Enclosed by 752square kms of incredibly scenery, the Bemaraha National Park, situated in the west of Madagascar, was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990, and is home to the truly amazing stone forest known as the Tsingy.
From the Malagasy word “mitsingitsignia”, which means ‘to walk on tiptoe’, the term has been accepted in common language to denote the exceptional topography of eroded limestone, which may exist in other parts of the world, but nowhere as tall, slender and extensive as the spires here. An extraordinary world of forest canyons, humid caves and unique fauna and flora thriving in close proximity to one another.
The national park centers on two geological formations: the Great Tsingy and the Little Tsingy. Together with the adjacent Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, the National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tsingys are karstic plateaus in which groundwater has undercut the elevated uplands, and has gouged caverns and fissures into the limestone.
Because of local conditions, the erosion is patterned vertically as well as horizontally. In several regions on western Madagascar, centering on this National Park and adjacent Nature Reserve, the superposition of vertical and horizontal erosion patterns has created dramatic “forests” of limestone needles.
Tsingy can be translated into English as where one cannot walk barefoot. The unusual geomorphology of the National Park and Nature Reserve, means that the Site is home to an exceptionally large number of endemic species of plants and animals that are found only within extremely small niches in this place. For example, the summits, slopes, and bases of limestone needle form different ecosystems with different species clinging to their exceptionally steep slopes.
The formation of these unusual rocks actually began some 200 million years ago when layers of calcite accumulated at the bottom of a Jurassic lagoon, forming a thick limestone bed. Later tectonic activity elevated the limestone, and as sea level fell during the Pleistocene ice ages, even more of the limestone was exposed. Eventually, the ancient sediments were carved by monsoon rains, finally creating what we see today.
These are the most unusual and beautiful geological sites that you might ever come across. Not easy to get around, but stunning both in terms of their inherent natural attraction and the fabulous wildlife that exists here. It may not seem a perfect tourist destination, but you can be sure that if you ever do chance to actually see it in the flesh, as it were, you will want to go there again.