We obviously didn’t learn our lesson well enough, for we left Dassada at 9:30am, but still two hours earlier then our first ride. I blame the amazing aloo parathas and the lack of hot water in the showers at Rann Riders and The Other blames me. Luckily, we are carrying a giant pack of baby wipes – best decision ever. So here is tip three, sometimes on a bike trip you may not get to shower, but a wipe down with wet wipes is the next best thing.
The road to Dholavira was such a pleasant drive, a big change from our previous ride, on the highways from Ahmedabad. It is meant to be a state highway but it is a thin meandering strip of road through the countryside, with fields and wilderness on either side. Once in a while we would stop to look at cranes pecking at something just off the road or a herd of wild nilgai grazing or we would be forced to stop as shepherds crossed the road with their herd of cows / buffaloes / sheep. The Gujrati cows are quite unlike their puny docile South Indian counterparts – they are massive with the most majestic horns, even the female cows have them.
Rappar, a little town 100 KM from Dholavira is the last stop for fuel and food. We stopped at a tiny restaurant and wolfed down a meal of good old roti sabji dhal and chas for 200 Rs. The restaurant was owned by Muslims but oddly they served only vegetarian fare. The absence of non – vegetarian food in this state is getting more glaring, but we live in a country where we have the audacity to ban certain types of food, so I have nothing more to say on this.
From Rappar, you enter a very sparsely populated region, and there are a lot more birds. The road to Dholavira is one straight road, with amazing visibility – miles and miles of nothingness. It reminded me off the highways in the US – It must have been an engineer’s dream and one easy alignment drawing.
Dholavira is on an island in the middle of the Lake of Rann of Kutch, which shares a border with Pakistan. This is once again a lake which dries post monsoon to leave behind a beautiful white salt desert. The road to the island is the most beautiful road I have been on.it is just under 6KM long but seems like forever. The rann stretches out on either side as far as the eye can see, and it is pristine, white and desolate. We were the only ones on the road. We stopped to take a few photos and the silence was deafening.
Once you reach the island, you pass a few villages and then hit Dholavira in the north-western corner. Geographically the island is separated from Pakistan by just the lake, so was part of the larger Mohenjadaro and Harrappan civilization. The large settlement was unearthed here in the sixties and is open to the public but unfortunately excavation has been stopped due to lack of funds. This makes my blood boil as just on the other side of the lake crores of rupees has been pumped into the garish Rann Utsav.
There is a museum in the complex which houses all the excavated artefacts, which is closed on Fridays. We off course were there on a Friday so missed out on that. The ruins however are open for you to wander about. There are the remains of a squarish settlement with gates in the four cardinal directions, foundations of some homes and the castle / citadel. There are also remains of the water reservoirs and the closed underground drains they used to channel and collect water. It was a remarkable civilization 3000 years ago with a water supply and sanitation system that should make our current municipalities hang their heads in shame.
Apparently this city was prone to earthquakes and they had built their buildings to withstand a certain amount of shaking – which is really cool. We saw some curcular foundation stones with holes for the tent poles which were earthquake resistant. The city was finally deserted due to the lack of water, as rivers changed their courses. Most of the great civilizations died due to the same reason, but we seem to have learnt nothing from them.
Please do read up about the Mohenjadaro and Harappan civilization before your visit, the information boards they have is sub standard. There are a few guides milling around who parrot the same 5 points as in the board in Hindi. If you don’t plan on reading up, make sure you have a good imagination to make up stories of the civilisation past, otherwise you are just going to see a bunch of stones.
We had been told not to miss the sunset from the fossil park, so after our fill of history in the glaring sun, we set of in search of this park. The directions we were given were – drive left till the last village and then take the kucha road till you see a sign. The first thing to learn about the khachhi sense of direction is that they don’t think in terms of the roads, so when they say straight, it means the direction of travel and might involve several turns which they will forget to tell you about.
Unfortunately or fortunately we took a wrong turn and were off-roading in the middle of no where. Thank god buttercup could take it and The Other is a good rider, who is used to such terrain where he works. Tip 04 – please get a coating of an anti -puncture liquid for your bike. We have been riding through crazy terrain the last 6 days and not a scratch or a hole rather so far. It will cost you around 1500 Rs but is completely worth it.
So we were riding around where there were no paths, following animal tracks till we saw some bike tracks on the dirt and reached the actual Kucha road we should have originally taken. We were a little worried by then and were questioning the existence of the fossil park itself when we chanced upon a small hut with a bunch of dirty children, one cow and one woman. This picture was from India in the twenties, no one else around. I asked her if she knew where the fossil park was, she obviously had no idea what I was saying, but pointed ahead saying that there was a board. So we went a little ahead and there was a board announcing a BSF checkpost 3 KM away, no mention of the fossil park. Dejected we turned back, and decided to watch the sunset from our hotel.
On our way back we met a philosophical old man on a fully loaded bullock cart, with his tiny smiling grand daughter. He confirmed the existence of the fossil park in his slow calculated way and urged us to turn back. We were however done, and told him we were going heading back. He seemed disappointed, tried to convince us saying we had already come so far and then finally shrugged his shoulders, clucked at his bullocks and moved on saying aap ki marzi..
A little ahead we bumped into an innova and jeep on the road, and they were heading to the fossil park. Best decision of our lives – we turned around and followed them in the cloud of dust the vehicles were kicking up. There was dust everywhere, we could barely see, but we had made up our minds. We once again passed the old man on the bullock cart and he smiled at us benevolently. There was something about him…
A few kilometres later, we saw a board – announcing the entry to a petrified wooden fossil park – Yay !!. The park itself is on a hill, and when we climbed up, we were met with the most surreal sight, it was like being walloped in the stomach and losing the ability to breathe. We were on top of the Lake of Rann of Kutch, white salt all around and the setting sun was putting up a show. Just below the hill, there is a place to park your vehicles and you can walk down to the Rann. The tree fossils are preserved in an open air enclosure here, and some beautiful rocks lie scattered around. But the star is the Rann. The lake was completely dry, we walked in a bit and sat own to watch the sun go down, and it didn’t disappoint the blue sky turned orange and then pink as the sun disappeared rapidly – like the drop of a blazing ball. The light however remains for a while and you can hand around in an ethereal atmosphere.
As we were on a bike, and there was no road for a good 10 KM, we left before the light was out… On our way back we again passed the old man. This was a little disconcerting as he had covered no distance in the hour that we had spent at the park. He stopped us and asked us if the park was real or imaginary and quoted a poem we could not understand. We said good bye and left, and it suddenly struck me.. what if only The Other and I could see this old man.. what if he never left the road. The question now was whether he was real or imaginary.
The logical explanation however is that he stopped somewhere along the way for work too… but it is always fun to imagine..
There is also no signal in Dholavira save BSNL, once again the other and his choice of career came to the rescue. He has a BSNL number and we were able to tell our families we were safe.
There is only one place to stay at Dholavira – the Dholavira Resort just 300M from the excavation site. It is a typical government set up, and everything is garish and poorly executed. Think plastic flowers, misplaced Korean grass and psychedelic quilts. A circular cottage with an attached toilet will cost you 1500 Rs. It is basic, if you are not travelling by bike I suggest you carry your own sheets, use drinking water to brush your teeth and the toilet as seldom as possible. I am carrying this amazing product – a toilet seat sanitizer, tip no. 5 is buy it, it is made by a company called Be., is available online of Sublime – it is great for all sketchy places. I read up about it in another travel blog – the rediscoverproject.
The food in the resort is quite nice, vegetarian DBRS again but yummy. Dinner costs you 100rs per head and breakfast 50.
What makes the stay worth it however is the night sky, I have never seen these many stars in my life. You cannot stop looking up, we saw Mars, and a misty band which we think was the milky way… That sky is worth a basic room and a not so nice toilet a 1000 times over.
That sky is worth going back to Dholavira..