The dinosaur wonders of India's Jurassic Park

Sunday, May 1, 2011

India's Gujarat state is home to one of the world's largest collections of dinosaur remains. The BBC's Soutik Biswas finds out how this is fuelling dinosaur tourism.

About an hour's drive from busy Ahmedabad city in India's western Gujarat state is what many call the "Jurassic Park of India" - a nod to Steven Spielberg's spell-binding dinosaur film.

Balasinor has seen better times: in the days before Independence it was one of a handful of Muslim-dominated princely states in Gujarat. More than 100 villages made up a cosmopolitan state ruled by a Pathan regent.

Now it is a nondescript district town ringed by farming villages. The elegant royal palace is still intact, and the family runs luxury accomodation from its premises.

But Balasinor is better known around the world as the site of one of the largest dinosaur egg hatcheries and a host of other fossilised dinosaur remains.

Rush of tourists

A sprawling 72-acre swathe of hills and flatlands studded with fossilised dinosaur remains has begun triggering off what tourism officials in the state call "dinosaur tourism".

"This place is a gold mine," says Salauddin Khan Babi, second generation scion of the royal family and a dinosaur enthusiast.

"I get lots of foreign tourist groups who come here to see the dinosaur remains," says Mr Babi.

Scientists say that the dinosaur site at Balasinor was accidentally discovered when palaeontologists stumbled upon dinosaur bones and dinosaur fossils during a regular geological survey of this mineral-rich area in the early 1980s.

The find sent ripples of excitement through neighbouring villages and many residents picked up fossilised eggs, brought them home and worshipped them.

Since then excavations have thrown up a veritable trove of dinosaur remains - eggs, bones, a skeleton which is now kept in a Calcutta (Kolkata) museum - bringing hordes of scientists and tourists to the place.

The crowning find was the remains of what is the only "Indian" dinosaur in the world, fossils of which have been found only in Gujarat along the Narmada river and in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh state.

Researchers aptly named this squat, thick-legged, heavy-bodied carnivorous dinosaur with a crested horn, Rajasaurus narmandensis, or the regal reptile from Narmada.

They say it belongs to the genus - sub-family - of the ferocious carnivore Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Balasinor has also thrown up what scientists say is the fossilised remains of a snake that dined on dinosaur eggs - the 67 million-year-old skeleton was found in a dinosaur nest.

The 3.5m fossilised snake is believed to have fed on the hatchlings of sauropods. It was found wrapped around a baby titanosaur. This is believed to be the first evidence of feeding behaviour in a fossilised primitive snake.

Researchers believe that the snake was attacking a hatchling that had just emerged from the egg. The event was then overcome by a natural disaster, possibly a storm, and the whole scene was frozen in time.


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