20 million-year old rare fossil of palm leaves found in Ladakh
Ritesh Arya searching for fossils in Ladakh

Confirming that towering peaks of Himalayas have emerged from the Tethys ocean, noted geologist Dr Ritesh Arya has discovered 20 million years old fossil of palm leaves from fragile rocks of Ladakh.

Measuring more than 4ft in length, the fossil is expected to be over 20 million years old when the present-day Himalayas were not formed. Arya has discovered the fossil on a fragile rock surface in southern part of Indus river in Leh district. According to him, the fossil represents the near-coastal environment of Ladakh millions of years back as this species is not found anywhere in the present-day Himalayan regions.

He said the fragile fossil needs proper care to protect it from being destroyed. He said the site can become a popular tourist destination of Ladakh where tourists will come to see how this region used to be a coastal area millions of years ago.

Ritesh Arya shows palm leaf fossil
Ritesh Arya shows 20 million years old palm fossil discovered by him in Ladakh

“The fossil has been found from the Tethyan sediments of Ladakh when I was searching for specimens for geological museum and laboratory that I had established a few days back in a school in Ladakh. Tethys sea was once separating India from Tibet in geological history till 20 million years ago. The presence of fossils of palm from the sediments of Indus molasse in Ladakh clearly shows that Ladakh Himalayas were once below the sea. Probably the area till sediments from where the fossils are found were below the sea. Palm fossils represent near-coastal environment,” he said.

Arya added that large size of the actual specimens of fossil shows that conditions at the time of deposition would have been hot and humid similar to equatorial climatic conditions.

“These types of floras are found nowhere in the modern-day Himalayas. Fossils of palm leaves have been found in Kasauli, Himachal, by HB Medlicott in 1864. I had discovered similar palm fossils during my PhD thesis. Both Ladakh and Kasauli had near-coastal environment millions of years ago,” he added.

Some other evidence of near-coastal facies of Kasauli formation have been established by Arya on the basis of fossils of garcinia, gluta, combretum, syzygium etc that were discovered by him in 1994. The fossil of palm from Ladakh is comparatively very large in size.

According to him, fragile nature of sediments makes the recovery of specimen very difficult, so the in situ preservation of the specimen and declaring it a geoheritage site can help in its preservation and it will help in attracting tourists and educate locals and tourists about rich fossil and rock heritage of Himalayas in Ladakh.

“Paleolatitudinal position of Indus molasse part of Ladakh was near the equator. This is substantiated by these fossils which otherwise are confined to Indonesia, Malaysia and Andaman Nicobar islands. Basis on these palm and other leaf fossils, it can be concluded that Kasauli and Ladakh were deposited in near-coastal environment probably near the equator between 4 to 11 degree N of equator. Kasauli sediments on basis of charophytes have been dated to be 20 million years old, so Ladakh sediments from where palm fossil are found are also 20 million years old,” Arya said.

Ritesh Arya, who hails from Himachal, is a noted hydrogeologist who is also a Guinness Book of World Record holder for drilling the highest artesian borehole in the world at Leh. He had established country’s first geological laboratory-cum-museum in a school at Choglamsar village of Ladakh where different fossils and rocks have been placed for study. Arya has discovered a large number of fossils in Ladakh and Himachal which are millions of years old. He also specialises in groundwater exploration, geothermal exploration and drilling.


Updated on October 21, 2020

Hydrogeologist establishes country’s first geological lab of Ladakh

Renowned hydrogeologist Dr Ritesh Arya, who has made it his mission to establish geological laboratories in all schools of the country, has established first such laboratory displaying various rocks and fossils at Bhartiya Vidya Niketan (BVN) School, Choglamsar in Ladakh.

Guinness Book of World Records holder for drilling the highest artesian borehole in the world at Leh, Ritesh has been exploring and collecting fossils and rocks for three decades now. He discovered a 20 million year old tree fossil in Ladakh which is as old as one found in Himachal. He also found similarity in the 50 million year old bivalve found in Ladakh and Himachal. Saying that fossils and ancient rocks are the best things to connect students with the Mother earth, he wants all schools to have geological lab section along with their science labs.

“This is the first of its kind geological laboratory that I’ve set up at BVN School, Choglamsar, in Ladakh. The lab has fossils, sedimentary rocks, igneous and various rocks. When I told the students that how we can predict about ocean, glacier or river from rocks, they took deep interest in the rocks and fossils. This is what I wanted to do. I thank Gopal, principal of the school, for giving space for this lab-cum-museum in his science lab,” he said.

He said Ladakh geologically represents a mega geological event in the evolution and formation of the Himalayas. He said Indus river represents the suturing of Tethyan sea sediments which was separating India and Tibet plates more than 20 million years ago with batholiths of Ladakh. South of Indus suture zone represents the remnants of Tethyan sea which is rick of good amount of plant fossils and tree stems. The fossils molluscs reveal and interesting age of 50 million years which is similar to fossils found from Subathu formation in Himachal Pradesh, he said.

He said Ladakh is rich in mineral resources and there are large deposits of granite and limestone in the region which can be commercially developed to save on construction material which otherwise is transported from hundreds of kilometers. “Students were amazed to see how by seeing some boulders or gravels we can show that glaciers were present at that place and we can calculate their direction as well.

Talking about drinking water shortage of Leh city, Ritesh said Khardung-la glacier has receded more than 20km since the last ice age and now it has confined to a peak. He said we were destroying glaciers in the name of clearing snow from roads by dozers. He said construction of a tunnel below Khardungla pass is the best option to save the glaciers and it will also provide year-old connectivity to Nubra valley.

“There is urgent need to create geological labs in all schools in tune with science labs so that students can know about their local rocks and their importance in their daily lives. I am willing to set up similar labs in all the schools if schools provide some space. I urge various geological organisations and geologists to be part of this noble mission,” he said.

Ritesh Arya specialises in groundwater exploration, geothermal exploration and drilling. He is discovering groundwater solutions for civilians and Indian Army at Siachen, Kargil, Leh and other remote areas in the Himalayas. He left his government job in 1997 to start his own venture Arya Drillers to provide groundwater on “no water no money” basis. He is also setting up a huge museum of various rocks and fossils.

About Author



Leave a Reply