Once upon a time, life in the Indian subcontinent flourished on the banks of River Saraswati. Ancient urban centers with well-planned cities are still being discovered in and around Saraswati and its tributaries for more than a century now. Every site adds to the mystique and scale of civilization. At the southern end of this civilization in the Gulf of Khambat, in the village called Lothal lies a dockyard that was used to trade through the sea routes with other civilizations.
Lothal, Gujarat – Ruins & Remains
Today, this historic place wears the look of an abandoned town – with only its foundations remaining to tell the story. As a layperson, there is nothing much that you can make out. There are some ASI boards but they give a broad direction and hardly explain anything. Thankfully I carried the ASI booklet on the place, that I had picked from their headquarters in Delhi years ago for this very day – when I have to stand there and figure out what is what. The museum building here is the one you notice as you reach the site. And then you have to look around to find the actual site and walk towards it through a dusty path.
The site at first looks like a giant complex that was abandoned after the foundation was laid. A set of structures on a raised platform was the warehouse where the traded goods were stocked. The place does not look too big, and as we moved ahead the whole city appeared pretty small. But then I realize that my reference point is the towns and cities of today that are too big when compared to their own sizes even 50 years ago.
Indus Valley Bead Factory
We move ahead and see a bead factory that has been discovered here. There are kilns and what looks like giant pots over ovens. Most of these are re-constructed of course. But they are in situ or right at the places where they were found. The beads at this factory were supposed to be very fine and a sample can be seen at the museum. Fine white beads that you cannot see but probably not appreciate with the naked eye make you wonder about the technology our ancestors had more than 3000 years ago. Museum has put a magnifying glass in front of those displays so that you can see them both in a glass test tube and as part of a necklace made out of them.
I wish the ASI/Tourism department/Culture department would make an effort to reconstruct a demo of the process. And maybe teach them to the locals so that it generates some livelihood for them. Almost everyone who looks at those beads wants to pick them up – as a souvenir or a memento from the past.
We move ahead and see the lower town. That I found a bit difficult to comprehend as the houses and the rooms appeared too tiny for human habitation. Though I could appreciate the symmetry. In the far corner of the site was the burial site – again I take the word of the board – could not make out much. Walking across the site we came across many water channels that ran through it. And this was probably a part of the famous drainage system that the history textbook told us about.
World’s oldest Dockyard at Lothal
By the side of the site lies a well that had bricks in isosceles trapezoid shape instead of the usual rectangle so that they come together and form a circle easily. I do not remember seeing anything like this elsewhere. Next to it is the dockyard – which is a rectangular pond with a channel connecting it to a potential canal to maintain water levels. It looks like any other water body except the brickwork seems to be old. And then you have to use your imagination to visualize that small ships laden with trading goods would have arrived, parked here, and re-loaded the products made here. Maybe other towns around Lothal left the place to probably go to Sindh – a little far away across the Arabian sea.
Indus Valley Civilization
This is the first Indus Valley Civilization site that I visited after reading so much about them. Of course, the big wish is to go and see the town of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Although experts, who have visited them, tell me that it would be a disappointing visit. Even here, I was mentally prepared not to find anything spectacular. But I wanted to stand at the place where a sophisticated civilization once flourished. And that was an emotional moment to connect directly with the remains of that civilization. To stand on its walls and to be able to touch those bricks, to see those beads with your own eyes along with many other artifacts discovered from the site.
It was a dream come true for me to be standing at this historic place – one of the oldest known living sites in the world.
Recommend you to read the following travel blog on Places to visit in Gujarat.