Dholavira: An early Harappan metropolis

In our school days, we learnt about the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley and China. Of these, it is generally accepted that one in Mesopotamia is the oldest, while the other three are contemporary to each other.

Focusing on the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), the most prominent centres as mentioned in the textbooks are the Harappa, Mohenjo Daro and Lothal sites. Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were famous for having covered drainage systems and the great bath, while Lothal was the famous dock for trading ships.

For regular Indians, it is difficult to visit the Harappa and Mohenjo Daro sites, since they are in Pakistan, and right now, the countries are not on the best of terms.

The issue with Lothal docks is that one has to imagine a lot to understand how things might have been. The reason for this being the river that would have been the entry and exit to the port has shifted considerably, so now, Lothal is more of a landlocked location, with a dock. Also, the dock is almost the size of a big swimming pool.

The “dock” of the Lothal Docks

The excavations that have been found and unearthed near the docks, signifying the township, are in absolute ruins and it makes imagining structures and the life of the IVC residents a little difficult, at least, this was my personal belief.

Then, with a little research, I stumbled upon the site of Dholavira. On paper, Dholavira is not as famous as the other IVC cousins, had been found relatively recently and the place gets ignored since it is close to a much better advertised natural wonder of the White Rann of Kutch. On our trip to the Rann of Kutch, we chose to stay at Dholavira, instead of the Dhordo campsites and till date, that has been a major highlight of the trip for us.

What follows below is the account of my visit to Dholavira in December 2021.

The Dholavira excavation site is an  ASI site and is still not the most crowded one. We arrived close to opening time at about 9 am and found parking quite easily. Having already visited Lothal a few months earlier, we did not have a lot of expectations of the place. But, since we had read that it is a big space, we hired a guide to help us understand better.

First glimpse of the Dholavira Metropolis mound

From the parking to the site as we walked, we crossed a small bridge over what appeared to be a dried river bed (river Manhar). Moving on, we got the first glimpses of the party piece of the Dholavira citadel. Just outside the city limits are multiple, deep reservoirs.

These reservoirs were basically water filtration plants. Water from the Manhar river (the dried one we crossed earlier) would be routed to the first tank via multiple check dams, which would serve as the primary holding tank for the water. This would allow the heavier impurities to settle and in the first step filtered water would be routed to the next tank, via covered drains. In the subsequent reservoirs, the lighter impurities which would be floating on the top surface would be eliminated by runoff due to constant water inflow. This would in principle allow the residents to obtain fairly clean water, devoid of major physical impurities. Another interesting thing to notice was that water inlets were at different heights connecting wells within the citadel, ensuring that the wells are full of water as long as the reservoirs have water in them. One of the biggest reservoirs, bigger than the great bath of Mohenjo Daro, has a proper rock cut slope on its side, clearly signifying that water drawing was done using wheeled carts.

The citadel was divided into the upper town or castle, a bailey, a huge ceremonial ground separating the castle and the middle town, and beyond the middle town, the lower town. A little further away from the residential areas were the burial grounds.

The Dholavira layout and the 10-lettered introduction plaque for the metropolis as seen in the museum

Within the castle area, one can see clearly the foundations of the different houses and their rooms. One can see the rocks on which raw stone would be polished by repeatedly brushing them in linear motions. Remains of seating arrangements can be still seen. Interestingly, the guide mentioned that the beads and other rock ornaments which were manufactured in Dholavira had been found in Egypt while seals from Egypt had been recovered from Dholavira. While I do not remember seeing the Egyptian seals in the museum there, it is extremely believable that a flourishing trade existed between the contemporary civilizations.

Moving on, between the upper town and the middle town is the ceremonial ground, about 250 metres long and 30 metres wide. This served as the main gathering space for the residents of the three towns for games, festivals or other general business. And there appeared to be rock-cut galleries as well, which could have very much served as seating space for spectators.

One of the exits leading towards the middle and lower town, ceremonial ground in between

By this time, what we had planned to be an hour-long trip through the ruins, had turned into a 3-hour-long journey through time. The best part, we could relate to what was being told to us much easier since we could see most of the structures. Yes, we did have to imagine a bit, but then, we could see the foundations, the walls, the water inlets and the outlets to the reservoirs very clearly. What makes it more intriguing is the fact that this civilization existed from 3000 BCE till about 1500 BCE, i.e almost 5000 years from the present; and they had properly segmented township and water management systems already in place.

After revelling in the past for a while, we checked out the middle town. This part of the metropolis had one central road. Smaller roads branch out on either side and on each of these branches were ruins of the houses that had existed in the past. This area has not been completely excavated yet and it is expected that more of the same shall be found in the locality.

Since we were getting quite late by now, we hurried back for a visit to the museum. The museum houses some of the interesting finds that had been recovered from the site, such as storage jars, standardized weights, stone mortars, polishing stones, terracotta figurines, etc.

We left Dholavira, happy to have visited this amazing historic place. But there was a shred of disappointment that this place is not advertised enough. While Dholavira often features in the day tours from the Rann of Kutch, there is not enough curiosity amongst us to visit these ancient cradles of civilization. We often choose to visit the Machu Pichu in Peru or the Pyramids of Giza while referring to ancient civilizations, while ignoring the fact that right here, in our own country, we have a very rich heritage, which a lot of us do not know of. So, dear reader, next time you are curious about history, ancient history, beyond religion or cultural division, do pay the Dholavira metropolis of IVC a visit, I feel, you will not be disappointed.

A quick run to the Rann!

We bought our car in July 2021 and have been itching for a nice, multi day-long drive since then. We have been on multiple day trips already, had just completed 5000 kms. Our initial plan was for a Nashik-Saputara trip from Vadodara, with some friends coming over during the Christmas-New Year break. But then, Omicron started happening all across, and their trips got cancelled. We, me and my wife, decided that the trip must happen, but maybe somewhere else. The top candidate was the Rann of Kutchh and that is where we planned to go.

Day 1

Our trip began on the cloudy and dark morning of 28th of December, 2021 at around 0630h. Google maps said it would take about 8.5 hours of driving to our destination, we were expecting around 10 hours total. Our breakfast stop was planned near Viramgam. There was a hotel which provided good food and had clean toilets, so, that was the spot.
The traffic on the NE1 was moderate and there was quite a bit of weaving involved throughout, but since it is an expressway, the general speed of the traffic was about 70kmph +, so, not a lot of issues there. We arrived at the breakfast spot, Hotel Sahyog at about 0930h. 150 kms in about 2.5 hours, not bad. Our objective was to be consistent in the drive to be able to extract maximum efficiency from the car. After having breakfast, utilizing the toilets and giving the car a quick wash, we were on our way at about 10 am.

We arrived at the edge of the Rann of Kutch, past the small town of Balasar at about 1500h. This is where you get the first glimpse of the beautiful Rann (Desert, in the local language). My wife had been itching for her share of the drive and I wanted to take some photos and videos, so, we switched seats and off we went. The roads are simply wonderful and a driver’s pleasure. From the edge of the Rann to our resort in the Khadir Bet island, it was about 20 kms and we savoured every bit of the drive.

There were patches that had dried sea bed on either side to times where there was water. One has to be there to experience it and I dare say, words or photographs do not do enough justice. A point of caution, the town of Balasar is where you find the last petrol pumps. Google maps may show a Reliance Petrol Pump in the Khadir Bet Island, near the Dholavira Metropolis site, it does not exist. We arrived at the Khadir Resort close to 1530h and had some food. On the way, there was a viewpoint named Chipper Point, which we had planned to check out on the next few days, so, after a quick refresh at the resort, we headed towards the Sunset Point at the edge of the island. Again, one must say, that the roads are amazing. Even at a village level, the roads are paved, even though single lane, yet clean, and well maintained. Being a border road may have some merit though. Anyway, at the sunset point, there is a newly erected White Rann Tent City, a sister tent city of the one at Dhordo and offers similar experiences on this side of the Rann. We watched the sunset into the sea while being absolutely swept by the howling wind.

We returned back to the resort, quite cold, but happy at the location and the facilities available. Now, to combat the lack of petrol pump issue, most, if not all of the resorts maintain a stock of fuel with them in 1 litre bottles. Our resort also helped us to a few litres to top-up for the next day, we would embark on a unique kind of trip.

We had freshly baked Rotlos (bigger and stouter cousin of Rotis) made of Bajra, Kadhi, Khichdi, Chutney and lip-smacking potato curry for dinner and turned in for the night. We were tired by the drive and excited at what was coming up the next day, so we slept almost immediately.

Day 2

29th of December began with early morning tea being served. While the hosts were cooking up Poha, we made acquaintances with the other families which had arrived there already. Our itinerary for the day was one that would take us to two unique geographical features, through one of the most scenic routes ever imaginable. At around 0945h, we were on our way towards the White Rann of Kutch, through the Rann of Kutch lake. This road is formally known as the Aadhav-Dholavira Road, more commonly, as the Road to Heaven. It is a 10 feet wide, under construction road that cuts across the lake joining the landmass near Khavda (where there is a petrol pump) to Dholavira. With water or dried sea bed, depending on the season, on either side, driving on this road is a pleasure to the senses. The dried sea bed is white, due to the salt and it is so close to the road that I could actually get down and touch it. Since it was not completely dried out, the land is a bit mushy and you will sink a bit, so any thoughts of taking your car on to the Rann at this place, kindly throw it out immediately. Anyway, through this amazing road we went and arrived at the Khavda petrol pump.

Emptiness on either side and a nice road in front of us!
The road through the Kutchh lake!

Our car, being the only petrol car waiting in line got served quickly and we were on our way towards the White Rann, near the tent city of Dhordo. There is a road which borders the Rann, with absolute emptiness on either side from a little south of Khavda to effectively the gates of the White Rann, we found and took it. While the road surface is awesome and invites high-speed driving, please be careful since it is also a single lane road and you have to move away from the road to the shoulder to give way for oncoming traffic, and the shoulder is a couple of inches below the tarmac, so caution is advised. There is a BSF checkpoint at the entrance to the White Rann where you must show your pass, which can be obtained online easily, or there itself at the check post. Past that, we arrived at the White Rann of Kutch.

As far as the eyes could see, right up to the horizon, it is white. The entire ground is white with salt crystals and quite a bit of crowd around. Despite the crowd, the Rann is so huge and the space is so plentiful, it is easily possible to avoid fellow humans in the background of the photos if so desired.

There are options to go into the Rann up to a few kms using camel or horse-drawn carriages. There seemed to be provisions of driving on the Rann too, but I was not interested in that, so didn’t explore further. Toilet facilities are lacking at this spot. There is a toilet block nearby though, which is still in the construction phase and lacks water supply, hence cleanliness. Toilets are available at the border checkpoint and the tent city though, which should be accessible.

Next up, we had an 85 kms long trip to the next destination. En route, we stopped at the location where the Tropic of Cancer passes through and took a few photos. Our destination was the Khari river canyon. This is a river canyon or gorge of sorts made by the Khari river. At its deepest, it is about 50 ft deep. While it is not as big as the famed river canyons, it is still a unique feature and a first for us, so naturally, we were thrilled to see it. We took photos to our heart’s content and now, we turned back.

En route, we had a quick lunch at a roadside dhaba and were looking at a drive of about 200 kms back to the resort. One can go back the way they came, across the lake, we took the conventional route through the outskirts of Bhuj, Rapar, Balasar to reach our destination. Of course, night fell before we were anywhere near the resort. The roads are quite empty, which, provide you with the confidence of driving quickly, also make you wary of the surroundings. Uneventfully, thankfully, we arrived back at our resort. The place is so pristine and has such little light pollution, stars are visible even in the dashcam’s video. We went out for a bit, switched off our lights and got off to admire the beautiful skies around, could identify a couple of constellations, saw a shooting star, then we felt cold and could hear foxes close by. My wife, not being fond of furry things, pets or otherwise, urged me strongly, to get back in the car, and hence we returned to the resort.

The second night, we stayed at the Flamingo resort, which was about 200m from the Khadir resort. The hosts are amazing and the fact that the stay at Flamingo caters to the residential school being run makes you feel good. After a hearty meal, we retired for the night. The next day, we would be visiting the nearly 5000-year-old metropolis of Dholavira in the morning, and then drive back home to Vadodara. Long day ahead!

Day 3

Our final day’s trip began with Poha and tea. A few photos at the Flamingo’s premises and off we were towards the Dholavira site. Today, we had decided, until it gets too crowded, my wife would be at the wheel, then I shall take over if required.

The Dholavira site is nothing short of a wonder. We all know of the Giza Pyramids, what if I told you, that here in Dholavira, people from the same age had homes with attached kitchens, had amphitheatres, had a complex multilevel water filtration plant, lived and traded and buried their dead. Without trying to take away the Pyramid’s thunder, I am simply saying, please come visit Dholavira. It used to be the biggest metropolis in what we know now as the Indus-Valley civilization. With a few hectares of space which has water tanks, wells, upper-middle-lower towns, houses, a common playground and a stadium, this place is not just a bunch of ruins from the past. In fact, this town a few millennia old is in better shape than a few forts we trek to near Pune. You can see the indentations made by repeated use of ropes, pulleys, earthen pots, etc. For someone who is remotely interested in history and of course has the patience to hear the guides out, this place is simply mesmerizing. We spent almost 3 hours here for the tour of the upper and middle town areas and then we were on our way back.

The route back was the same route as we had taken on the first day, we stopped at the same place again, utilized its resources, and were back home by about 2100h. In all, the car had run 1456 kms and the average calculated was 19.1 km/l. There was no physical fatigue, no joint pains or muscle cramps, but we both slept for at least 10-12 hours a day for the next two days, not complaining!

Final driving stats!

In all, the car went through some amazing roads to places with no roads and only rocks. There were patches that felt like they would kill the suspension, to getting stuck on a sandbank thanks to a wrong turn. In each of the situations, the car performed as good as it could be imagined and delivered what was expected out of it. By the end, I am hearing a faint rattle from the left front door and seats squeak a bit. The second service is due this Friday, hopefully, the issues will get sorted out with no issues and the service centre guys do not curse me on account of how dirty and grimy the car has become.

To conclude, I will echo the tagline for Kutch, Kutch nahi dekha toh Kuch nai dekha ( If you haven’t been to  Kutch, you haven’t been anywhere).

Your comments, questions and suggestions are welcome and eagerly awaited.