Of the many important things India lost when the country was partitioned into two in 1947 were the two main sites where the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization were found. Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, the prime locations for any visitor interested in experiencing the stateliness of the ancient civilization first hand, were located in Sindh and the Pakistan side of Punjab, respectively.
Given the strained relations between India and Pakistan over the years, it has not been possible for most Indian travelers to visit Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. And the security situation in Pakistan makes it difficult for international tourists to check them out either. Thankfully, India has had many of its own major excavation sites that are not as famous, but do provide a great opportunity for anyone looking to revisit the Indus Valley Civilization. Of the 40+ sites in India, spread as far as Uttar Pradesh in the east and Maharashtra in the south, where excavations related to the Civilization have been made, here are the 5 best options to come face-to-face with a part of history you would have encountered mostly in books.
Lothal, Gujarat – Located about 85 km from modern-day Ahmedabad, Lothal was one of the most important cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, dating to about 3700 BCE. The most prominent feature of the city was the dock, considered the oldest in the world, which connected it to the Arabian Sea via the Sabarmati River. This made it a major trade center, with a thriving business in gems and ornaments with Africa and West Asia. The ruins unearthed here since 1955 point to the significant contribution made by the city’s residents to the knowledge of art, city planning, architecture, metallurgy and engineering that the Indus Valley Civilization is famous for.
The vast ruins of Lothal include the Acropolis, which was the commercial heart of the city, and the Lower Town, with many two-roomed shops and residences. There is also a museum close by, which houses the many artifacts discovered here.
Apart from the 1.5 hour road trip from Ahmedabad, the other option to get there is by train to the Burkhi station, which is just 7 km from the site.
Dholavira, Gujarat – One of the largest cities of the Indus Valley Civilization across India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, this site in northern Gujarat was almost continuously occupied from about 2650 BCE to 1450 BCE. The site was first discovered in 1967, but excavation by ASI began only in 1989, and brought to light many new aspects of how developed the Civilization had been.
Chief among these was the discovery of many reservoirs that point to the advanced water-management system. As late as 2014, archaeologists began excavating a huge step-well at the site, which is almost three times the famous Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro. Discovery of several inscriptions in the Indus script that has never been deciphered, including a long sentence known as the Dholavira Signboard, has convinced many scholars that the residents used a fully developed written language.
Dholavira is located on an island called Khadir Bet in the Rann of Kutch, about 370 km from Ahmedabad and 220 km from Bhuj. The nearest large-ish town is Rapar (95 km) and station with reasonable connectivity is Bhachau (150 km). Given the large distances involved and limited accommodation options close by, it’s a good idea to use personal transport or club a trip with a visit to the salt plains of Kutch.
Kalibangan, Rajasthan – This site is located on the banks of the Ghaggar River, which many historians believe to be a remnant of the ancient Sarasvathi River mentioned in Hindu religious texts. In fact, the end of this civilization, which flourished from 3500 BCE to 1750 BCE, came about because of the drying up of the Sarasvathi. The site was first discovered in the early 1900s, but excavation began only after India’s independence.
The findings here point to two prominent phases – Harappan and pre-Harappan. Major discoveries here were the world’s first ploughed field and the ritualistic fire altars. The settlement here was fortified, with the town within the fort planned very similar to other major sites of the Indus Valley Civilization. The many pottery wares, seals and other artifacts unearthed here are stored in the Kalibangan Museum.
Kalibangan is in northern Rajasthan, 365 km from New Delhi and 210 km from Bikaner. The nearest major town is Hanumangarh, about 30 km away, which is well connected by rail and road with the rest of the country.
Ropar, Punjab – Unlike the other major Indus Valley Civilization sites, areas in and around Ropar (or Rupnagar) have been occupied right from 2100 BCE to the present times. Being a thriving city, just 50 km from Chandigarh, makes it difficult to undertake proper excavations and also makes the unearthed relics more prone to vandalism. Ropar was the first Harappan site to see excavations in independent India.
The excavations here have shown settlements in six fairly distinct periods, with the Harappan phase being the earliest one, between 2100 BCE and 1400 BCE. Major discoveries here include many seals, terracotta pottery and a wide range of bones of domesticated animals. Apart from the site at Ropar, Bara (6 km east) and Kotla Nihang Khan (2 km southeast) are also important excavation sites. The Archaeological Museum in the city is a good place to take a look at the many items unearthed here.
Rakhigarhi, Haryana – Located just 150 km from New Delhi, this site is one of the largest discovered settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization. It is believed to have been occupied from 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE, but some archaeologists seem to believe that the earliest settlement here predates even the Indus Valley Civilization. Though the first excavation started here in 1963, more exhaustive work has been carried out only recently in the last two decades and is still ongoing. The danger the site faces from nearby settlements has made the Global Heritage Fund declare this place as one of the ten most endangered heritage sites in Asia.
Excavation has revealed that this was a large, well-planned city, with wide roads and developed sewage system. Discoveries include many seals, terracotta statues, weights, bronze items toys and tools for polishing stones. Scientists also hope to get a better idea of the physical features of the settlers here with the help of the human skeletons unearthed.
There are plans to develop parts of Rakhigarhi as a major tourist attraction, including setting up a museum. As of now, it is just an excavation site near a small village in the Hisar district of Haryana. The site lies about 100 km west of the arterial New Delhi – Chandigarh highway that has many important cities like Panipat, Karnal and Ambala along it.