Lothal, a city from the ancient civilization in Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, the Nal Sarover with its fabulous water bodies and bird population, Sidi Sayed’s unique carved window in the historiccity-centre mosque in Ahmedabad and also the incredibly-designed, multi-storeyed Adalaj Vav – all these are fabulous wonders of the western state of Gujarat!
Seeing all these in the time-span of one weekend was a fabulous experience…
By Vimla Patil | Photographs: Prabhakar Patil
Lothal – A Water Pond Edged With Bricks Made Millennia Ago
Whichever way you look at it, it is a brave effort to aim to see several monuments in and around a city as historic as Ahmedabad within a week-end to begin with. It is doubly difficult when the weather is against you and the sky is raining heat and dust. But we were a determined lot and landed at the ‘Manchester’ of modern India, Ahmedabad, in the wee hours of a weekend. A quick bath and breakfast, and we were on our way to Lothal, one of the most important cities of the famous Indus Valley Civilization.
Archeologists say that many Harappan sites as well as the peninsula of Sourashtra were under the Arabian Sea and that the ocean receded over the centuries. With the sea close, these prehistoric cities were centres of trade and commerce. Lothal, particularly, was bounded by two rivers – Sabarmati and Bhogava – so that navigating goods to the seaport was easy. Today, the rivers have changed course, moved far away and the sea has receded for miles creating an arid belt of land with water patches here and there. Archeologists, both Indian and from the Global Heritage Fund in the USA say that Lothal, Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, comprising the Indus-Saraswati Civilization, were the world’s first manufacturing and trading cities as opposed to other civilizations which were engaged in wars and conquest. Even today, structures like the bead factory, the godowns and other structures in Lothal are sentinels to the remote past of India when trade routes took goods to far eastern destinations and Africa. Some samples of this jewellery made 4000 years ago can be seen in the museum nearby.
The Relics of Lothal
Spread over a large area, they are strewn in the Dholka Taluka district of Ahmedabad. During excavations in 1961, archeologists discovered trenches and inlet channels connecting the dock and the rivers. The remains of the city now comprise a hillock, a township, a market and the dock. Near the excavated areas stands the Archaeological Museum, where some fabulous collections of Indus-era antiquities in India can be seen. The other two sites – Mohenjo Daro and Harappa – are now in Pakistan. Long before archeologists discovered these relics, local people knew of them and there were even human remains in the site. It is said that till 1850, boats could sail up the rivers to the town which offers today the biggest cache of antique objects and buildings including pottery, gems and jewellery, household articles all within the still-strong structures which include a pond and a well.
Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary – Boats Waiting to Take Visitors for Bird Watching in the Nal Sarovar
One of the biggest lakes in India, Nal spreads over 123 sq km with its placid pools and endless marshes with birds of many hues nesting in them in different seasons. Nal Sarovar is one of the biggest bird sanctuaries in India and hosts over 210 species of birds in the winter while supporting a huge variety of flora and fauna.
Cranes Gather at Nal Sarovar
Huge flocks of birds come to the lake in various seasons – these include Rosy Pelicans, Flamingoes, White Storks, Brahminy Ducks and Herons. More than 250 species of birds come to this sanctuary during the winter and spring every year. For those who want to see the birds from up close there are boat rides. However, no visitors are allowed to disturb the bird populations.
The Sidi Saiyed Mosque Has an Incredible Stone-carved Jali
Built during the Sultanate era of Gujarat, the mosque stands in the centre of the city and can be viewed as you pass the surrounding streets several times a day. It is famous for its carved windows – particularly two that are carved out of a single rock with fine lattice work and the motif of the tree of life. Some experts believe that the mosque was not finished due to the Moghul invasion of Gujarat. But the ‘Jalis’ as these windows are called, are truly a wonder of craftsmanship.
This unique mosque was built in 1573. A marble stone plaque on the wall of the mosque says that it was built by Sidi Saiyed, an Abyssinian in the service of Jhajar Khan, a general in the army of the last Sultan, Shams-ud-Din Muzaffar Shah III of the Gujarat Sultanate. Its unique structure attracts every passer-by. The famous Jali carved out of one stone is the unofficial symbol of the city of Ahmedabad and the official insignia of the Indian Institute of Management in the same city.
Adalaj Stepwell – Stands Close to Ahmedabad
Like many other stepwells of Gujarat, this is a wonderful example of a public utility building situated in Adalaj. It was built in 1499 by the ruler of Gujarat Mohammed Begda for Rani Roopba, wife of Veer Singh, the Vaghela chief whom he killed. Known as a ‘Vav’ or well, it is heavily carved and is five storeys in depth. Stepwells were common in the arid regions of Gujarat to provide water to travelers. They were also centres for colorful festivals.
More than 120 such wells are said to be in Gujarat alone, of which the one at Adalaj is the most popular. Though they are basically for provision of water and rest to travelers, they display unique architectural embellishments such as those in the Adalaj stepwell, which attracts tourists. American scholars have done research on these wells and published their findings.
Did you know?
The Adalaj Stepwell attracts thousands of people every day throughout the year as it is one of the prominent monuments of Gujarat and situated very close to the capital city of Ahmedabad. Standing majestically for more than 500 years, it is an example of the elements of Muslim and Hindu architecture and motifs and exhibits the skill of the masons, builders, stone carvers of the age and the designers. It is maintained immaculately. To go down the five storeys is a journey of discovery as one sees different arches, pillars and cornucopias. To spend a few hours here is a wonderful experience. The designs on its walls and pillars show a variety of leaves, flowers, birds, fish, animal-like horses and elephants as well as other auspicious ornamental designs.
The well has three ornate gates to entre it. To begin with there is the mandap with a beautiful dome which is now somewhat destroyed. There are beautiful balconies with carvings on either side. Animals, flowers, creepers and other typical Indian motifs decorate the gates. Rows of carved elephants mark the levels and provide a unique rich look to the monument.