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Prehistoric egg or pretty tool: Protecting dinosaur fossils in India

Aaliya Sultana Babi, popularly known as Dinosaur Princess, is working hard to draw attention to Raiyoli Balasinor Fossil Park in Gujarat

india Updated: Jun 30, 2018 09:32 IST
Jurassic Park,dinosaurs,indian dinosaurs
Aaliya Sultana Babi (in black) with a group of tourists at the Raiyoli Raiyoli Balasinor Fossil Park in Gujarat.(Photo Courtesy: Aaliya Sultana Babi; Photo by Himanshu Pandya)

It was in the early 1980s that palaeontologists discovered dinosaur fossils and eggs during a geological survey in Balasinor, Gujarat. The findings were literally in Aaliya Sultana Babi’s backyard and it was just a matter of time before they caught her attention. That happened in 1997 when the member of the erstwhile royal family of the area came into contact with a group of palaeontologists visiting the Balasinor site in 1997. The meeting would decide the course of her life, reigniting what Aaliya describes as her “long-forgotten interest” in these prehistoric beings. “When I was about four-five years old I could rattle off spellings of Brontosauraus and Diplodocus (different varieties of dinosaurs), much to the surprise of my mother and tutor. So the interest was always there. But I became seriously involved only after meeting these palaeontologists,” says Aaliya.

A student of English Literature, Aaliya wanted to draw world attention to the dinosaur fossil site at Balasinor and “to get it the importance it deserves from the government”. “For this I had to first study the subject myself,” she says.

She started by interacting with palaeontologists and geologists, studying books on geo-sciences and watching National Geographic shows to improve her knowledge, before beginning to conduct tours for tourists around the Raiyoli Balasinor Fossil Park, considered to be the world’s third largest dinosaur fossil excavation site and the second largest hatchery.

“But a friend motivated me to also work for the preservation and protection of the fossils,” she says. Aaliya recalls how she once chanced upon a woman using a dinosaur egg fossil to grind spices in the village. “On questioning, she said she had found what she called the ‘stone’ in the forest while collecting firewood and had brought it home thinking it was the right size for a mortar,” she says. Because the egg was covered in chili when Aaliya found it in
the woman’s hand, she calls it her
‘Masala Egg’.

Read:25 years of Jurassic Park: Giant reptiles that walk on the screen

Read:Science or sci-fi? The ignorance about dinosaurs in India

Aaliya, who, along with her family, runs the Garden Palace Heritage Hotel, uses the place to promote dinosaur relics. “I also visit schools to educate the youth about the prehistoric era creatures and especially about Indian dinosaurs,” she says. “I am often asked why in India dinosaurs existed only in Gujarat. But that is not true. Dinosaurs had existed across India. In fact, the first dinosaur remains in India were found in Madhya Pradesh. But those places have not been promoted as dinosaur tourist destinations and so little is known about them,” she says.

Though the work has brought her recognition – Aaliya is popularly called the Dinosaur Princess – her task, she says is far from over. “We have got proper roads and signages to the site now, and a dinosaur museum is coming up, but the fossils need more stringent protection and proper fencing with guards,” says Aaliya. The situation has improved from the time dinosaur fossils were discovered and many locals are believed to have taken the eggs home to worship. “The film Jurassic Park and its sequels have gone a long way in sparking public interest in dinosaurs,” admits Aaliya.

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First Published: Jun 23, 2018 19:05 IST