An NRG’s story on rediscovering New Gujarat:Kutch travel(part one)

By Shaiaan Dethalia

Ahmedabad, 22 January 2011

When you are away from Gujarat, only way to keep in touch is with families back home, media news and direct communication. You rarely get correct picture. Thanks to sustained campaign by government not to mention direct communication from CM, Kutch was on our mind as we were planning winter vacations. Still a last push was required. I have to be candid here that brand Gujarat got huge boost when they roped in Megastar Amitabh Bacchan who has unmatched impact on the psyche of Indians. We were not exception and decided to follow his footsteps at Kutch. However we were still very apprehensive. The Hype was tall as mountain, would ground reality match the substance was the question on our mind.

With quick facilitation from NRG division and even more impressive support from TGCL especially by Mr. Farooq Pathan and his team, we were all ready to embark upon the journey to rediscover New Gujarat.

We landed 5th night at Bhuj excited to participate in RanoUtsav (the desert festival). While interacting with officers there, we realized we can make a trip to Dholaveera on first day and join the group on next day. This added to our excitement as this was a long cherished dream. With family of four which included two kids of 11 and 5 years old it was a challenging task, but comfortable journey on reliable roads from Ahmedabad to Bhuj boosted our confidence. When Gujarat’s administration invites industry, they mention of robust infrastructure, it was for us to see all the way upto desert. One thing that accompanied even in the middle of nowhere place was high tension lines for eternity assuring electricity in the most remote place.

Welcome to Kutch : Treading the unknown Path on way to Dholavira:

So here we were setting out for Dholavira at 8:30 in the morning from Bhuj. The route was roughly known; we had to go to Bhachau then look for Rapar, and then head towards Khadir Island. The urge to visit was so acute that we ignored all warnings of not so pleasant journey. Upto Bhacahu, we came across few large factories of Euro Ceramics, Panasonic and AMW motors and few lush green orchards. We wondered, If there are so many agro activities prevalent, why Kutch is known as desert area. Later we learned that meaning of Kutch is “Wet and Dry” in Sanskrit. We were to see some more evidence of the same as we move forward. But for a while let me take you back to the road connecting Bhachau to Rapar. This was the most difficult part of the journey. A single lane; dusty road, which led us to labyrinth of Kutch villages wadding our way out, seeking directions as we see any villager. Thanks to Toyota for making something like Innova. Had it been not for that car, the journey would have much tougher.

Unexpected Kutchi hospitality

Suddenly we realised we forgot to buy medicine for my daughter at Bhuj and were just hoping it does not get aggravated on the way. And out of blue, we found we are passing by one large and clean dispensary. Curiosity drew us out and hoping to take break, we got down. To our surprise we found the clinic was running on charity, they did not charge us for the cough medicine and

comforted us for further journey. And I don’t think so this people had anything to do with Gujarat Tourism or Narendra Modi’s plans. This was pure and brute Kutch hospitality for us. Our driver meanwhile found some Kuch Burger (Dabeli) and as we embarked upon the journey offered us too. If I borrow Terrence’s words it was indeed Chummeshwari. Our spirits were lifted and we set out again on labyrinths. After seeking few more directions, we were suddenly on the well layered four lane highway with proper divider. And is if to revitalize us further, we were greeted by the signboard of Dholavira. I was following the map through T and counting every village. When we passed through Lundroni, the last hamlet before the great desert of Kutch begins; my heartbeats were running very fast. The time-sleep was going to be of staggering five millenniums.

The Surprise part of the trip:

The Kutch means something that intermittently becomes Wet and Dry, the amphibian nature of the terrain makes Kutch one of the most remarkable places on earth. The rain water fills the desert and as winter approach they become shallow giving a feeling of light BLUE Ocean. When they dry up, they turn Snow WHITE and as the summer approaches they become RED. Unlike other deserts of sand dunes, Kutch is full of colours depending on the season. As we left Lundroni, the map went blank and we were supposed to be in the middle of the desert. While images of Dholavira were playing in our mind, what greeted us on desert was something unbelievable. Unique and strange place appeared out of nowhere. We were on the road which was surrounded by water. Either side of the horizon, only thing we could see was blue, tranquil and calm waters. As if Ocean was split to make a way. Either side was just breathtaking scene. We were having a sort of “Deja Vu”. Not sure when have we seen this before. Until Eureka stuck my wife and she recalled the last scene of Three Idiots. Only difference was, we were not in movie hall and we had many exciting actors as you will meet them soon.

We were hardly in the car, we saw something spectacular. May be my words are not enough to explain and I would recommend everyone to see them by themselves. The horizon was merging into blue calm water blurring the line as white sky melting into light blue waters. In this backdrop, what we could see was birds, birds and birds. Even as armatures, we could count few types of Flamingos, Pelicans and Seagulls. We got down of the car, without realizing, as if some strong magnetic power was drawing us out.

Just imagine the thrill of seeing hundreds of migratory birds exploding from the shallows of Kutch wetland. One does not have to be a professional bird watcher to be amazed by the colour and magnificence of these harmonious free creatures. Fortunately, even though it was noon, we could see hoards of them. Watching them in Singapore Zoo and in reality was vastly different experience.

Gujarat CM, Narendra Modi always says “Come to Gujarat where life is celebration”. May be he did not count these innocent birds. These beautiful creatures were telling us the same thing, saying don’t crib, enjoy, serve your purpose, relax and don’t complain.

After clicking close to 100 times, trying to drink the atmosphere as much as we can, we hurried into our car. Biding adieu to those creature, we were almost speechless on further journey as Javed Akthar’s Poem of ZNMD (Pighle neelam sa behta ye sama, Neeli neeli si khamoshiyan, na kahin hai zameen na kahin aasmaan,) played in our subliminal mind. This experience in on word was “mesmerizing”.

Time Travel begins:

As an average school student from Ahmedabad, class studies never interested me. However reading about history and especially Indology was my favourite hobby. I used to lap every opportunity to visit places like Lothal not to say Indology museums anywhere. As a self-declared amateur Indologist and an avid follower of Indian archaeology, for me this trip was like highest pilgrimage.

For the starters, the significance of Indus Civilization was its sheer spread not limited to one or two rivers. The excavated evidence range from areas as far as cities in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, in India the traces are found in UP all the way upto Maharashtra with heavy concentration being on the ancient river of Saraswati basin passing through, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and finally to Gujarat. The total area of 800,000 Sq KM was much larger than the Mesopotamia and Egypt put together. Even though they did not build Great Walls, Pyramids, Ziggurats (or maybe we haven’t found them yet), they concentrated in building one of the most urban areas for their citizens. The uniformity in building, measures, architecture, over such a vast area simply amazes. Their town planning and engineering was quite remarkable. While their obsession with water and hygiene for their citizen dazzles us, they also left many puzzles, as the language is still un-deciphered. The discovery of Dholavira was significant as you will read further. All the above thoughts were running through mind when we were rushing to see the site. Next day at Dhordo I came across amazing book written on Dholaveera by Mr. Varun Maira, Gujarat cadre IAS officer. While visiting Dholavira was one of the life time experience; reading that book made it eternal.

To the Futuristic Metropolis of Past:

Coming back to journey, we hurriedly crossed the desert and went straight to Toran had humble lunch and headed straight to ASI Museum of Dholavira. And it was beginning of the astounding experience. Truth is stranger than fiction. How in the world’s most remote place you could have something so magnificent with far reaching impact on human evolution story.

Khadir Island is spread across 35 X 40 KM and is surrounded by desert. The excavated area of Dholavira is around 250 Acres on the western border of island. If you consider the largest and well excavated Indus city in Indian site Lothal is only spread accross 20 acres, the size here is stuns. As you wad through your way in these remains and open your mind’s eye may be you can feel the bustling markets, voice of water flow, and many more vibrant activities these natives were involved in. Dholavira in one word was extremely “captivating”.

Even if you are not so keen follower or obsessed like me, I would still recommend visiting this place for two reasons on why Dholavira is one of the most remarkable places on the map of Human ancient history.

(1) Human Wisdom and timelessness:

While Reading fantastic book JAYA (Retelling of Mahabharata) by Dr. Devdutta Pattanik, I came across one very interesting perspective of Indian Philosophy. When Mahabharat War ends, Krishna advises Yudhistir to seek wisdom from Bhishma who is on the deathbed of Arrows. The idea behind

this gesture is that “Humans have limited life but knowledge is eternal and it outlives death”. He also sites similar example when Ram and Laxman visits deafted Ravan to seek his knowledge as antagonist was considered highly learned of all shastras. Ravan willingly parts his knowledge before leaving this world.

I recited above anecdotes as the tangible and intangible heritage of Dholavira in a way leaves behind ample knowledge and hints for us.

In this sense, people of Dholavira it seems were one of the foremost advanced civilizations with respect to water management. Their know-how on water management and hydraulic engineering developed to manage and redirect the water flow in and around the site, was simply superior. The challenge must have been daunting as the Manhar and Manhas (the rivers flowing around this place), were only seasonal and no match to Tigris, Euphretis or mighty Nile. Not only you can see the way hydrology concepts were followed to store, filter, and keep water cool, but the whole town planning was done as if to secure maximum water. The last bond movie, Quantum of Solace was focused on terrorist organization tries to take world ransom by taking control of water resources. May be in the foreseeable future, Water could be the most precious natural resource. I guess the people of Dholaveera did have trick or two and were much advanced then we are now in conserving, harnessing this resource.

(2) The intangible Heritage

The most curious trait of Indus-Saraswati civilization (also known as Harappa or Meluha civilization) is non-deciphered language. While ample is known about their contemporise from Mesopotamia and Egypt due to their deciphered language, very few intangible aspects are known about this civilization. So far many seals were found with some script inscription on them. But the size of seal was extremely small making the script symbols very small leaving many questions on the existing of language in this civilization. Some people argued that the script used was never a language as there are many languages in the region which are only verbal like kutchi, sindhi etc and do not have script.

Discovery of World’s largest and oldest signboard:

Archaeology world and especially the Indian Ancient history specialists were in pleasant surprise when world’s largest and oldest signboard was unearthed from the Northern Gate of Citadel. A three meters large board with 10 large inscriptions of letters with the size of 35 x 25 CM was huge ever for Indus. The letters were made of white Gypsum and it was a signboard which people could see from far. One thing became absolutely evident that if the large signboard was erected here, it was for people to see and read it from far hence the argument that scripted language did not exist died its natural death. To visit the place where sign board was a

We thanked our guide and host Ravjibhai (Native of Dholavira and whose fate is linked with excavation here) without his guidance we would not have understood this place. Only sorry feeling we had was when we learned that the world’s most exciting excavated discovery is still buried at the place of excavation without proper protection and is not moved to safer place. In another country they would consider this as treasure of highest value, may be ASI has their hands tied down. For amateur like me, I thought it would be better to give it to state authorities, may be they will take care of this infrastructure better. Another sad part was that excavation is stopped since 2005. Wish they dig further to unearth more to enlighten humankind.

We were feeling quite enriched at firsthand experience of awesome hydraulic engineering technologies and design, some of them simply looked futuristic. We surely had time sleep but were unable to make out whether it was to the past of future.

As we embarked on our journey further to Dhordo, I was awestruck by this place called Kutch. It has been there and will be there. But if not for initiative of current CM and his administration, would I have ever bothered to spend time here? How much thankful we were. read next article.

Writer is a current affair analyst who studies Gujarat affairs in international perspective. Next part will continue with our experience at Dhordo

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