Friday, April 07, 2006


Wikipedia's entry of the day made me do this. Anand, Gogo, Marcus forgive me if I reveal more than I should.

On a cold day in December, we decided to go Lothal. No, actually, the decision was made here in Mumbai on December 21st, when it was warm, but I would not belabour the point.

(Many people have asked us why we decided to go to Lothal. The answer is simple. Because it was there in our minds and in Lonely Planet. We were planning a road-trip across Gujarat starting from Mumbai (Tamara, if you are reading this, I promise to write about it for you soon). Everybody had a dream place they could suggest on the way from Mumbai to Diu. Bad idea. For here's what three of us chose: Silvassa, Lothal and Ahmedabad. Thankfully, Anand chose Alang, which he writes about here.)

Marcus chose Ahmedabad for our trip because he would get a bus back from there to Mumbai. We chose Silvassa and Lothal because we had read about them in school, in class 6th Geography (India and its states) and History (Ancient India).

Silvassa with its dam and lion park is another story. So are Bassein, Surat, Baroda, Bhavnagar, Alang, Diu, Somnath, Rajkot, Wankaner and Ahmedabad. This is about Lothal. Which Gogo chose.

The image that you see right on top is, what Wikipedia calls, 'Ancient Lothal as envisaged by the Archaeological Survey of India'. Good sense, Wiki has. For this is nothing like what is there at the moment. But let me not rush into the story.

The story begins at a railway station in Baroda. 3 of us had reached there around 10 pm from Surat and thus didn't want to check into a hotel for the night. Hence, we went to sleep on the station itself. Anand being Anand captured the moments for posterity. The camera was shaking because it was cold.
Me sleeping at Baroda Station

We woke up at 4:30 am, when Marcus arrived from Bombay. One glass of tea each and we were ready for Lothal. "Why Lothal?" Marcus asked. That wasn't the last of questions we asked ourselves.

We went to the train ticket counter and asked.
"Bhai saab, Lothal kaise jaaayen?" (Brother, how do we go to Lothal?)
"Kya chahiye - hotel?" (What do you want - hotel?)
"Hotel nahin, Lothal." (Hotel no, Lothal yes)
"Woh kya hai?" (What is that?)
"Jagah hai, puraane zamaane ka" (It's a place, from ancient times)
"Is time to nahin milega." (You won't find it at this time)
"Nahin, nahin, aap galat samjhe, Lothal jaana hai." (No, no. We want to go to Lothal)
"Woh kahan hai kya, yeh to bataiye?" (Where is that?, at least tell me that)
"Yeh hum jaante to aapke paas kyun aate?" (sarcastic reply)
"Time mat waste kijiye. Aapke peeche aur bhi log hain." (Don't waste my time. There are more people behind you)

So, we went away. Took out the map and tried to figure it out ourselves. Now, if you have noticed the map of Gujarat, it has the Gulf of Khambat nudging into its armpit. The map revealed that we were almost on one side of the Gulf and Lothal on the other. To complicate things further, there was no reassuring line (road) connecting the two. "Sriharikota, we had a problem."

So, we went to the Oracle. The bus conductor, at the bus station. And got a sense of deja vu, when we were asked, "Woh kya hai, hotel?"
We showed him the map.
"Wahan to koi gaadi nahin jaati hai" (Nothing goes there.. for good reason)
"Par humein jaana hai" (But we have to go)
"OK, yeh bus leke Nadiad chale jaiye. Woh is jagah ke paas lag rahi hai. Wahan se dekh lijiye." Sound advice. Draw a straight line on the map. Reach the closest intersection point - Nadiad. Figure out things from there.

Now that I look back, the world was trying to tell us something. But we refused to listen. Gogo mentioned Silvassa (which I chose) under his breath.

Hence, we boarded a rickety bus to Nadiad. We hoped that we will find something to go to Lothal, there. Not a chance.

It was bone-freezing cold when we landed. It was also ghostly and empty. The three other people who had done the one hour journey to Nadiad had mysteriously disappeared. There was no one to ask but the same bus conductor. He found a boy behind the bus station (three walls in the middle of nowhere). The bright boy told us to make our way to Dholka (using the same geometrical principles and the map).

Dholka seemed to be the place to be. For mysteriously, a three wheeler called Vikram appeared. It was going to Dholka. We climbed in. Anand took another photograph. That's me in the corner of the photographs, with the gloves on.
Inside a Vikram

In the excitement and in the freezing cold, we forgot that we were going to Lothal. Reaching Dholka seemed good enough as of now. We wanted to scream. A whistle came out. It was that cold.

Soon, we were in Dholka. With nothing to do. If we thought Nadiad was as unremarkable as a place can get, then Dholka was singularly underwhelming. Nothing again. Mental note of not taking straight lines on the map was made. If we had to reach a point of no return, then this was it. And we had a stray dog for company.

We tried to bribe the Vikram person to drop us at Lothal or anywhere else, for that matter. He obviously had no clue and even less interest. We started walking. It was a long way to Lothal. We soon turned lucky though. Another Vikram was passing by and would drop us close by. For 200 bucks. Anything.

We crossed a couple of small farm-shanties on the way. This obviously was no tourist spot which was surprising since Lothal's probably the only large Indus Valley Settlement in India. At the very least you would expect a dhaba. Maybe it was too early in the day (it was 8), but we couldn't even find a small tea-shop anywhere.

The Vikram passed by a remnant of a brick kiln. This was exciting, as at least it looked like someone in the near past had decided to make some productive use of the land. There was also what looked like a bus stop close by. The Vikram stopped.

"Yahi pe utar jao" (Get down here)
"Kyun?" (Why?) We had not been particulary nasty about the countryside. Even if we were, we were paying him a lot of money and thus, he shouldn't protest.
"Yahi hai Lothal" This is Lothal.

What? No Great Bath. No Granary. No Dancing Girl statue. Not a protected monument site. Nothing. Just a few bricks laid out in a row. This trip was turning out way too minimalist for our taste.I had not felt this anti-climatic since I saw the MonaLisa at the Louvre.

ASI envisaging notwithstanding, Lothal was a small (100 metres square, maybe) patch of land with a few bricks laid out in a row, one pond on one side and an unused well. All of which were new. The bricks said "ASI, 1965" and "ASI, 1980". Plus, there was a bus stop and a large warehouse which was locked. Later on this warehouse turned out to be the museum, but I am getting too far ahead.

Since, there was nothing really to do in this stupid brickyard, we wandered off to the pond a little bit ahead. At least the blue water was nice. Looking at its smallish size, I claimed that it was the Great Bath. I remembered the photo from the same Class 6th book that was responsible for all of this. I was wrong. That tiny sliver of water which was smaller than the swimming pool at school, was the Dock.

Somewhere I had read that the Lothal harbour could be compared to the Vizag port. If that is true, then it is also true that the Headman's house at Lothal can be compared to Westminister Abbey. Both pictures below.
That bath-tub is the Dock.
That is the palace of the headman.

We had nothing to do in this wasteland. So, we headed off to downtown. Lower Town was defined by the blue board. Lower Town could maximum have had five houses. Or the men were two feet tall. The chances of any night-life were thin. So, we moved on. The only excitement came when we posed around the pool and pretended to be a boy-band. That's how bad it was.
Downtown Lothal
Besides posing, we tried to find other things to do. Anand even tried to find the real ruins within those bushes. None of us had any luck. Having said that the day did brighten up a little when a Japanese traveller arrived. It was almost expected. Who else but the most intrepid traveller would find his way here? Bongs, Gujaratis and Japanese*. The traveller tried to take a few pics. Even he gave up soon. For Lothal is a place which deserves to be written off the map of India (actually, it already is) and the history books. There is no sense of history nor is it travel-friendly. I have gone to some really uninteresting places on my travels across India and Europe (on work and on leisure), but Lothal was the worst of the lot.

In the end, how do I close this travelogue? Well, I will let the expression on our faces tell the story.
Men contemplating Lothal.

Read this for an alternate view of the site. It's all false.

*Two of were Bongs, it was Gujarat and the traveller was Japanese.

Cross-posted at 22nd floor.


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