Friday, April 23, 2010

LOTHAL

LOTHAL

Literally 'place for dead bodies' or call it 'land of the dead'

Lothal is a small village in Gujarat situated 82 kilometres south-west of Ahmedabad. This is the second most important archeological excavation in India (after Dholavira - the other excavated place in Gujarat) where spread of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation has been prominently traced. It is believed the Harrapan culture survived long after its disappearance from Mohenjodaro (now in Pakistan).

A visit to Lothal takes us 4400 years back into history. The Harrapan people are believed to have migrated from Mohenjodaro and settled in these plains of Gujarat along the Cambay gulf. Need for fertile land and new trade routes might have prompted migration. Another possible explanation could be the disastrous floods in the Indus Valley that would have inundated and destroyed the area compelling the survivors to look for sustenance elsewhere.

Ironically, Lothal is also believed to have been annihilated by massive floods. Whatever the reasons of its demise, all the excavated evidence points towards a vibrant society thriving for at least seven centuries on artisanship and trade. Lothal excelled in pottery and making beads and precious crystalline ornaments which found their way in overseas markets of Mesopotamia and the Middle East (Egypt in particular). Besides precious stones, trade was also done in tools & implements, ornaments and other items like ware of copper and bronze. The Harrapan civilisation is famous for its mastery over architecture, civil engineering and town planning; and all that is abundantly visible at Lothal. The sewerage and drainage system is meticulously planned so as to take care of the runoff as well as water in storage for daily use. The location was aesthetically planned with all the amenities available to the inhabitants.

What to see

First of all, a visit to the archeological museum, of course, is a must. Spending at least one hour there will prepare you to understand what you'll be seeing in the field. They have on display all that was excavated including toys, seals, pottery pieces, tools and the weights and measures. The skeletal remains of two humans (a male and a female) jointly buried at Lothal are also on display in a casket.

The Dockyard

Enter the boundary gate and the first thing before your eyes is an outline of the huge water body. This large tank type structure is believed to have stood as a port. Mr. Jadav, the officer in charge (curator or caretaker) of the Archeological museum told me that according to an Indian Navy officer a 10 tonne vessel could dock in a port of that size.
 
The Warehouse
Turn left on to a higher level and see the storage platforms now restored in cement and brickwork. The goods for export were stored at a place higher than the dock level and well laid out on platforms with proper ventilation passages. The warehouse is situated near the Acropolis.

 The Acropolis

The dwelling place of the ruling elite and the affluent situated just across the warehouse on the same raised level, higher than rest of the township. A clear glimpse of all the amenities like paved baths, water storage, large kitchens and underground drainage system, places of worship / altar etc is available at the acropolis.

The Lower town

Well laid out buildings and streets can be seen where the artisan and the commoner lived. Bricks were well standardised and used in all construction including making drop pits and sewers which were made water-tight and leak-proof.

The Bead making furnace / kiln

This little structure is well preserved by the Archeological department. They have properly encased it by placing steel-mesh cover over it. Mr. Jadav says that regulation of temperature was necessary to obtain desired products and the furnace chambers were designed accordingly.

The museum has for sale books which cover everything including history, geography, culture and statistics about Lothal and the Indus Valley civilisation.

There is no guide available and sadly they haven't put proper informatory boards on the ground. For example, the bead furnace otherwise so painstakingly preserved and protected has no label / name or sign board by its side. That can be easily mistaken for the burial site because one of the boards put in the area so points in that direction. It is better to buy a small book or pick up some literature at the museum reception for on the spot recognition.

Mr. Jadav understands this problem and told me that very soon he would be taking remedial measures. His dedication shows he will.

How to reach

You have three options to do this destination.

1. Take a taxi from Ahmedabad and club three major destinations together. Leave early at 6 and make the Adalaj Vav (15 km) your first stop. Then move on to the Sun temple at Modhera (90 km) followed by the Rani ki Vav at Pattan (35 km). Assuming you spend one and a half hour each seeing the two main attractions this leg can be easily completed by noon. Latest by 1 p m your taxi should leave for Lothal (180 km or 3hr.) via Viramgam and Bagodra. On your way back to Ahmedabad make it a point to see the Sarkhez mausoleum about 20 km on the outskirts of the city.

2. Gujarat state tourism organises a day long site seeing tour to the Site. This also includes a visit to the Nalsarovar bird reserve where some migratory species could be spotted during winters. My information is that going to the reserve was of no use. Bird watching (given birds are there) can't be rushed through or wrapped up in a couple of hours. In my view packaged visits are not much rewarding. Take this option if you have nothing else to do or don't know how to plan an itinerary.

3. If you are backpacker then catch a Bhavnagar bound bus and get down one kilometre after the railway crossing some 20 km next to Bagodra. Lothal is 7 km from that spot and there are good chances of finding some local transport. Your guide map / book will come handy here.

This is the best and cheapest option.

Special mention

Parents with school going children in Gujarat should make it a point to have a day's excursion at the spot. The children will learn a lot.




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