"Erra Matti Dibbalu"

What is it? Where is it? What is unique about them?

Erramatti Dibbalu              

On the Bay of Bengal coast, to the south of the Bheemunipatnam ridge, is an area comprising deeply gullied red sand dunes of around 4 km length and 2 km width You can look it up in Google Earth at (17 52.078' N, 083 25.845 E). This area is referred in Telugu as "Erra Matti Dibbalu" which translates to ‘Red Sand Hills’. It is bounded by streams “Chittigadda” in the North-West and “Peddagadda” in the South-West.

How the “Erra matti dibbalu” formed and what gave the sand its unique red colour?
These questions have challenged geologists since more than a century. Scientists are of the opinion that the initial chapter of this epic story started as far back as 1.8 million years ago and stretched across the broad canvas of geological time to around 10,000 years ago.

During that time the sea level rose to as much as 150 feet and fell away a number of times to the current level. Between these oscillating sea levels the coast was submerged and exposed over and over again, huge volumes of clay, silt and sand covered the coast from where the sea water had receded. Due to the extreme changes in climatic conditions the material under the sandy dunes “baked” in the sun like a brick gets baked in a kiln leading to the peculiar red sand dunes. Subsequently action of the wind and flowing water caused the deeply gullied characteristic landscape.

[ To Watch animation on formation of EMD, Click on the Play button in the image box before. ]

The red colour of the dunes is due to the “ferrogination” of the “haemitite” (the principal form of iron ore; consisting of ferric oxide in crystalline form). Ferrogination describes the action of iron coating the loose sand grains with iron rich material and getting oxidized over a period of time. Just like a nail exposed to salty air would get corroded and appear red in colour. By no means is this explanation of the process that caused the red hills definitive. There are other schools of thought by different geologists and the site still draws geological interest. That is why it is even more important that these dunes be preserved in its original form for future generations to admire and study.

Reasons to preserve them

They are unique because of the rarity of such gullied red dunes formations of which only three remain in South East Asia. These were formed over thousands of years.

Nature, the great artist has gifted us these sublimely beautiful formations and it must be enjoyed with care. This video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqQN08LciqM shows the beautiful side of EMD.

Geological, Anthropological and Archeological Signifcance
The Late Quarternary period is when mankind had its origins and a study of a formation created during this period is in effect a study of man. Several implements and weapons made of stone have been found in nearby areas and anthropologists and archaeologists are confident that several more will be found if they are preserved and a systematic and scientific study is carried out.

Thus it can be seen that there are already a number of reasons to preserve them. There may be more reasons to do so as our study of them gives us more insights into these rare and unique formations.

సుఖవంతంగా జీవించడమే కాని జీవితాన్ని అలంకరించే సంప్రధాయ వైభవాన్ని మనం మరచిపోవడం ప్రారంభించి చాల రోజులయింది. కోట్ల సంవత్సరాలుగా మానవుని మనుగడకు వనర్లు కల్పించే భుమిని సర్వనాశనం చేసిన తరంగా చరిత్రలో ఈ తరానికి స్థానం అప్పుడే ఏర్పడింది. మిగిలిన ఆ కాస్త వైభవాన్నయినా మిగుల్చుకోగలిగితే ఆ మేరకు ముందు తరాలు మనకి రుణపడి వుంటాయి. ఆ వైభవాన్ని మన కళ్లముందున్న నమూనా 'ఎర్రమట్టి దిబ్బలు'
గొల్లపూడి మారుతీరావు

Threats to "Erra matti dibbalu”



Rapid loss of Red Sand Dunes over the last 5 decades

EMD are under threat from a number of sources: and only a concerted effort by Vizagites will work in preserving them. Even as recently as the 1970’s, Vizag still had several square miles of this topography near the coast. The area what is now known as Ramakrishna beach and up to Andhra University were full of "Erra matti dibbalu" The changes are clearly visible in the set of photos here which compares the same area in 1985 and the present. The pressure of urbanization and the negligence of this amazing resource meant that the "Erra matti dibbalu" area that was formed over several eons vanished in just one lifetime! Now we are left with just one small island of this formation near Bheemunipatnam and that is also under threat of being destroyed forever. [Note: Some geologists are of the opinion that these formations and the ones near Bhimli are not the same]

A troubled picnic spot
Tourist brochures and websites refer to this unique site as “Erra Matti Dibbalu a picnic spot near Rushikonda, Visakhapatnam - Andhra Pradesh”. The label “Picnic Spot”, unfortunately, endangers this beautiful area. During the cooler season, thousands of tourists and casual visitors visit "Erra Matti Dibbalu". They clamber on the formations and trample all over the dibbalu looking for photo opportunities. They carve their names and announce their love on these dune walls. Loud disco music permeates the air disturbing the serene quietness of the area. On their way out, these picnickers leave behind heaps of garbage, leftover food and plastic plates and cups everywhere. Such insensitive treatment of this geological treasure has already caused severe damage and action must be taken urgently to stop further human caused deterioration of the site.

Indian Navy
To the South of the remaining EMD is INS Kalinga, the Missile Center of the Defense Department. The Department of Defense intends to acquire further lands in the North of the Erra Matti Dibbalu. The Indian Navy in Vizag does not have a very good track record as far as the environment is concerned – the deforestation and environmental degradation of Dolphin Hill is an example of this. Added to this is, are restrictions placed on entering Navy property. (Most of Dolphin Hill is now not accessible to Vizagites who are not connected to the Indian Navy). This is not something that we want to happen to the Erra Matti Dibbalu.

Tourism initiatives
Because of the attraction the dunes has for visitors and perhaps the potential for revenue, the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development authorities have been contemplating putting up some tourist facilities here. In 2009 the department excavated the gedda bed near the beach road with the intention to build concrete structures there. When the Indian National Trust for Architecture and Cultural Heritage (Vizag Chapter), INTACH, pointed out that such a facility would gravely endanger the fragile topography of the area the department graciously agreed to stop further construction and subsequently covered up the excavations.

The threat of unsupervised tourism at "Erra matti dibbalu”
When you read tourist brochures or browse the net for sites to visit in Vizag you will come across a rather casual statement: “Erra matti dibbalu is a picnic spot near Rushikonda, Visakhapatnam – Andhra Pradesh”.
Every day especially during the cooler season tourists and casual visitors visit "Erra matti dibbalu". It is obvious that the predominant number of visitors to the site do not visit the site to marvel at its beauty or wonder at the geological phenomena that caused the awe inspiring landscape. They bring their food and drink, put loud music and trample all over the sensitive area. They carve their names on the walls of the dibbalu and leave behind ugly garbage. Film shooting: Adding to the woes of the area is the shooting of films in the area. Filming crews descend on the "Erra matti dibbalu" with their equipment, temporary sun shades, generators and catering facility. They leave behind mountains of rubbish that remain on the site. Several years ago the tops of "Erra matti dibbalu" were being coated with white lime wash because the movie wanted to show the hillocks as snow covered hills! Such insensitive treatment of a treasure has already caused severe damage to the area and action must be taken now to not only stop the deterioration of the site but also to reverse the adverse effects that such heavy foot falls have had on the pristine nature of the area.

Erramatti Dibbalu

The Dibbalu have been severely defaced

Construction and Agricultural Activity
With the price of land having gone up substantially in the last few years, it is not surprising that greedy and needy people are eyeing this area as a ‘piece of real estate’. In particular, a part of the area is being claimed by a Building Society and this dispute is in the court.

The Erra Matti Dibbalu itself has been used by traditional cashew growers who have grazed their livestock there and harvested cashew fruits and nuts from there for decades and who might be altering the terrain without their realising it.

What we can do to preserve them
Sections of the public including INTACH are deeply concerned that the above-mentioned threats will impact the pristine nature of the area and seal the fate of this fragile ecological wonder. Several solutions are being called for such as the Government declaring this area a ‘National Park’ or and ‘Eco Park’ etc. While all this will take time, what needs to be done immediately is to leave them alone!

There is hope
Some time ago, the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) was in the process of putting up a tourist facility at the site (17 52.078' N, 083 25.845 E) comprising concrete buildings to house an “Interpretation Center” and toilets.
When INTACH pointed out that such a facility would gravely endanger the fragile topography of the area the department graciously agreed to stop further construction at the site and asked for suggestions as to how the visiting tourists may be provided facilities without endangering the site.

INTACH and the Faculty of Geology of Andhra University held a ‘National Workshop and Brainstorming Session on Urgent need for protecting the geologically significant Late Quarternary Red Sand Dunes (Erra Matti Dibbalu), Visakhapatnam’ in February 2012 which was a well-attended and much-publicised event. Hopefully, it will lead to the preservation of EMD in their present form for future generations.

Inputs from: Mr. Sohan Hatangady and INTACH

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Yes,      the effort of concerned citizens and organisations such as INTACH in preserving "Erra Matti Dibbalu" for future generations of Vizagites