Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Khadir Kutch Wonders – Dholavira Kotada and Jurassic Wood Fossil Park

The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey – Day 5

It is a brilliant winter morning in the Khadir Island – crisp, sunny and chilly. Skies are the bluest blue. You still have a glowing hangover of last evening’s sunset that you experienced as you drove into the Khadir Bet. Dholavira is twenty kms away. Dholavira will be the second Harappan site you will be visiting, after Lothal near Ahmedabad that you saw few years ago.

Jurassic Wood Fossil Park, Khadir Island Gujarat

Kirti Nagar, Uttam Nagar, Kerawal Nagar - but Hadappan Nagar?!

Dholavira is a sprawling surprise. The moment you approach the rising fortification walls from the east you have a feeling this Harappan site is special. Harappan sites are mostly associated with bricks. Lothal is constructed of bricks. The new excavations being conducted at Rakhigarhi in Haryana reveal brick structures. Dholavira is all stone. While other sites have been dug out of ground, Dholavira rises majestically.

No the nice man wielding the axe does not mean any harm

It is morning rush hour in Khadir; expect delays

You did say it is a chilly morning in Dholavira

The ancient Harappan site is called Kotada or Large Fort. The parallelogram shaped site maintly comprises of Citadel in south, Middle Town and Lower Town in the north. The Citadel is spread over 100 hectares, incorporating two fortified divisions – the Castle in the east and Bailey in the west – which occupy about 50 hectares. The site is bordered by two seasonal nallahs – Mansar in the north and Manhar in the south - which had several dams and provided water to the city. The other features include stadiums, cemetery and series of reservoirs ringing the castle.

Hills all around provided the limestone as the building material. And absence of clay meant that Dholavira is one of the biggest Harappan sites that is not built of bricks

On Top of the Eastern Gateway - Dholavira

Dholavira does look more like a fort than some early history archaeological excavation. You could be forgiven if you think you have walked into a medieval fort.  Features that you always thought were designed much later have already been devised and constructed five thousand years ago. The workmanship, design, architecture and aesthetics are all top-notch.

View from the North Gate looking towards the two stadia, Middle Town and Lower Town - Dholavira

The most elaborate North Gate - The design is replicated in the medieval forts across India

There are mighty buttressed fortifications built with dressed stones. At some points the massive walls rise up to 32 feet. The fortifications at the base are 36 feet wide. Two gateways are seen in the east and north. The north gate that leads to the stadium in the Lower Town is the most imposing and elaborate. The gate is designed with ninety degree turns, sunken passageway, lofty terrace and two large elevated chambers. The gate was probably used for royal processions that led to the stadium in the east. An inscription comprising of ten large Harappan characters inlaid on a wooden board was found here at the north gate. Archaeologists believe that this is the world’s oldest signboard.

The top of the castle provides bird’s eye view of the enchanting Khadir Bet all around. The landscape is quite green with bushes and trees flourishing in this rain deprived land. With breeze blowing in from the Rann Lake just beyond, it feels even colder. Next to the fortification of the citadel are the Middle Town and Lower Town. To the northwest lies the smaller citadel called Bailey.

The strange circular structures that came at the end of inhabitation at Dholavira; during Stage VII - In the Castle, Dholavira

The castle up here has remains of residential quarters that probably belonged to the most important people. Some are surprisingly circular shaped. There are elements of pillars and columns astonishingly well polished as if they were installed just yesterday. However, the most amazing feature here, like across the citadel, is the water management, storage and conservation system.

Eastern Reservoir at Dholavira

Underground water channels big enough to walk straight - Castle area of Dholavira

Circular wells lined with dressed stone, step wells, baths, reservoirs - Dholavira has all water features

Series of reservoirs on the south side of the castle - all interconnected with underground feeding channels

Water systems of all types can be seen – step wells, deep circular wells, reservoirs, baths, underground drains and sewers. The underground drains collected rainwater and brought it to wells and reservoirs. They have steps and ventilation shafts and are high enough for an adult to walk in. This is dry parched land and every conceivable water conservation method has been deployed here. Water from the seasonal nallahs flowed into the reservoirs – about sixteen - dug all around the city. The water was then carried into the castle through sophisticated hydraulic mechanism. Most water bodies inside the castle though separated by wide bunds are interconnected with feeding drains.

Top notch masonry of dressed stones used in fortifications

The Kotada was constructed and lived in for a period of more than a millennium, from roughly 3000 BC to 1500 BC. Archaeologists have divided the excavations into seven significant cultural stages: Stage I to Stage VII. The end of Stage III possibly witnessed a huge earthquake after which the citadel was repaired and expanded. At the end of Stage VII, the site became totally deurbanized and was never inhabited later.

Seals that we identify with Harappan Civilization - Dholavira Museum 

The site premises have a well-appointed museum on the premises exhibiting various artefacts found during excavations conducted by Dr. R. S. Bisht starting 1990. The museum displays all classical Harappan elements like pottery, seals, weights, beads, and items of gold, silver, copper and ivory.

Dholavira, one of the largest five Harappan sites in the subcontinent, has been a revelation. You came looking for excavated bricks but found yourself the oldest fort built of solid rock. This is truly monumental architecture – beautiful, well designed and a pioneer of various architectural elements which you always thought were more modern.

In Khadir Bet, the track changes from tar to concrete, to clay to dirt every few metres!

From 3000 BC it is time to go see something a little older. Okay about 176 million years older! The narrow track takes you further to the north western tip of the island. The track changes from tar to dirt and concrete rapidly. Turning right on the dirt track brings you to a concrete path that takes you to the top of a hill. Below, Shangri La stretches out in all its magnificent glory. 

You are blown away by the sight. Kutch is finding new ways everyday to mesmerize you. Below your feet, yellow rock-face slopes down to the edge of blue waters of Lake of Kutch. Water? You had never expected waters here - maybe salty marsh, but no, not water! And the most serene, most beautiful, most bluest waters you have ever seen. At times like these you struggle to comprehend. But then Nature can silence even the most restless and incomprehensible minds.

Jurassic Wood Fossil Park provides unbelievable views - Chess Pieces

Great White Pelicans fly over Rann Lake - Jurassic Wood Fossil Park, Kutch Gujarat

This is Shangri La. This is Utopia. This is perfection. The setting is as idyllic and as remote as it could be. This could be your own little secret hideaway. Away from the world is another world here. World only made up of rocks, water and birds. Smooth rock face is split up into square patterns; irregular rocks are randomly placed by unseen hands as if chess pieces. The aqua blue waters seem to have been painted by those same unseen hands. On the horizon, Bhanjano Hills seem to emerge out of the waters. And then these Great White Pelicans fly low skimming the waters. This is a sight that can overwhelm even the most seasoned traveller. God is really kind. You close your eyes to make a silent thanksgiving prayer.   
You are being treated to awesome places on a daily basis.

Jurassic Wood Fossil Park at Khadir Beyt near Dholavira, Kutch Gujarat

This is the incredibly beautiful setting of the Jurassic Wood Fossil Park. About eight metres long, the petrified wood has been found metres away from the aqua waters of Rann. These fossils are similar to the petrified wood fossils found at the lathi (Jurassic) formation in Akal near Jaisalmer which you were lucky to go see within a month of Kutch visit.

According to the geologists, the fossils here in Khadir Bet are associated with the Khadir formation that comprises of sandstone-shale-limestone sequence. The fibrous fossils are protected in fenced enclosures. A guard keeps an eye on the treasures.

It is not easy leaving Utopia behind. For that matter entire Khadir Bet is perfect and beautiful: There are even more sights beyond.

Anything to declare? We are at world’s oldest Customs checkpoint that was established about 5000 years ago when trade took off between Dholavira’s Harappan city and Mesopotamia. Today you have been pulled over as the customs officers look for any contraband green grass

Bhanjada Dada Temple
Bhanjado / Bhanjano Hills emerging out of Lake of Kutch - Khadir Bet

Beyond the Jurassic Park, there is another scenic point that provides more beautiful views of the Rann Lake. You drive up to Bhanjada Dada Temple, again perched on a hill on the edge of water. Again you can see the Bhanjado Hill sitting pretty in the waters. Behind you stands the Dungrani Vandh Hill. There is a BSF camp here. The jawans are being entertained by a live musical performance. 

Greater Flamingos flying over the Rann Lake

And then as on cue, this time Greater Flamingos put up an aerial show for you. The sight of pink flamingos flying in formation over blue waters is a beautiful sight. You had come to Gujarat hoping to see pelicans, flamingos and bustards. Wishes are getting granted every day. In a couple of days you will find yourself in the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary.

There is something stunning around every turn in Khadir

It is time to turn back. On the way back to Dholavira you see this lake ringed in with a mound. Shrubs are submerged in the water; birds enjoy the beautiful day – what a beautiful sight again. The views keep coming here in the Khadir Beyt. But wait; there is more. Khadir is not done with you yet. The island has a bonus waiting for you.


Khadir Island's Parting Gift

You are back on the causeway that connects the Khadir Island to the mainland. Last evening the Rann was doused in pink and purple. It is mid-day now and the skies hold a vivid blue canopy over the white marsh. The water draining out of white salt is aqua blue. You have never seen anything so beautiful before. Kutch and the Rann bring you surprises every hour. The sight is both blissful and overwhelming.
You don’t want to leave Khadir. Another few hours and the sunset and the incredible colours of yesterday will be back.

See you soon Khadir

You are on a schedule. You have to reach Bhuj tonight. Kutch awaits with more glorious sights. You bid goodbye to Khadir Bet. You love the island like you do Hope Island. You hope to come back soon.

Day's Stats
  • Route Covered – Dholavira - Rapar - Nilpar - Chitrod - Samakhiyali - Bhuj (bypassing Bacchchau & Anjar)
  • Distance covered – 277 kms
  • Total Distance covered so far - 1586 kms
  • Route taken – Dholavira to Chitrod by SH51, then SH15 to Samkhiyali, 8A and then 341 to Bhuj 

Travel Tips

  • Jurassic Park will look even better in late afternoon as the sun sets over the Kutch Lake
  • Khadir has a Sunset Point marked 2 in the map. Do check out if you are here in the evening
  • Khadir deserves a complete day to appreciate the beauty all around
  • For stay, Dholavira has Gujarat Tourism's Hotel Toran


Related Links on this blog
The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey
Day 1 - Viratnagar
Day 2 - Pushkar
Day 3 - Vadnagar

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