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India's underwater heritage

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  • JK
    http://www.sulekha.com/redirectnh.asp?cid=308475 By Uttara Gangopadhyay NEW DELHI - Scientists from Chennai s National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) were
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2003

      By Uttara Gangopadhyay

      NEW DELHI - Scientists from Chennai's National Institute of
      Oceanography (NIO) were routinely going through some underwater sonar
      pictures taken while monitoring marine pollution in the Gulf of
      Cambay, off the coast of Gujarat, a couple of years ago. Much to their
      surprise, they came across the ruins of a city. Initially, the news
      received mixed responses. While some believed that it was the lost
      city of the mythical Dwarka mentioned in ancient scriptures, others
      dismissed it as a probable shipwreck. The scientists launched a more
      intensive search last year and came up with plenty of interesting

      The ancient city is located at a depth of 40 meters and spread over a
      nine-kilometer stretch with relics from a typical Indus Valley
      civilization - pools with sunken steps, a granary, house foundations,
      drainage systems, mud roads as well as broken pots, figurines,
      semiprecious stones, ornaments, fossilized remains of wood and human
      body parts. Carbon dating of wooden pieces has revealed even more
      interesting facts. One piece tested by the Birbal Shahni Institute of
      Paleobotany in Lucknow shows it belonged to 5500 BC, while one tested
      by National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, belonged to
      7500 BC. Although yet to be conclusively proved whether the pieces
      were washed to the place or belonged to the city, the findings are

      Despite its gloomy association, a shipwreck is interesting as a piece
      of history. It is a documentation of life on board, boat building,
      trade routes, cargo, etc. The wrecks turn into homes for a number of
      marine fauna. Divers love shipwrecks because of the challenge they
      offer. The luxurious ocean liner Andrea Doria that sank near Nantucket
      off Long Island in the Atlantic Ocean in July 1956 is now considered
      the "Mount Everest of shipwreck diving". Experienced divers have died
      in their quest to explore the ship. The UNESCO (United Nations
      Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Convention on
      Underwater Cultural Heritage adopted in 2001 has now laid out a set of
      rules for the preservation of underwater sites and wrecks.
      International Heritage Day observed on April 18 had "Underwater
      Cultural Heritage" as its theme, aimed at raising people's awareness
      and to foster conservation of underwater heritage.

      Throughout history, seafaring explorers have rewritten the boundaries
      of land many times. On the other hand, maritime trade routes have been
      a bone of contention between nations. The strategic location of India
      encouraged maritime trade and commerce as well as expeditions to
      foreign lands in the past. Foreigners from across the seas influenced
      India's history in the post-Mughal period. Hence, many people believe
      that the Indian seacoast can provide important shipwrecks and lost

      The recent findings near Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu seem to vindicate
      that belief. A joint expedition by the Scientific Exploration Society
      of the United Kingdom and NIO revealed an extensive series of
      structures at a depth of five to seven meters. The ruins, consisting
      of masonry walls, rock-cut structures, stone platforms with steps etc,
      are probably the remains of six of the seven pagodas built by the
      Pallava rulers. There is a popular legend among local fishermen that
      the beautiful city was devastated by floods unleashed by some jealous
      gods which caused the six pagodas to be submerged. An account by
      British traveler J Goldingham in 1798 referred to the place as the
      land of the Seven Pagodas. It was he who also recorded the myth. Some
      time ago, British author and television presenter Graham Hancock was
      inspired by the legend and it was at his initiative that the
      expedition took off last year.

      "Despite these interesting findings, underwater exploration for
      archeological sites and shipwrecks is still lagging in India," feels
      Dr Prateep Sen of Kolkata. A certified diver, Sen often goes diving in
      the Southeast Asian seas. "Whether it's the flora and the fauna or
      heritage findings, like ancient cities and shipwrecks, the underwater
      world is no less interesting than the world above. The heritage
      findings are time capsules that lie far away from curious eyes,
      preserved for posterity," he says. Although the screening of the film
      Titanic created deeper interest in wrecks, India is yet to join the
      bandwagon. Mitali Kakar of Reef Watch Marine Conservation, a
      non-governmental organization involved in promoting diving and reef
      conservation, agrees, "There're several wrecks and submerged cities
      around the Indian subcontinent which could be landmarked as heritage
      sites if managed in a proper manner."

      Even though underwater exploration is costly and thus difficult for
      individuals to finance, Sen says it is high time exploring the deep
      was taken seriously. "Amateur divers go down searching for hidden
      treasures and often come up with lovely booties." Local fishermen and
      boat people are well aware of such sites. Often amateur divers work on
      these bits of information and strike gold. "The fishermen's tales of
      the submerged pagodas ultimately came true in the sense that ruins
      were discovered here."

      Sen also highlights the recent findings of a 300-year-old shipwreck
      now being explored by the Indian Navy off the Lakshadweep islands. "I
      heard about the wrecked Princess Royal lying on the seabed quite some
      time ago," he recalls. "It's also mentioned in the book Diving in the
      Indian Ocean, published in 1999 by Rizzoli of New York. According to
      local people, amateur divers have been down to the wreck site. The
      navy divers have come up with interesting findings like canons, an
      anchor, iron objects, porcelain as well as a bell with the ship's name
      inscribed on it."

      Countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand have
      converted shipwrecks found off their coasts into diving attractions,
      in the process reaping the benefits of niche tourism. The warm waters
      of the tropical seas are the favorite haunts of divers from all over
      the world and the shipwrecks have increased the attraction.

      Local people reap the benefit of direct and indirect employment
      opportunities. According to Kakar, if the sea conditions permit
      visibility and people have the opportunity for scuba diving in the
      area, the lost city off the Gujarat coast could serve as a premier
      archeological site for exploration. "The income earned from this kind
      of eco-tourism could flow into preservation and conservation of the
      site and benefit the communities living along the coast."

      Who would have though that the land of the famed Taj Mahal and palaces
      could also throw up attractions like underwater lost cities?
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