Travels Through Time
I love walking on ancient ground, touching the earth that others have trodden throughout the millennia and breathing air that may have been recycled by another traveler in another time. In fact, I once read that the air we breathe probably contains molecules breathed by dinosaurs! Good fuel for the imagination and great karma for the soul. Earlier this year, as part of the Timeless Traditions tour, we had the privilege of walking on Indus Valley ground in Gujarat. The Indus Valley Civilisation, sometimes called the Harrapan Civilisation, spanned the years between 3000 and 1900 BC and its territory extended from what is now north-eastern Afghanisthan to Pakistan and north-western India where there are two important sites – Dholavira in eastern Kutch and Lothal some 80 kilometres from Ahmedabad.
We were on a mission to visit the once flourishing port city of Lothal and set off early one morning for our own slice of time travel. We did not have the Tardus to transport us through the eras but we did have Nirav as our trusty Dr Who. He escorted us adeptly back to the third millenium BC and set us down gently in Lothal. At first glance there was little to see but brittle grass, dusty ground and low brick walls yet we were to discover that we were indeed on ancient turf! The buildings might have crumbled and the people long since vanished but excavations over time have yielded fascinating fragments from the earliest known urban culture of the subcontinent.
It’s a pleasant three hour drive from Ahmedabad to Lothal, one that took us through gentle country side past farmers working the fields, small villages that offered even smaller vistas of daily life and waterways alive with fowl. Cormorants dove and disappeared under still surfaces, painted storks stood in silent regard and smaller species flitted, splashed and scanned the waters with beady eyes in search of food. Along the way we took a break for tea and pee and experienced that lovely shift of behaviour that happens in rural India. As we alighted from the bus, all conversation in the tea room stopped and several pairs of dark eyes swung in our direction. They stared, not unkindly, at this group of nine westerners tightly clutching their stainless steel chai cups-in-a-bag – my effort to keep the planet clean and my travelers in good health. Half an hour later we departed full of hot sweet spicy chai and even sweeter biscuits amidst farewells and happy smiles from the owner and his cheerful wife who issued invitations to come again – soon.
By the time we reached Lothal the temperature had soared to almost 40 degrees and we were pleased to get into the somewhat cooler museum next to the excavated areas. A modest building from the outside actually houses one of the most prominent collections of Indus-era antiquities in India and offers insights into an ancient and sophisticated culture. Sadly we were not permitted to photograph the exhibits and the museum had run out of the brochure that explains them. While I am likely to forget much of what I saw that day, I will always remember the games, the jewellery and especially the iconic Indus unicorn used on seals and other significant items.
Later we followed the footprint of the township under Nirav’s excellent guidance. Today, all that remains of this once busy and prosperous city are the foundations that delineate its building sites, a few remnants of walls and a kiln. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were many craftsmen living in Lothal and is supported by the shops and work-places that are marked by the remains of their crafts. For example, there is in an area where hundreds of carnelian beads in different stages of manufacture (including finished ones) and a circular kiln (for the heating of raw material) were found, indicating that this was a bead factory.
We walked Lothal’s length and breadth in the mounting heat, picking up shards as we went and I thought I could feel antiquity tingling in my palms. Surprisingly we were allowed to keep our bits although we were careful to take only one. We finished our visit at master bead maker Anwar Hussein’s jewellery stand outside the museum. Very timely! He produces his carnelian beads in his Khambhat (Cambay) workshop in exactly the same manner as during the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Carnelian beads remain highly prized items and are still traded in Africa as they were in the past. Needless to say many of Anwar’s pieces soon disappeared into our eager hands and we placed orders for more! Then we entered the present moment and headed off to Khambhat with Anwar firmly on board. We were bound to unearth the lure of carnelian!