Often known for its beautiful beaches, Visakhapatnam, or Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, is more than that. The city has ecological treasures that are unique and fascinating. Among them are  the red sand hills or dunes called Erra Matti Dibbalu. These red sand hills are 40 feet high and are situated near Bheemunipatnam. The Andhra Pradesh Government recognised these natural wonders as a geo-heritage site in 2014 and protected site in 2016. The red sand dunes are decorated with green patches of trees and plants making the scene very colourful. As silence surrounds you, the red sand dunes are shaped like a maze. Situated 45 kilometres from Visakhapatnam, you can take a bus or hire a cab to reach the site.  

12 Millennia Of History

The red sand dunes are estimated to be around 12,000 years old. They are a rare geological occurrence that help scientists research the past. It is believed that the Erra Matti Dibbalu was  caused by a climatic shift that took place in the Glacial Maximum Age, around 18,500 years ago. According to a report by ‚ÄėThe Hindu‚Äô, the sea dropped 120 metres and receded 50 kilometres from the coastline. The continental shelf was exposed, as the sea levels kept fluctuating and large deposits of sand, clay, and silt were made on the land. These deposits were not red right from the start. Constant exposure to the sun, water, winds, and geo-chemical alterations caused the present colour of the red sand hills. Ferrugination is also believed to be another reason behind the red colour. When the sand grains were coated with iron, this lead to oxidation over a period of time and the sand turned red. 

The Erra Matti Dibbalu stretches over four kilometres and is two kilometres wide. Situated on the Bay of Bengal, the red sand dunes are surrounded by Chittigadda and Peddagadda streams. Scientists and environmentalists have called the red sand dunes a ‚Äėliving museum‚Äô and ‚Äėliving laboratory‚Äô. According to a report by the ‚ÄėTimes Of India‚Äô, these red sand dunes might have mesolithic and neolithic cultural materials. 

The Almost Disappearing State Of The Erra Matti Dibbalu

The Erra Matti Dibbalu is endorsed as an ideal picnic spot by tourist companies, causing an influx of huge crowds. This has led to the deterioration of the ecological spot. The tourists who  visit the Erra Matti Dibbalu litter the place and trample all over the red sand dunes. Local activists and environmental organisations have been conducting clean-ups for about six or seven years but the state of these red sand hills in Vizag remains the same. These clean-ups saw support from Indian Navy‚Äôs INS Kalinga and the locals, but are just a temporary fix. The Erra Matti Dibbalu is a popular spot for shooting Telugu movies too, which means it is prone to more damage because of the huge crowds and the garbage movie crews leave behind. In June 2015, Vizag‚Äôs beach near Bheemili saw small red ravines. These were formed because of the heavy rains causing continuous erosion of the loose fragments of the red sand dunes indicating their depleting state.

The Erra Matti Dibbalu does not have any kind of fencing or signage indicating that this site must be protected. To make the red sand dunes more accommodating to tourists the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department Corporation (APTDC) has constructed temporary huts that have thatched roofs made with palm trees. The tourists have used these huts to eat, drink and gamble in. The plastic waste generated there has caused further deterioration of the site. These facilities are not cleaned or maintained regularly. Local activists have recommended a committee with scientists, geologists, and anthropologists to help preserve the Erra Matti Dibbalu and sustainably conduct tourism. Littering combined with urbanisation has led the dunes to decrease in size over the years. One of the reasons for the current state of the site is that it is not clear as to which government authority is responsible for the site. 

Save And Protect

The Erra Matti Dibbalu is a rare geological wonder with only three such formations in South East Asia. A ‚ÄėTimes Of India‚Äô report said that if this continued, the Erra Matti Dibbalu might be destroyed in 20-30 years. Ecological spots like this must be conserved and taken care of. Other ecological spots near Visakhapatnam include the Thotlakonda Natural Arch, Araku Valley and Dolphin‚Äôs Nose. 

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