Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dhola Vira - excerpts from my travelogue

An amazing day! Left the hotel at 6.30 a.m., managing to get a slice of bread and butter and a cup of tea at the tent. Had to make sure the cat and hopeful looking dog (and mouse) that were our tent companions did not get to the food before us. Reached the bus to find about 25 other hungry fellow creatures. The bus apparently did not stop for breakfast and so United Young Archeologists of India took over (whatever would we do without them?) Ensuring there was never a silent moment, they (under the aegis of Big Boss and Tomato Shirt- pardon the description but it's the best I could come up with) continually demanded (and occasionally got) aloo parantha (pan fried bread stuffed with potatoes) and tea and the rest of us seemed to have no option but to down it. A novel diet for our European historian friends (and for us as well). Our destination - Dhola Vira.

Dhola Vira is a small village in a corner of the Great Rann of Kachchh - far from everything else. It is one of the largest Indian excavations of cities belonging to the Indus Valley civilization and dates to about 2650 to 1450 B.C. It looked large - enormous in fact from the tiny window of our bus. The loud noise within the bus grew louder. Mme Archeologiste wanted everyone to leap out and start running about amidst the ruins (keep in mind that it was close to 40 degrees under the desert afternoon sun and the approximate passenger age was well above 60). Tomato shirt was yelling because the bus driver refused to stop for tea in the crowded bus station. Big Boss was wondering how we would manage without him tomorrow and was giving instructions to no one in particular. I was busy having a small migraine.

Anyway. We decided to go to the Archeology guest house first amidst much squabbling. Rooms were allotted amidst more squabbling. Dhola Vira is in the middle of nowhere and there is no other place to stay than the atmospheric circular-shaped single room cottages constructed by the Department of Archaeology a few kms from the site.

Eventually we all trooped out to the site and met our guide - Dr. Rawat, who had spent some years as a part of the excavation team. A wonderful, pragmatic individual who led us through the very well kept museum and showed us impressive artefacts of clay, metal and stone that had been unearthed from the site. We saw perfectly sculpted large clay jars, polished beads, beautiful clay models (toys?), gold and silver ornaments and exquisite seals. (UYAI ditched the museum, vanished into the field and I didn't miss them though they missed a good introduction and an interesting film on the excavations).

Dhola Vira is huge - about 100 hectares- and very impressive. The entire site comprises of a well planned fort-like area containing a fortified outer, lower town leading up to a second, further fortified middle town. There are large gates on each of the four sides. Further additions were made to the town at a later stage which are now called the Castle and the Bailey. The ruins reveal a beautifully planned city with extensive and very advanced water management systems - ways in which water could be drained from a rivulet that flowed close by and ways in which rain water could be stored without wasting a single drop. Stone reservoirs about 7 metres deep and 79 metres long were constructed of stone that was quarried and brought from distant hills. We saw a water tank with steps leading all the way down and also a well with an arrangement to channelize water to another storage tank. Channels and drains constructed of stone (many were covered by rectangular stone slabs) were used to supply water to the city and also perhaps to drain out sewage.

There was a kind of stadium - a huge perfectly flat arena with seats around it and also a large area which probably served as a burial ground. One of the gateways (the northern gate) also had a huge 'sign'- a large piece of wood in which were set ten large letters in gypsum. The script is not deciphered, the language unknown.

Dr. Rawat's eyes lit up as he described these structures and one could see that it had all been reconstructed perfectly in his mind and that he was not seeing the brick and stone remnants of today but the glorious city of thousands of years before - that rose to an amazing level of sophistication and then died out (perhaps due to many years of successive drought). He showed us signs of a gradually dying city that lay within those walls - the drying out of a tank where eventually children ended up playing, the desertion of the outer city and the re-use of stone from there for other purposes in people's houses and more - he wove a fascinating tale with a sad end.

Where did the people go? We don't know for sure. But they left a spectacular ghost-memory behind.

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