Gujarat may be known for its "vibrant development" in the past decade but the state is also home to several ancient Indus Valley Civilization sites. Dholavira, an archaeological site at Khadirbet in Bhachau Taluka of Kutch District, is among the most prominent but a recent visit to the excavation area exposed how history is often forgotten in the race for development.

At the very entrance of the excavation site, one comes across a gate – either only half constructed or half broken – and the boundary surrounding the excavation area too reflects a similar miserable story. And then, as I walked towards the citadel, saddened at the neglect that the "hallmark of civilization" continues to withstand, the various ancient architectural structures – water reservoirs, hemispherical constructions, the well-designed drainage system among others – left me wondering why a state with an aggressive tourism campaign as Gujarat has failed to drive the recognition that Dholavira deserves.

Ironically, just about 200 kms from the ancient site at Dholavira, on the very same day, preparations were in full swing to welcome Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel, who would be inaugurating the Rann Utsav in the presence of several high profile dignitaries. As the evening sun dipped towards the horizon, Dholavira seemed to hum a sad song, sung in the lamentation of a civilization not only long dead but also on the verge of "passing into nothingness" due to the constant neglect.

Next evening, on the sidelines of the Rann Utsav, I raised the issue with Gujarat tourism minister, Saurabh Patel. "Dholavira is a historical site and is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Gujarat tourism cannot just make plans for the area. We are, however, in touch with ASI and one can expect a change soon," he told The Statesman. The minister also said a visit to Dholavira two years from now would be totally different. A promising gesture indeed, but how much if it will come true? Only time can tell.

Ancient ruins

Also known as Kotada timba, the site contains the ruins of an ancient Harappan city. It is one of the five largest Harappan sites and the most prominent archaeological site in India belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization, considered as having been the grandest of cities of its time. According to the scripts in the nearby museum, the site was occupied from 2650 BCE and began declining slowly after about 2100 BCE. The site was discovered in 1967-68 by J P Joshi, ex-director general of ASI and the fifth largest of eight major Harappan sites. The other major Harappan sites are Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, Ganeriwala, Rakhigarhi, Kalibangan, Rupnagar and Lothal.

Estimated to be older than the port-city of Lothal, the city of Dholavira has a rectangular shape and organisation, and is spread over about 54 acres. Unlike Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, the city was constructed to a pre-existing geometrical plan consisting of three divisions – the citadel, the middle town and the lower town. The acropolis and the middle town had been furnished with their own defence-work, gateways, built-up areas, street system, wells and large open spaces. The acropolis is the most thoroughly fortified and complex area in the city, of which it appropriates the major portion of the southwestern zone.

The towering "castle" is defended by double ramparts. Next to this stands a place called the “bailey” where, according to the signboards, important officials lived. There are extensive structure-bearing areas, which are outside yet integral to the fortified settlement. The most striking feature of the city is that all of its buildings, at least in their present state of preservation, are built of stone, whereas most other Harappan sites, including Harappa itself and Mohenjo-daro, are almost exclusively built of brick. Dholavira is also flanked by two storm water channels; the Mansar in the north, and the Manhar in the south.

One of the unique features of Dholavira is the sophisticated water conservation system of channels and reservoirs, expected to be among the earliest found anywhere in the world, built completely of stone. The city had massive reservoirs, three of which are exposed. They were used to store fresh water brought by rains or to store water diverted from the two nearby rivulets. This clearly came in response to the desert climate and conditions of Kutch, where several years may pass without rainfall.

Another significant discovery at Dholavira was made in one of the side rooms of the northern gateway of the city and is generally known as Dholavira Signboard. The Harappans had arranged and set pieces of the mineral gypsum to form ten large symbols or letters on a big wooden board. "At some point, the board fell flat on its face. The wood decayed, but the arrangement of the letters survived."  A four sign inscription with large letters on sand stone is also found at this site, considered the first of such inscriptions on sand stone at any Harappan site.

Fascinating, isn’t it? While the Archaeological Survey of India has played a commendable role in protecting several of our monuments and historical structures, it seems, it needs to pay a little more attention towards the maintenance of Dholavira.