Confined by the strict linearity of time, humans have constantly yearned to transcend its boundaries by reconstructing a picture of the bygone using evidence at our disposal. Lothal Burkhi is an inconspicuous station on the Ahmedabad-Bhavnagar railway line accessible by passenger trains running on an archaic narrow gauge. It takes merely two hours to cover a distance of around 96 km from the bustling city of Ahmedabad in 21st century to the forgotten town of Lothal that flourished in mid-third millennium BCE. Lothal is akin to a once valuable clock, a childhood artifact, gathering dust in the attic stuck in a time reminiscent of happy memories and unfulfilled dreams.
It has been nearly 4,000 years since boats sailed upstream from the Gulf of Khambat on the River Sabarmati and its tributary Bhogavo to Lothal in search for etched carnelian beads, seals and sealings, shell, ivory, copper and bronze objects that were in high demand in Western Asia. The boats took advantage of the high tide to reach this important trading town, unloaded their goods on a wharf adjacent to the dockyard, reloaded the goods earmarked for export and rode the waning tide to the Arabian Sea. The trade route navigated along the Gujarat coast halting at ports like Bet Dwarka before heading further west to Sindh, Baluchistan and Gulf of Oman ultimately entering the Persian Gulf. Today, it is perplexing to imagine this riverine character of Lothal as the ancient river has disappeared though the ruins of dockyard and an adjoining warehouse still exist. Built from kiln-fired bricks, the dock has two openings for passage of incoming and outgoing boats along with a stepped exit through which excess water was drained. The warehouse was raised on a mud-brick podium with a wooden superstructure. Sixty-five burnt clay seals typically associated with sites of the Saraswati-Indus Valley Civilization were found here along with a seal of the Persian Gulf style shedding light on the town’s probable trading partners.
Set against the backdrop of a vast countryside, it is the dockyard and foundation of the warehouse that greet a modern day visitor to Lothal. To North West of the warehouse is the Citadel or Acropolis elevated on a mud-brick platform that consisted of several large-sized houses, a well, and twelve bathing floors with accompanying drains that discharged into a larger drain. The Citadel must have had an impressive aerial view of the town spreading before itself with dockyard to the east, Lower Town to the north and a commercial sector to the north-west. The Lower Town had houses comprising a courtyard surrounded by rooms on three sides and fire altars were discovered in some of these dwellings. In the commercial area, the bead factory seems to have been a prominent enterprise and during excavation, a sizeable cache of beads made of carnelian, shell and steatite were discovered. Beads in different stages of production were strewn in the courtyard and eleven rooms surrounding it. Nearby a bronze drill bit was found that was used for boring the beads along with a fire kiln used for baking raw material and finished products.
Today, the erstwhile crowded markets of Lothal bear a deserted look. Decaying foundations are sole remnants of splendid structures that stood here aptly signifying the futility of human endeavours. The wells are dried up and the fire altars and kilns crave a touch of fire but warmth has long abandoned Lothal. The remains of a human presence in Lothal are graves in the cemetery west of the bead factory of which three had skeletons of two bodies placed side by side, a rare occurrence in the Harappan sites. But what do we know about the humans that inhabited this town? What were their aspirations, their festivals, their joys and fears?
When we come across the ornaments worn by women of Lothal or a terracotta bull and horse that might have been prized possessions of a child, we are overwhelmed by a strange tinge of sadness. When we behold a couple of vases painted with the story of a wise crow who dropped pebbles into a pitcher to drink water or a cunning fox who fooled a couple of birds holding a fish in their beaks to sing, we instantly appreciate the timelessness of these stories. And when we stumble upon terracotta gamesmen resembling the pieces on a chessboard, we realise that even though we shall all perish eventually, some of our memories will survive even the indifferent march of time.
How to reach: Lothal is 78 km from Ahmedabad by road. Buses from Ahmedabad take three hours. The nearest railway station and airport are in Ahmedabad.
Attractions: Structural remains and artefacts from the Chalcolithic era, Indus Valley Civilisation, and