I used to sit on the 21st floor. Now I am retired

Friday, April 07, 2006


Wikipedia's entry of the day made me do this. Anand, Gogo, Marcus forgive me if I reveal more than I should.

On a cold day in December, we decided to go Lothal. No, actually, the decision was made here in Mumbai on December 21st, when it was warm, but I would not belabour the point.

(Many people have asked us why we decided to go to Lothal. The answer is simple. Because it was there in our minds and in Lonely Planet. We were planning a road-trip across Gujarat starting from Mumbai (Tamara, if you are reading this, I promise to write about it for you soon). Everybody had a dream place they could suggest on the way from Mumbai to Diu. Bad idea. For here's what three of us chose: Silvassa, Lothal and Ahmedabad. Thankfully, Anand chose Alang, which he writes about here.)

Marcus chose Ahmedabad for our trip because he would get a bus back from there to Mumbai. We chose Silvassa and Lothal because we had read about them in school, in class 6th Geography (India and its states) and History (Ancient India).

Silvassa with its dam and lion park is another story. So are Bassein, Surat, Baroda, Bhavnagar, Alang, Diu, Somnath, Rajkot, Wankaner and Ahmedabad. This is about Lothal. Which Gogo chose.

The image that you see right on top is, what Wikipedia calls, 'Ancient Lothal as envisaged by the Archaeological Survey of India'. Good sense, Wiki has. For this is nothing like what is there at the moment. But let me not rush into the story.

The story begins at a railway station in Baroda. 3 of us had reached there around 10 pm from Surat and thus didn't want to check into a hotel for the night. Hence, we went to sleep on the station itself. Anand being Anand captured the moments for posterity. The camera was shaking because it was cold.
Me sleeping at Baroda Station

We woke up at 4:30 am, when Marcus arrived from Bombay. One glass of tea each and we were ready for Lothal. "Why Lothal?" Marcus asked. That wasn't the last of questions we asked ourselves.

We went to the train ticket counter and asked.
"Bhai saab, Lothal kaise jaaayen?" (Brother, how do we go to Lothal?)
"Kya chahiye - hotel?" (What do you want - hotel?)
"Hotel nahin, Lothal." (Hotel no, Lothal yes)
"Woh kya hai?" (What is that?)
"Jagah hai, puraane zamaane ka" (It's a place, from ancient times)
"Is time to nahin milega." (You won't find it at this time)
"Nahin, nahin, aap galat samjhe, Lothal jaana hai." (No, no. We want to go to Lothal)
"Woh kahan hai kya, yeh to bataiye?" (Where is that?, at least tell me that)
"Yeh hum jaante to aapke paas kyun aate?" (sarcastic reply)
"Time mat waste kijiye. Aapke peeche aur bhi log hain." (Don't waste my time. There are more people behind you)

So, we went away. Took out the map and tried to figure it out ourselves. Now, if you have noticed the map of Gujarat, it has the Gulf of Khambat nudging into its armpit. The map revealed that we were almost on one side of the Gulf and Lothal on the other. To complicate things further, there was no reassuring line (road) connecting the two. "Sriharikota, we had a problem."

So, we went to the Oracle. The bus conductor, at the bus station. And got a sense of deja vu, when we were asked, "Woh kya hai, hotel?"
We showed him the map.
"Wahan to koi gaadi nahin jaati hai" (Nothing goes there.. for good reason)
"Par humein jaana hai" (But we have to go)
"OK, yeh bus leke Nadiad chale jaiye. Woh is jagah ke paas lag rahi hai. Wahan se dekh lijiye." Sound advice. Draw a straight line on the map. Reach the closest intersection point - Nadiad. Figure out things from there.

Now that I look back, the world was trying to tell us something. But we refused to listen. Gogo mentioned Silvassa (which I chose) under his breath.

Hence, we boarded a rickety bus to Nadiad. We hoped that we will find something to go to Lothal, there. Not a chance.

It was bone-freezing cold when we landed. It was also ghostly and empty. The three other people who had done the one hour journey to Nadiad had mysteriously disappeared. There was no one to ask but the same bus conductor. He found a boy behind the bus station (three walls in the middle of nowhere). The bright boy told us to make our way to Dholka (using the same geometrical principles and the map).

Dholka seemed to be the place to be. For mysteriously, a three wheeler called Vikram appeared. It was going to Dholka. We climbed in. Anand took another photograph. That's me in the corner of the photographs, with the gloves on.
Inside a Vikram

In the excitement and in the freezing cold, we forgot that we were going to Lothal. Reaching Dholka seemed good enough as of now. We wanted to scream. A whistle came out. It was that cold.

Soon, we were in Dholka. With nothing to do. If we thought Nadiad was as unremarkable as a place can get, then Dholka was singularly underwhelming. Nothing again. Mental note of not taking straight lines on the map was made. If we had to reach a point of no return, then this was it. And we had a stray dog for company.

We tried to bribe the Vikram person to drop us at Lothal or anywhere else, for that matter. He obviously had no clue and even less interest. We started walking. It was a long way to Lothal. We soon turned lucky though. Another Vikram was passing by and would drop us close by. For 200 bucks. Anything.

We crossed a couple of small farm-shanties on the way. This obviously was no tourist spot which was surprising since Lothal's probably the only large Indus Valley Settlement in India. At the very least you would expect a dhaba. Maybe it was too early in the day (it was 8), but we couldn't even find a small tea-shop anywhere.

The Vikram passed by a remnant of a brick kiln. This was exciting, as at least it looked like someone in the near past had decided to make some productive use of the land. There was also what looked like a bus stop close by. The Vikram stopped.

"Yahi pe utar jao" (Get down here)
"Kyun?" (Why?) We had not been particulary nasty about the countryside. Even if we were, we were paying him a lot of money and thus, he shouldn't protest.
"Yahi hai Lothal" This is Lothal.

What? No Great Bath. No Granary. No Dancing Girl statue. Not a protected monument site. Nothing. Just a few bricks laid out in a row. This trip was turning out way too minimalist for our taste.I had not felt this anti-climatic since I saw the MonaLisa at the Louvre.

ASI envisaging notwithstanding, Lothal was a small (100 metres square, maybe) patch of land with a few bricks laid out in a row, one pond on one side and an unused well. All of which were new. The bricks said "ASI, 1965" and "ASI, 1980". Plus, there was a bus stop and a large warehouse which was locked. Later on this warehouse turned out to be the museum, but I am getting too far ahead.

Since, there was nothing really to do in this stupid brickyard, we wandered off to the pond a little bit ahead. At least the blue water was nice. Looking at its smallish size, I claimed that it was the Great Bath. I remembered the photo from the same Class 6th book that was responsible for all of this. I was wrong. That tiny sliver of water which was smaller than the swimming pool at school, was the Dock.

Somewhere I had read that the Lothal harbour could be compared to the Vizag port. If that is true, then it is also true that the Headman's house at Lothal can be compared to Westminister Abbey. Both pictures below.
That bath-tub is the Dock.
That is the palace of the headman.

We had nothing to do in this wasteland. So, we headed off to downtown. Lower Town was defined by the blue board. Lower Town could maximum have had five houses. Or the men were two feet tall. The chances of any night-life were thin. So, we moved on. The only excitement came when we posed around the pool and pretended to be a boy-band. That's how bad it was.
Downtown Lothal
Besides posing, we tried to find other things to do. Anand even tried to find the real ruins within those bushes. None of us had any luck. Having said that the day did brighten up a little when a Japanese traveller arrived. It was almost expected. Who else but the most intrepid traveller would find his way here? Bongs, Gujaratis and Japanese*. The traveller tried to take a few pics. Even he gave up soon. For Lothal is a place which deserves to be written off the map of India (actually, it already is) and the history books. There is no sense of history nor is it travel-friendly. I have gone to some really uninteresting places on my travels across India and Europe (on work and on leisure), but Lothal was the worst of the lot.

In the end, how do I close this travelogue? Well, I will let the expression on our faces tell the story.
Men contemplating Lothal.

Read this for an alternate view of the site. It's all false.

*Two of were Bongs, it was Gujarat and the traveller was Japanese.

Cross-posted at Traveblogs.


Blogger Mirchii said...

Haha! You guys look like Dil Chahta Hai ka jhund! Good stuff!

Friday, April 07, 2006 11:38:00 PM

Blogger Anand said...

this is hilarious, well crafted, if inaccurate at points
(but then i don't remember much of the journey for some strange reason, so it's probably my memory that fails me!)

why are all your links to my blog to to the photo of the clocks in alang?

and, blogging about lothal and bongs and the cricket in goa (also hilarious) - saaley, kam kana chchod diya hai kya?

Saturday, April 08, 2006 7:22:00 AM

Blogger dhoomketu said...

Mirchii, we have heard that before. If you think the photos are hilarious, wait till you see the videos

Anand, inaccurate?? I have an hypothesis on why memory fails, but I will not publish that on the web. As far as work is concerned, Goa post happened over 2 days. Lothal today (Saturday) and the Bong post over a month. Please, my employers also read this. Don't give them ideas.

Saturday, April 08, 2006 9:21:00 AM

Blogger Red said...

Haha, splitting the sides, diet coke snorting out of my nose and all that. I just forwarded this to my cousin who is doing her PH.D on Ancient Indian history. Good stuff.

Sunday, April 09, 2006 12:37:00 AM

Blogger dhoomketu said...

Red, please ask her to change the Class 6th history book, if she can. Thanks, by the way.

Sunday, April 09, 2006 1:04:00 AM

Anonymous Siddharth said...

I have been to lothal, and though it's definitely nothing too big, being among stuff that people were among thousands of years ago definitely is a great feeling...

Friday, April 28, 2006 8:28:00 AM

Blogger dhoomketu said...

Siddharth, I will have to disagree. I unfortunately only discovered new bricks and sign-boards. Plus, the museum was shabby and childish.

Friday, April 28, 2006 9:02:00 AM

Blogger anisha said...

well!!!!... me an a couple of friends planning a trip to junagadh-gir-diu bhavnagar(maybe) n LOTHAl......... while researching on it, i came across your write up/blog :).........hmmmm after reading your blog!!! i'm reallly wondering if we should even bother.. esp since there anyways seems to be acco problem. But your writeup is funnny :)thanks for sharing n warning the rest of the world...

Saturday, November 24, 2007 5:05:00 AM

Anonymous kunal singh said...

hi dhoomketu,

I respect your feelings of frustration and I fully agree with you that it is really difficult to locate Lothal. However, I have a different thoughts on the importance of this place on tourist map of India. This is the oldest excavated site in India and it has a great importance for the people who have keen interest in History and Ancient cultures. If you wanted to see tall buildings and curvy statues you should have probably gone to a different place other than Lothal. But for some enthusiasts Lothal could be a great destination.
Another suggestion (which I should not give unasked) - When you visit a historical place, it is better to read something about the history of that place beforehand. If you would have done a little homework, you would not have expected any great bath or statues at Lothal. Did you happen to see the ASI museum? There are many interesting objects there (though you are not allowed to take a photograph for them). There are potteries and jeweleries which are 4500 year old. I found it really remarkable. Also, coming back to the well, and bricks - those are not new, but 4500 years old. ASI has put some new bricks (while doing the preserving), but that is only at few corners. Amazing thing is that the new bricks are eroding away, whereas the old bricks are still intact.
Another wrong thing which happened with you is that you did not find any one to explain to you about the excavated site. Some guide is always needed at such sites.
... Lothal is being ignored by India Govt. I feel that they should project it on tourism map more aggressively. But again, it seems as if most people are more attracted towards buildings and statues - than other things.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008 6:43:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi dhoomketu, u have written loads on your frustrating experience but its very simple- u also need to know where u r going and how to get there. tourism offices are always there. lonely planet clearly mentions the nearest town or city and one of them is ahmedabad. yaar its like meeting a lcient without doing homework or moving in life without a direction isnt't it? every foreigner who visit india / any other country or any indian going out of india do carry a copy of lonely planet. not all prefer it without any reason its quite a comprehensive book.!!!!
Your true admirer!!!

Thursday, March 27, 2008 12:17:00 PM


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