Monday, April 15, 2013

Queen of the ruins @ Lothal, Gujarat

Queen of the ruins, my family calls me. There is something which attracts me a lot to the lost times. May it be the eerie Scottish castles or colonial remains of Ross Island in the Andamans. They all seem to tell a story. Each stone a different one. The way they saw it. From their angle, their perspective.

Lothal remains
Following one such urge I went to Lothal last August. Monsoon isn't the best time to visit this archaeological milestone but my mantra has been 'better off-season than never'. The road leading to the site isn't great. You will take about 1.5 hours to reach here from Ahmedabad. Remnants of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (2400 BCE) are seen here.

I like the fact that they have not barricaded the area. You can walk through the lanes and get a feel of place. But unfortunately you will see a lot of chattering tourists walking on the precious bricks despite polite and persistent pleas by the guards. There is a lack of stern administration and clean facilities but that shouldn't stop you from going to Lothal.

Here are the highlights-

Local Guide Hirabhai (+91 99787 82127) is moderately knowledgeable but eager to help and find out details for you. You can book rooms here to stay as well

Mr S S Parekh, Asst. Superintending Archaeologist, shuttles between excavated sites of Lothal & Dholaveera. Ask for him. An extremely knowledgeable and pleasant man who is happy to share information with interested tourists.

Please read introductory write ups for objects before looking at them in the museum. Photography is allowed only for the exteriors, not inside the museum. Videography is not allowed at all.

Exteriors-

1. They have a trapezoidal tidal dockyard. The earliest (2400 BCE) and the only of its kind in the world. The dock walls are made of kiln-fired bricks (as opposed to sun baked mud bricks used for housing foundations). Do make time to take a closer look at them.

2. The structural remains are devoid of high walls for 2 reasons. 1st is that the superstructures were made of unbaked brick which eroded in floods of 1900 BCE and 2nd because of brick-robbery. 3. Look out for lanes, drainage, nullahs, sewer margins, double sloped floors, hair-breadth masonry joint (which made the construction water tight) and the Acropolis. This is what the Harappa & Mohanjodaro civilization was famous for pioneering.

4. Look at the wells from top. You will see the use of radial bricks. 3 inches wide in front and 4 inches wide at the end. Interesting details.

5. Lower town, bead factory, copper-smith's workshop and cemetery are uniform and have evidence that the rules were rigid for re-building and workers quarters as all seem identical.

Interiors -

6. There is a small museum close by. It is not in a very good state as there was water seeping in from everywhere but it houses some archaeological marvels. One of them being the twin-burial skeletons entwined together (it is a fiber glass replica. Originals are in Delhi archives).

7. Actual tools, weapons, ritual objects, calligraphy seals, ivory, terracotta, pottery, ornaments are showcased. The micro cylindrical beads of steatite are kept under a magnifying glass for you to see how fine they were.

8. A 5 stranded necklace of gold microbeads (less than .25 mm in diameter) and a circular gold beaded necklace (you can see the photographs only, originals are in Delhi archives) are worth a read and look.But you are lucky. You can see photographs of both of them in this post. I visited ASI's 150th anniversary exhibition in New Delhi this year where they had dug these pieces out of their archives for public display.

9. The stone weights & measures displayed are world renowned for their homogeneity and consistency. The lowest being 50mg (Dhanya, weight of a Cumin seed), 100 mg (Gunja, weight of a Ratti/rosary pea seed).

10. The museum has a publication counter. It is very good. You can buy brochures and booklets by ASI (which are always detailed and authentic) for Lothal and other sites in India from here. I bought a lot of them. Was quite surprised to see that they were not available at very famous ASI sites like Hampi and Halebeedu but were available at a remote site like Lothal.

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