My Gujarat Trip – January 2010

I was supposed to be in Melbourne by now, but due to some visa hassles I am still home. Why I am mentioning this upfront is because one of the major reasons for a quick trip to Gujarat was to meet my maternal aunt and her family, who stay in Ahmedabad. So, I wanted to visit them before going to Australia.

Ahmedabad is around 540 km from Bombay. King Karandev 1, the Solanki Ruler, had waged a war against the Bhil king of Ashapall or Ashaval. After his victory Karandev established the city called ‘Karnavati’. This Hindu kingdom of Karnavati retained its importance till early 15th century when Gujarat fell to the Muslim Sultanate.

In 1411 Sultan Ahmed Shah conquered Karnavati, and after his name Karnavati was renamed to Ahmedabad.

The city was built in open and spacious plane to the East of Sabarmati. It compromised of smaller known Fort as Bhadra Fort. The city fort wall was enclosed containing 12 Gates. The city of Ahmedabad went on expanding in every direction by the addition of new areas on both the sides of the river. And with the well laid out beautiful buildings, lakes and mosques.

In 1753 combined armies of Raghunath Rao and Damaji Gaekwad took the fort, which resulted into end of Mughal Rule in Ahmedabad. In 64 years during the rule of Gaekwad and Peshwa, city became worse. In 1818 British took over the administration of Ahmedabad. During this period Ahmedabad developed, Municipality Committee was founded, Railway link was established. In 1915 Mahatma Gandhi came from South Africa and established Ashram on the banks of Sabarmati.

For me, it was within ‘bikeable’ distance I would say, but I decided, for once, to travel by train. I took the Gujarat Express till Maninagar (a suburb of Ahmedabad). The journey was uneventful and I reached there at about 2:30 pm. Ahmedabad is seen some rapid development on the infrastructure front and I wanted to get a first hand feel of it. Before heading to my Aunt’s place, I wanted to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Asharam, which is roughly on the other side of the city from where I was now (Maninagar). I took a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) bus from Kankariya lake till RTO (this was the complete route). What this means is the bus goes across the city in a dedicated lane, avoiding any traffic that may be plaguing the other general lanes. At the face of it, the scheme looked good to me, as I reached my destination in about 35 minutes. People had contradictory thoughts about it, which I will talk about later.

I took a rickshaw till the Asharam and spent about 1 ½ hour in the lovely place. One gets a unique feeling moving around the areas where once stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, Pt. Nehru, Vinoba Bhave amongst others had roamed. Many of our independence struggles’ movements were also formulated here. The asharam was well maintained. Gandhiji’s own house drew the most crowds and so did his private room. One also an stand and wonder how brilliantly the layout was planned, as there were some gates to the banks of the Sabarmati river, which provided the asharam with continual water supply. There was also a man who was weaving cloth (khadi) on the famous ‘Charkha’ outside Gandhiji’s house. There is a school that is run for underprivileged children with the extended premises of the asharam. I spent some more time moving around and then exited. Before leaving, I bought a few souvenirs for my house, including a lovely enlarged picture of Gandhiji and Pt. Nehru.

I went back to the BRTS stop and took a bus and alighted near IIM Ahmedabad to proceed to my aunt’s place. I decided to walk from the stop to their house (which according to some Usain Bolt was a 10 min walk, but it took me a good 25 mins). I crossed the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court’s bungalow and finally reached my aunt’s residence. It was a warm family experience there and we chatted our way into the night. Out of the blue, we decided to visit the famous Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary.

The next morning, we left for Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary (NSBS). Nal Sarovar is a natural lake, spread across a sprawling area of over 116 sq. km. The place is located about 70km from Ahmedabad and is famous for housing vivid migrating birds. A large number migratory birds from Siberia visit this place every year.

Flocks of flamingos, a great variety of ducks, geese, and pelican are some of the major attractions of the place. This water bird sanctuary is like a fairyland for birds here and looks picturesque during full moon nights. It is believed that in peak migratory season, there are more than 200 species of birds who reside within the precincts of NSBS.

A large number of islets also dot this region. The most prominent among these islets houses ancient idol of goddess Hinglaj and Bhurekha. Villagers from adjoining places come here annually to offer prayer to the goddess. Bird viewing can be enslaving experience here.

One can (rather has to) hire a boat that takes us into the lake to get better views of the birds. Seagulls, Geese and other ‘not so shy birds’ are seen all over. After intense negotiations about the fee, the boatman took us to a far corner of the lake, supposedly where the Pelicans, Siberian cranes, and Flamingoes breed. Because the lake didn’t have much water in it, we could not go really till the island which is full of these rare breeds. I decided to walk a good 500 meters in the lake (1 ½ feet muck and 1 feet water) to reach the island. I took the boatman along with me for support, as it was very difficult to walk in it, especially with a camera and tripod in your hand. I somehow made it to the island. It was worth the trouble, as you can see from the pictures below. I saw Siberian cranes, loads of flamingoes, pelicans and even some other exotic birds that I could not recognize. I spend a good half hour there taking all sorts of pictures and also made some videos (the best of which are available below in my videos section).

I started the long walk to the boat, as my relatives were waiting for me in the boat and it wasn’t the best place to be waiting. I reached back, largely unscathed, barring a few bruises here and there, due to the sharp stems of plants at the bottom of the muck. We returned to the shore. There was some high ranking police officer who was visiting with his family, so there were quite a few policemen around the place. It was quite hot and humid; a killing combination if you are in Gujarat!
We headed back home and feasted on some well deserved food. I tried transferring my pictures to my cousin’s computer but there was some strange problem and we didn’t succeed. Tomorrow morning I was to head to a little known place called Lothal, which is a Harappan archaeological site 80 km south west of Ahmedabad.

Next morning I had breakfast and took a bus for Rajkot, from which I had to alight at Bagodara. The Rajkot highway was all four-lane and I reached Bagodara in an hour and a half. Here I was greeted by this road sign that told me that Lothal was 18 km from this junction. Upon inquiring, I realized that there was no regular public transport till Lothal. I tried unsuccessfully hitching a ride with some passing cars. Finally, I managed to hitch a ride with a truck till a junction which is another 6 km from Lothal. The ride is fun, and I hardly had space to rest my butt on the seat. There were some typical Kutchchi villagers inside the cabin. The driver had green eyes, the first time I’ve seen a Gujarati with green eyes, and he wasn’t even Kutchchi. I got down at the junction from where the road splits for Lothal. There I met these folks in a ‘Chagda’ which is a modified Enfield Taurus, a diesel engine bullet. It is fun to see how they have start it, which I cannot possibly explain through my words. Here is another pic of the ride in the ‘Chagda’ till Lothal.

At last, I reached Lothal and walked past the ruins of this erstwhile Harappan port town. I headed straight into the Archaelogical Survey of India’s museum. Unfortunately for me, a large section was being revamped so a lot of the artifacts weren’t on display. But fortunately, I was able to convince the ASI caretaker to take me through the museum and he did explain everything to me very well. Let me tell you a little bit about Lothal.

One of the southernmost outposts of the Indus civilisation, and certainly one of the most interesting of Harrapan townplanning, Lothal is around 80 kms from Ahmedabad. The unique lockgated dockyard is perhaps the greatest of maritime architecture from the ancient world, and to the Sabarmati river just before its meeting with the sea in Gulf of Cambay.

The citadel is separated with an acropolis, its own paved baths, whereas in the lower town, more humble residential quarters, coppersmith workshops, sheds and bead factories are found. The whole town exhibits system an excellent of sanitary drainage typical of Harappan planning.

A museum is stocked with archaelogical findings that offer an insight into the Indus Valley period. The Indus Valley Civilisation at Lothal Ahmedabad district was a hub centre for the Indus valley civilisation when it moved down from Sindh to the Saurashtra coast to establish trading zones. Rangpur and Lothal, both around 75 kms south from Ahmedabad, were among the first two places where the Indus valley civilisation was discovered in India.

The map in the archaeological survey of India office, shows scores of Indus Valley sites scattered across the whole of Gujarat, most of them occupying positions near deltas, on the banks of rivers or near the sea coast. Around a dozen of them were sited along the Gulf of Cambay, and there is evidence that agate was mined here during the period. While this proves that the Harrapans had maritime tendencies, depended on water sources for their survival and navigated rivers and sea water for trade and communication, none of these ancient cities became a major scientific port like Lothal.

Not only is it one of the southernmost outposts of the sub-continent’s oldest civilisation, but it saw all the phases of the Harrapan culture including the most mature period when the civilisation had all but disappeared from present day Pakistan. Originally, Lothal was the site of the Red Ware culture, named for its pottery, until 2400 BC when the Harrapans arrived here from the Indus Valley in search of more fertile lands and potential ports. Gradually they colonised many areas along the Gulf of Cambay, forming citadels that include the southernmost outpost of the Indus Valley civilisation, which spanned an area larger than those of the Nile Valley civilisation in Egypt and Euphrates-Tigris river civilisation in Sumeria.

Lothal developed as the most important port and a centre of the bead industry until 1900 BC when the great flood resulted in 300 years of decline. However, the civilisation survived here in the 1600s and 1500s, after it disappeared from the northern provinces, and the result is a high maturity in town planning and a fine insight provided by less derelict ruins. The vitality of the civilisation at Lothal can be judged by the three floods that resulted in large scale destruction, but did not dampen the ambitions of the inhabitants. Instead they breached the gaps and rebuilt the important structures on higher platforms. On the contrary, after the 2200 BC floods, the northwest section beyond the bazaar was enlarged further and additions were made to the ruler’s palace and the merchant houses.

A long wharf connected the dockyard to the main warehouse, which was located on a plinth some 3.5 meters above the ground. The first concern of the Harrapan engineers would have been to ensure against floods and tides which had been their undoing in Mohan Jo Daro and Harrappa. The whole town was situated on a patch of high ground, rising up from the flat alluvial plains of Bhal, a wall was erected to encircle the town and a platform was built for the warehouse where goods were checked and stored.
The warehouse was divided into 64 rooms of around 3 1/2 sq meters each, connected by 1.2 meter wide passages, and 12 of these cubical blocks are visible even today. Seals were used to lable the imports and exports from the dock, and some of these lables have been found during digs. Kiln fired bricks, which the Harrapans had learnt from experience were unaffected by tidal waters, were used in making passages to protect the cargo. Beside the warehouse, and also on a high plinth, is the upper town or acropolis, spanning 128×61 meters. The ruler’s home is no longer a grand palace, but the foundations show signs of it having been a 2 or 3 storied mansion. The rooms of the upper town were obviously built for ruling classes, as they had private paved baths, and a remarkable network of drains and cess pools. The proximity of the seat of power to the warehouse ensured that the ruler and his entourage could inspect stocks easily. An ivory workshop at the acropolis suggests that elephants may have been domesticated for the purpose.

I toured the ruins of Lothal and took many pictures and was left to wonder how our predecessors, nearly 4000 years back made arrangements for sanitation, but we today in 2010 don’t have sanitation for nearly 85% of our population. We’ve forgotten our roots and so have lost our greatness. I met an elderly couple from Thane there and had a nice interaction with them. They were obviously quite surprised that a young guy had come alone from Bombay just to see Lothal (which along with Nal Sarovar was largely my objective as far as sightseeing goes). Luckily for me, they had rented a car and I got a ride with them till Ahmedabad, nearly till my aunt’s place. The air-conditioned car was a welcome stroke of luck! I reached home by evening and narrated the whole experience to my relatives, who were curious to know about what this place called ‘Lothal’ was! I was to leave for Bombay tomorrow morning. My ticket wasn’t confirmed yet….but I was hopeful

Next morning, I was at the station 30 mins before time, only to realize that the chart was prepared and my ticked was Wait List 1! What luck! Now, the interesting thing is that for an e-ticket, a wait list ticked isn’t a valid ticket at all because the money is automatically refunded to your account one the chart is prepared and your name isn’t on it. This is NOT the case with a normal ticket, which we buy over the booking counter.

The TT explained the deal to me and I was stuck. I decided to give the general compartment a try, but looking at the condition, I gave up. I didn’t have enough money to regularize my AC Chair Car ticket. The TT in all his brilliance suggested that I alight at Nadiad (the next stop) run to the ATM outside the platform and come back with the money. All within 3 minutes…and guess what I did it. This is something one should never attempt, as I actually came back running and boarded a moving train. But it was worth it, I could pay the money and got a nice seat. The last thing I’ll mention is that there was a big fracas over some luggage related quarrel that was happening. It was a group of 6 educated feminists (women obviously) vs. the whole uneducated male chauvinist compartment. People were enjoying the fight and the women were absolutely exhausted. I decided to mediate, sorted the things out, arranged 6 bags for them somehow, and calmed the tempers. When I came back, people were thanking me for intervening, but I failed to understand why no one else wanted to!? Towards the end of the journey, one of the ladies’ child came to me with a Thank you note and a box of chocolates 🙂

I reached Borivali, an hour late and got home…happy and fulfilled with the last 4 days. Looking forward to visiting Gujarat again to cover Patan, Rani ki Mav, Gir, and Dwarka.

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