giving me goosebumps! Well, the geologists theorize that as the two plates edged closer to each other, they closed the Tethys Sea that lay between them. The fossils of mollusks that inhabited the Tethys Sea lie scattered in large numbers in the Spiti Valley bearing witness to one of the most profound geological formations in the history of the earth.
I found fossils on the wall of the café near the imposing statue of The Buddha. These spiral shelled marine predators are known as “ammonites” that also became extinct around the same period as the dinosaurs – so approximately 65 million years ago. Geologists believe that these “ammonites” were known to breed prolifically resulting in a large number of fossils.
It has been deciphered that the Langza section consists of Tagling (bedded limestone) and Spiti Formation (black shales) ranging from the Lower to Upper Jurassic period.
Incredulous as it sounded, I was excited to dig up one as well. I was guided by a well-meaning local who said it will be better to search for a ‘chaudua’ by the side of the road and look for soft rocks which when opened up will reveal intricate spiral or circular arrayed patterns.
With my trusty driver, a camera and a small stick, we poked about in the rocks piled up by the side of the road. After searching for about half an hour in the blazing sun, we finally chanced upon the soft rock formation the local was talking about. The rock split open quite easily to reveal arrayed patterns.
It was definitely as close to an “Indiana Jones” fantasy as I as a novice could experience. It is unimaginable that the impressive Himalayas considered to be one of the youngest mountain ranges has immaculately preserved marine life with an ancient history going back 150 million years!
After revelling in my discovery of a cephalopod for a few minutes beaming away like it was the most prized treasure, I became humbled by the beauty of creation that was in my palm and strength of the universe to preserve, persevere and adapt to changing climatic conditions.
My driver asked me if I wished to take it back with me. I said no, “it is beautiful right where it is and right where it should be – in its natural conditions”.
This was my only brush with Archaeology till date and all that was missing was the tiny brush in hand! (Apologize for the bad pun!)
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
Photos by Lakshmi Subramanian