Monday, August 20, 2012

Puerto Rico’s Camuy, Tanzania’s Amboni and Balochistan’s LaHoot LaMakan

Puerto Rico’s Camuy, Tanzania’s Amboni and Balochistan’s LaHoot LaMakan

Unlike other caves that are left featureless after their creation through geological activity, limestone caves are adorned with needle-shaped formations known as stalactites and stalagmites.  The primitive man must have observed such caves with awe.  Entering such a cave one can imagine going in the mouth of a beast, with sharp upper jaw teeth.

The limestone caves are found throughout the world.  The ones I recently visited in Puerto Rico are a tourist attraction, earning around two million dollars a year to the government.  In Pakistan’s Balochistan, LaHoot LaMakan caves—around 60 miles out of Karachi—are a pilgrimage sight, with dubious stories about the spiritual nature of the caves, the stalactites, and the stalagmites growing every year.

The rotation of the earth works with the energy beaming from the sun to set the stage for water and wind to move and shape our natural world.  The formation of stalactites and stalagmites is easy to understand.  When rain falls on top of a cave made of limestone, the minerals get dissolved by the water.  As the aqueous solution drips from the cave’s roof, it makes cones of calcium carbonate—called stalactites--after the water is evaporated.  When the rate of evaporation is low the solution drips down on the floor and the evaporating water leaves a mound of minerals—this geological feature is known as a stalagmite.

Before we entered Parque de Las Cavernas del Rio Camuy of Puerto Rico, a national park associated with the limestone caves and the underground River Camuy flowing through them, we were educated through a movie.  The fragile nature of the caves was explained in great detail and the visitors were strongly requested to not touch the stalactites or stalagmites as they were nature’s work in progress, having reached the current stage in thousands of years.

Twenty years ago a visit to the limestone caves of LaHoot LaMakan was a completely different experience.   In that visit, my interest in geology was instantly put off by witnessing the wholesale desecration of the natural beauty of the LaHoot LaMakan caves.  We entered the main Lahoot LaMakaN cave through a narrow opening.  The floor was slippery with limestone slush under our feet.  Devotees were touching everything and most stalactites had lost their sharp ends.  A stalagmite now in the shape of a bigger glob connected with a thinner column was designated as the camel of Prophet Ayub, fossilized through a miracle.  Every geological feature was explained to be a beast transformed into a rock by holy men.  Black smoke rising from candles had already ruined many parts of cave’s roof.  Overall, it was painful to see a wonderful opportunity to make money from the tourist attraction of Lahoot LaMakaN limestone caves squandered by the local government.  In that visit I had also thought of the Amboni caves in Tanzania, visited a while back.  Even Tanzania had better economic acumen to preserve its wonderful limestone caves and generate income from them.

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