"People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them." ~ James Baldwin


Lothal: Archaeological Splendour

Tanima Roy Chowdhury visits Lothal to cater to her father's avid interest in history and finds herself enamoured by the place.

It was the end of February but the winter had already done a disappearing act in Ahmedabad. It was getting hotter and hotter by the day. My parents were visiting Ahmedabad for the first time and keeping my father's avid interest of history in mind we decided to visit Lothal on the first available Sunday.

So as Sunday dawned bright and sunny, my husband, Sanjay, my parents and I set of to Lothal, a find of tremendous archaeological significance.

Now to tell you a bit more about Lothal. It is a site discovered and excavated between 1955-1962 providing the best Harappan - culture site yet found in India, although not on the same scale as Mohenjodaro found in the Indus belt of Sind in Pakistan.

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Lothal has proved to be a full fledged settlement of the Harappan era dating back to the 2nd millenium BC. We reached Lothal in about an hour and a half, as it is only 87 Km from Ahmedabad. As we neared the site any mound or hillock would make us sit up in excitement that was almost tangible. None of us were really sure what to expect.

We had all read about Mohenjodaro and Harappa in our History classes in school: we all knew about the seals, the pottery, the figure of the dancing girl etc. As far as I can remember I have written answers on related questions in all my final exams upto Xth Std. And here I was about to see one of these sites. It was like a dream come true.

The excavation site consists of the site itself and a museum (which has on display all the archaeological finds). The museum is open only between 10am to 5pm Saturday to Thursdays. Sadly the excavations have stopped long ago so there was no archaeologist around from whom we could glean more information. The only people present were a couple of watchmen and a few locals who were very eager to act as guides. If only to add a that extra bit to their monthly income.

For those with an interest in history and past living, it is a vast playground to let your imagination run wild and to weave a web of reality into these flat and depopulated "ruins".


A map at the museum shows literally dozens of Harappan and late Harappan sites throughout Western Gujarat. But while examining the site at Lothal one should remember that the harbour may today lie about 20 km from the navigable Sabarmati. However, this same harbour, prosperous for many centuries, was where, as recently as 1850, boats could ply to. In fact it's proximity to the sea, the river and hazards of flooding had prompted the Harappan builders of Lothal to create a boundary wall outside the town and to build dwellings on a high platform of sun dried bricks, although precious little of this is intact at the excavation site. Whatever remains allows the imagination to run wild.

Lothal has proved to be a full fledged settlement of the Harappan era dating back to the 2nd millenium BC.

The excavation site has uncovered a planned city with an intricate underground drainage system, wells and houses with arrangements for baths. The town had well-planned, paved streets. The town was divided into two parts and visible is the lower town, which comprised a bazaar and residential areas for the common folk, a ware house on a plinth 3 1/2 meters high, and a dock to the east of the town.

Lothal is of even greater significance as an ancient port. A brick built inland dockyard with a spill channel and an approx. 7 meter wide inlet channel was connected to the river Bhogavo which eventually leads to the Arabian Ocean. The inland dockyard has been excavated and restored by the Archaeological Survey of India and is in an astonishingly intact condition. Little else is intact and the site is scattered with foundations, platforms, fragmented walls, wells and a paved floor. The ovoid town centre has been peripherally covered with earth by the ASI to protect outlying areas from being washed away by floods. But Greater Lothal during it's hey-day, extended over a wider area, a fact attested by dwellings uncovered 300 meters south of the mound.


The most important industry, bead-making, can be studied in the museum. Lothal also specialized in steatite micro beads which have been found in abundance in the site in the form of necklaces, amulets and even waistbands. Among the other finds on display at the museum are finger rings, bangles, other shell and terracotta ornaments. Seals played an important documentary part in the Harappan economy and more than 200 have survived in Lothal, many of which are masterpieces of glyptic craftsmanship, holding pride of place in the museum. The most oft portrayed animals are the mythical unicorn, elephant, mountain goat, tiger and the mythical elephant bull. The Harappans of Lothal worshipped the fire-god and the sea-god, but no trace of mother-goddess worship has been found here.

Among the other discoveries are wonderful, large painted jars which stand up well in comparison with contemporary ceramics elsewhere. These are strong, consistently fired and realistically painted with depictions of local animals and birds. Lothal's unique contributions to the Harappan culture are a small jar with a flared rim and a kind of a convex bowl, both in the micaceous red ware now easily recognizable. Other finds have been terracotta works such as human figurines, or toy bullock carts, spinning tops and marbles which evoke the memory of a childhood not far removed from our own.

All in all, the magnitude and beauty of the experience is inexpressible. The physical environment at Lothal may be a disappointment to those who are expecting something more dramatic. But for those with an interest in history and past living, it is a vast playground to let your imagination run wild and to weave a web of reality into these flat and depopulated "ruins". At the end, all I can say is that Lothal has added a new chapter to the history of India by extending the geographical limits of the Harappan Civilization as far south as the Gulf of Khambhat. It is a site to see and experience for all history lovers who might not get a chance to visit the actual sites of the towns of Mohenjodaro and Harappa in Pakistan.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.