Lothal Harappan and Bhavnagar

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November 13th 2018
Published: November 13th 2018
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We’re heading south now towards Diu, a coastal resort. It’s too far to drive in a day so we’ll stay one night in Bhavnagar, 4 ½ hours away, with a stop at Lothal Harappan.

Lothal was a major port, trading and bead making centre under the Harappan or Indus Valley civilisation from around 2400BC to 1500BC, so before the arrival of the Aryans in India. The Harappans were trading along the Silk Road long before the concept existed, buying copper from Oman and Afghanistan and selling beads and other goods as far west as Turkey and Egypt. They used standardised weights and measures, and installed mains drainage and sewage thousands of years before the Romans. The towns were built on a grid pattern with all dimensions of roads etc standardised.

The town of Lothal is thought to have fallen out of use after the course of the river diverted leaving them with no access to the ocean. Indeed the whole Harappan civilisation throughout the Indus valley seems to have disappeared completely around this time for reasons that are unclear.

There is not a lot left to see, but the museum gives you a good impression of what the site looked like. The dock is impressive even now, and took over 1 million bricks to build. There are the remains of warehouses and homes, and the small museum houses artefacts and examples of the beads they made (some just 1mm in size). Despite a prompt departure from Vadodara we end up walking round the site in the midday sun, when it is well over 40C.

The drive to Lothal affords us the opportunity to watch life go by. There is a steady flow of pilgrims along the road, recognisable from red scarves tied round the waist, or a sash or round the head. Some of the men – and the walkers are mostly men – carry red or green flags. We think they are heading for Palitana, an important Hindu temple on the top of a hill some 200km away. That must represent a fortnight’s walking for people shod almost entirely in flip flops, many of whom are already hobbling. Still, it must make the final three hour ascent of the hill seem like nothing. We by contrast decided to skip the 3 hour slog up the hill (and then the 2 hour descent) which has to be done barefoot. I wonder why....?

The road is lined with small ‘hotels’ most of which are actually just restaurants. We are unreasonably amused by the Hotel Honest and the Hotel Decent, which is rapidly surpassed by the Hotel Supreme followed by a string of Hotel Apexes. We wonder where the pilgrims spend the night. Most of them have no luggage at all, not even a rucksack, and most probably can’t afford a hotel each night. There are though what appear to be wayside stops set up, with awnings suspended from poles and people lying and lounging underneath them. They could be for resting pilgrims. Sometimes non walking pilgrims have a variety of motorised transport. The record for the day that we see is a closed Land Rover stuffed with people and eight more perched and swaying on the roof rack! Some boys are making life particularly demanding for their pilgrimage as they push a hand cart gaily decorated with a big sound system on it. All in 40C sunshine!

Road discipline has also deteriorated as we have ventured further into the countryside. People don’t seem to know what the central white line means. It is not there for people to drive down but many don’t appear to know that. There are a variety of horribly smashed vehicles and one overturned fuel tanker to prove the point. We've felt nervous for lorry drivers ever since we saw a Guy Martin documentary when he showed them building the lorry cabs with a light aluminium framework and plywood front and sides. Not much protection in a head on collision. And there are lots of dead dogs to swerve round too or your car makes a horrible squelching sound. Looks like the local dogs don’t know the rules of the road either.

We’re near the coast and the countryside is flat and pretty unvarying. For the first half of the journey, there are fields growing mostly rice, and fruit and things look fairly prosperous. However, poverty is never far away. From town to town are camps set up by itinerant families, blue plastic sheeting slung from a pole with seemingly a whole family and its possessions beneath it. The areas are usually littered with filth and rubbish. There are no sanitary facilities so people just wee and poo in the open nearby. Sometimes on the road we pass gypsy families. You can tell them apart as they have flat bed carts loaded with their possessions and sometimes their goats, pulled by camels. They are all dark skinned and look wretchedly filthy. Drivers on previous trips have told us the local people hate them. Plus ca change.

All along the roadside are stalls selling a fruit a bit bigger than a kiwi, with a brown exterior and bright red flesh. We ask what they are and Mr Singh jumps out to buy some for us to sample. He carefully washes them in bottled water and quarters them. The vendor wanders over to observe us eating his produce. Ours have a more orange coloured filling but are very tasty. He told us what they are called but we cannot now identify them.

Beyond Lothal, the scenery changes. We enter the Blackbuck National Park, in which there is no sign of any black bucks, but instead man made salt pans with a dozen or so salt processing plants. The land is bleak and bleached with nothing growing apart from some scrub grass. We’re close to the ocean, and speculate on how the sea water gets into the enclosures in order then to be evaporated to deposit the salt.

We arrive in Bhavnagar where we are spending the night in the grandly named “Fern Bhavnagar Iscon Resort”. Bhavnagar appears to be a dump, but on the outskirts near a large industrial plant we alight upon a filthy lake populated by thousands of flamingos. We jump out to take some photos. The whole area smells appallingly of shit, both animal and apparently human, and a whiff of something from the industrial plant. The birds are obviously resting on their migration, no one would choose to live in this spot.

There is a nervous moment at check in when they cannot find our reservation, but mercifully this is resolved. Just as well, since the hotel is setting up for a big wedding and has no spare rooms. If that is the good news, the bad news is that it’s going to be a long noisy night. The wedding technically starts at 8.00pm, but needless to say by 9.00pm people are still only slowly starting to drift in. It will go on until some unspecified hour next morning. The hotel have put us in a room as far away as possible, but hadn’t bargained on the guests along our corridor who all have their doors propped open since early afternoon so families can wander in and out of each other's rooms and the kids can run screaming along the corridor. Also by now, 9.00pm, the women are all in specific rooms with the doors open and getting dolled up together. It's just like girls the world over getting ready for a party and taking three hours over what takes boys three minutes.....

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15th November 2018

Bhavnagar sounds like one to miss!
The journey seems fascinating but, for you to mention the smell in Bhavnagar, it must have been worse than you've experienced elsewhere on your journeys around India. Oh, I've been trying to think of the name of that fruit you bought. Was it a chikoo (sapodilla) perhaps - sweet, pear-like taste, two or three black seeds in the middle? Or, less likely, a bael - lots of seeds, sticky flesh, marmalade-like aftertaste?
16th November 2018

Yes, a chikoo was my best bet after looking on the internet, though I'm still not 100% sure. The smell by the flamingos in Bhavnagar was genuinely the worst we've ever encountered. The ground had been turned over by a digger and I think - linking back to the most recent post - that it was an area that had been used heavily for open defecation in the past. Ugh!!

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