Dholavira and Lothal: People Lived Here 5,000 Years Ago | Gujarat, India

A view of the site at Dholavira
A view of the site at Dholavira

When you stand at Dholavira, you realize people existed at least 5,000 years ago. On the very spot where you see the remains of what may have been a very vibrant and rich city in the 3rd Millennium B.C. Don’t let your imagination wander too much though, it can cause vertigo.

The site was discovered only in 1967-68 by Jagatpati Joshi with excavations starting as recently as 1990 under Dr. R.S. Bisht. The site is known as Kotada in Gujarat and features on the tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Spread over 100 hectares on the Khadir Bet (island), it is one of the largest and most prominent archaeological sites in India belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization. Other important urban centres included Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Ganeriwala, Rakhigarhi, Kalibangan, Rupar and Lothal.

Interesting Factoids About Dholavira

* The area measures 771.10 metres in length, and 616.85 metres in width.
* The city was divided into three parts – the citadel, the middle town and the lower town. A well planned settlement, you can see evidence of fortifications, gateways, built-up areas, street system, wells and large open spaces.
* Royalty stayed in the citadel.
* Important officials lived in the section called bailey. Beyond the bailey lay the burial ground – graves dug up reveal personal belongings that were buried along with the deceased.
* The middle town lies to the north, separated from the citadel by a large ceremonial ground or stadium with a capacity of over 10,000.
* The structures you see today are mostly of stone, whereas brick was the main material in other cities of the period.
* It is flanked by two rain water channels – the Mansar in the north, and the Manhar in the south.
* One of the unique features of Dholavira is the sophisticated water conservation system of channels and reservoirs, the earliest found anywhere in the world and completely built out of stone; three can be seen here. These were used for storing freshwater brought by rains or taken from rivulets and wells.
* Excavations at the site have led to discovery of beads and ornaments made of stones, shells, terracotta, gold, silver etc. Other antiquities included seals, weights, measures, animal bones and terracotta animal figurines. Vessels linked to Mesopotamia showed Dholavira to be an important centre of trade between settlements in south Gujarat, Sindh and Punjab and Western Asia.

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The entrance to the city had a signboard of 10 Harappan characters; it still exists and is believed to be the oldest signboard in the world. Strangely, it is locked away from the public eye. A partial replica has been painted at the site.
The entrance to the city had a signboard of 10 Harappan characters; it still exists and is believed to be the oldest signboard in the world. Strangely, it is locked away from the public eye. A partial replica has been painted at the site.

The White and Watery Rann Around Dholavira

The road to Dholavira cuts through the saline desert plains of the Great Rann of Kutch.

I stopped with a start when I noticed what looked like a sheet of ice half-way between Rapar and Dholavira. Only these were crystals of salt stretching far into the horizon. The white Rann is best seen on a full moon night; I happened to be there on a moonless one, but was still treated to many other beautiful hues in the evening and morning sun.

And it gets better around Dholavira itself. The desert is white and watery with a rough path for cars going through it. To enter the area, you need permission from the Border Security Force (BSF) who form a protective shield against neighbouring Pakistan. The path goes to their last post 21 kms (13 miles) away. And then it is 40 kms (25 miles) of water till the border – it is not possible to cross this stretch on foot or with the aid of any vehicle or boat says the BSF.

The whole landscape is absolutely still and silent. Just like the Dead Sea in Jordan, only more beautiful. But there is a difference: you cannot sink in the Dead Sea. In the watery Rann, you can easily sink and your cries for help will not be heard by anyone. I did step in gingerly to take some shots though. BSF advised me to return before it got dark. The headlights of my car could be seen as unwanted territorial intruders setting off army gunfire in my direction. Ouch, that would have hurt!

Could have sat around contemplating for hours – where do you get to be with yourself like this?

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Dholavira: Travel Tips

* Distances: Dasada in Little Rann of Kutch – 290 kms / 181 miles, takes about 5 hours; Bhuj – 250 kms / 156 miles.
* The road to Dholavira from Bhuj and Dasada is in quite good shape, even if narrow in parts.
* Accommodation is limited to Toran Tourist Complex run by Gujarat Tourism – it is cheap but not very well maintained. Book at http://www.gujarattourism.com.
* While guests make day trips from Bhuj or Dasada, it is still advisable to spend a night to catch the morning and evening light – rough it out for one night in the state run hotel.
* Best time to go: November to March.

Lothal: The Ancient Harappan Civilization Site

After Dholavira, I was advised to visit Lothal, another major Harappan town of the ancient Indus River Valley civilization.

Lothal was discovered in 1954, with excavations being carried out from 1955-62. Strangely, Lothal means ‘mound of the dead.’ Shudder! Not the best of ideas to camp here for the night. Folks buried here are old, very old. You never know how they may behave.

Lothal dates to circa 2500-1900 B.C. Trick question: How many centuries ago is that? The town’s chief lived in the Acropolis, with houses built on 3 metre high platforms and provided with all civic amenities like paved baths, underground drains and a well for potable water. The lower town was divided into the commercial district where craftsmen worked, the rest being the residential sector.

Excavations have revealed beads; seals and sealings; shell, copper, ivory and bronze objects; tools; animal and human figurines; weights; ritual objects etc. Lothal was an important overseas trading port, and its prosperity was based on business in semi -precious stone beads, copper, ivory, shell and cotton goods with West Asia. Discovery of objects of Persian Gulf origin and terracotta figures of gorillas and mummies indicate strong international connections.

Drop by for a few hours during your drive around Gujarat.

Travel Tips to Lothal
Lothal is about 85 kms (53 miles) from Ahmedabad. Plan a day trip, there are no real options to stay here. Unless you want to sneak in at night and sleep in the ancient buildings!

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