What if the dinosaur hatchery depicted in the classic Hollywood movie Jurassic Park were real? Before you drop your jaw, there are many such ‘Jurassic Parks’ in the world. India homes the third largest of such a dinosaur hatchery among the world. Aliya Sultana Babi, a paleontologist and the present generation member of a five hundred year old Babi Dynasty of Balasinor, is the master mind behind this Jurassic Park project.
The village of Balasinor in the Gujarat state of India has a precious ground which is rich in rare fossils of dinosaurs. This invaluable fossil collections are being preserved under the soil for around 65 million years. The forty six year old ‘Sultana’ is in the forefront in developing this vast hatchery.
Babi is famous as a paleontologist as well as ‘dinosaur princess’ or ‘Dr. Dinosaur’ owing to her persistent effort to set up this Jurassic Park at Raiyoli village near Balasinor. The Dinosaur Fossil park and Museum is recognized to be the third largest dinosaur fossil preservation in the world.
The discovery of this fossil bed was quite accidental, as Babi recollects, when a team of state’s Geological Survey of India was on duty in making the maps of the Balasinor resion in the year 1980. The archeological wonder was uncovered when the survey team found dinosaur eggs and putrefied dinosaur bones from sedimentary rocks during the survey. Babi considers its completely amazing and coincidental when this treasure was uncovered in her native place.
The village of Raiyoli was very close to her royal family Palace. The discovery was a significant one in the corresponding field, as the fossils and eggs of minimum seven species of dinosaurs were revealed from the site.
Babi was only a child when this supreme discovery was made. “There was a lot of excitement around the unique discoveries. One find, estimated to be 67 million years old, was that of a new species of dinosaur that was named Rajasaurus narmadensis after the Hindi word for king, ‘raja’. The formidable-looking 30-foot predator’s head was crowned by spiky horns,” Babi had recollected, while she featured in the BBC reality show Undercover Princesses in 2009.
“I had a great impression over this discovery, evenif I was a kid then. Kids recite ‘D’ for dog in school, but here was I saying ‘D’ for dinosaur! The creatures had become an all-consuming passion,” she said. As Babi grew up, majority portion of her day time was constituted by books on ancient reptiles and the National Geographic Channel.
She also persuaded her father and followed him to meet some of the world renowned paleontologist and scientists. This she and her father Nawab Muhammad Salabat Khan Babi had met scientists and professors from the University of Michigan and University of Chicago.
“The findings were sensational because what local villagers thought were rocks for centuries turned out to be fossilised, cannon-ball-sized dinosaur eggs. Locals were ignorant of the geological treasures that lay strewn around them,” said Babi.
“They would graze cattle in the park and use the precious rocks for constructing their homes or grind spices with them. But after the discovery, Raiyoli, which belonged to my grandfather, was declared a dinosaur fossil site and the eggs put on the list of national treasures. The release of the movie Jurassic Park around that time created further interest in the site”, she added.
Babi recollects an incident back in 2003 while her stroll through the park, when she saw an old grandma in the village crushing some red chilli into paste for her food. Babi at once made out that the thing she was using to crush was nothing but a dinosaur egg. When Babi asked her to hand it over to her, the grandma refused and told her that the egg was a means of collecting their daily food.
“After much persuasion, I did manage to take the rock from her and deposited it with the government, but it is still red in colour. We jokingly call it masala egg now,” Babi smiled when she had recollected this.
Babi’s strenuous efforts were later awarded by the government of Gujarat by recognizing the historical and biological importance of the site. The government even took pains to invite capital investment in the park. Installation of new double fencing and guards to check trespassers, vandals and cattle grazing were done very quickly.
“Initially, there were no proper roads to the site, nor any signage. But now fencing and guards are in place. This was crucial because dinosaur bones are as brittle and fragile as human bones and visitors treading upon them could have permanently destroyed them,” said Babi.
“It was a challenging task to educate the locals about the long-neglected site. But over the years, they have become aware of Balasinor’s special place in history and its legacy. They alert the authorities if there are trespassers or any attempts to damage the rocks”, Babi added to her long story.
The Dinosaur park in Balasinor is the only place in the world, where visitors can hold and touch actual dinosaur fossils and eggs. While visiting this seventy two acre park, if you come across a middle aged woman wearing a safari hat and guiding the visitors, be sure that you would be watching Aliya Sultana Babi, the princess of this Jurassic Park.
The Dinosaur Museum, which is a part of the Fossil Park, was built in 2019 after persistent efforts from the government, Time Machine, Earth’s Inception, Dinosaurs of the World and Dinosaurs of Gujarat are some of the essentials in the park for visitor entertainment and information.
“Earlier, tourists who walked on stones would expose the bones and damage them, making their preservation difficult. But the museum has helped protect this priceless treasure now,” she said.
During the second half sixth months in the year 2021, the Park witnessed an average of 92,000 visitors. Babi found income from some other sources like educate locals about tourism and management, and dinosaurs and fossils, across college campuses and schools in her state and abroad.
Many of the trained locals are helping to run the museum, and take care of it. “Twelve village women are running the museum’s canteen. A few are also employed in its day-to-day operations. The men work as guards and museum operators,” she says.