Purple Swamphen

Lothal and Nalsarovar- Gems of Gujarat

After visiting Champaner – Pavagadh it was now time to explore Lothal followed by the Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary and then head to Ahmedabad. Lothal meaning ‘Mount of Dead’ dates to the more than 4400-year-old Bronze Age Indus Valley civilization. Extending from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Northwest India this civilization flourished on the fertile plains and surroundings of the Indus river from which it got its name.

Lothal was one of the initial docks that connected the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati river. At that time Kutch, which is a desert today, was a part of the Arabian sea. So, ships from the Arabian sea would enter the Gulf of Cambay and sail right up to the dock. Lothal was a thriving trade centre and had trade connections with Persia, Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Having studied the Indus Valley civilization, as a part of History at school, I had been fascinated to learn about this well-planned township complete with residential buildings made of bricks, civic amenities like pavements, drainage systems, water storage, burial grounds and other details. So, when we got to know that Gujarat has two sites Lothal and Dholavira dating back to the Indus Valley civilization we were elated. Since Lothal was easily accessible from Vadodara and Ahmedabad we chose to explore it.

Lothal: Remnants of Indus Valley Civilization

Lothal
Lothal @Rafiq Somani

A private cab took us from Vadodara to the archaeological site of Lothal which was discovered after excavation was carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the mid-1950s. It was the 1st of January and so we thought it was a great way to start the new year by exploring a new place. The afternoon sun was blazing over our heads as we reached the site.

As we stood there on the vast expanse of the excavated site we could see our history books, coming alive in front of us, unravelling the story of a lost civilization that was world-renowned for its harbour, rich cotton and rice-growing environment, beads and gems. Since there were no guides around and very few non-discrete signages we were left to our own devices to figure out what was in front of us. We could easily identify the wells, and drains, a burial ground and of course the large dock. There were very few tourists, mostly families with kids in tow with excited parents trying to demystify the ruins and explain its significance. Had there been a proper map with details symbolically or graphically represented it would have helped us visitors appreciate the details of the site.

Lothal
Well, at Lothal @Rafiq Somani

The ASI has a museum here where artefacts that were unearthed are on display like human figurines, beads, copper, ivory and bronze objects and tools. Sadly, since it was a Friday the museum was closed and so we were deprived of seeing its treasures. But whatever we saw was inimitable and made me question human existence and its fragility especially at the hands of nature.

Every civilization be it Greek, Egyptian or Chinese must have prided itself for its social structure, inventions and discoveries, flourished and reached its zenith, thinking it was indestructible but sooner or later natural or manmade causes were responsible for its death and destruction. Nothing lasts forever! Lothal a once-thriving city and port at the helm of things were today in ruins. So, what caused the devastation of this robust civilization? Floods, storms as well as a shift in Sabarmati river’s course resulted in the decline of Lothal.

Lothal
Lothal @Rafiq Somani

Nalsarovar: A bird watchers paradise

Painted Stork
Painted Storks, Nalsarovar @Rafiq Somani

After exploring Lothal, we then headed to Sanand village which is home to the Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary. The lake and wetlands are spread over an area of 120 sq.km with 36 islands in the water body. Numerous aquatic plants and animals provide a rich habitat for both resident as well as migratory birds, some flying for thousands of kilometres from Central Europe.

Our private cab dropped us off near the parking area and we walked up to the ticket window to purchase entry tickets. There was chaos as numerous ‘touts’ approached us quoting exorbitant rates for the entry ticket with each one claiming he would show us more islands, give us a good guide and that the boatmen would take us further inside the lake to see a maximum number of birds. It helped that my husband spoke in Gujarati and said that his father was from Kutch and that we had common origins with the locals, so we should get a good deal. Since my husband is a certified ornithologist and a wildlife photographer we decided not to have a guide and chose a private boat so that we could then stop as and when needed to click photos.

Common Crane
Common Cranes, Nalsarovar @Rafiq Somani

We hopped on to a cab which drove for 2 km and dropped us off to the point from where the boat ride commences. It was around half past three in the afternoon so we wondered if we would get to see enough birds since early mornings and evenings are peak times for maximum sightings.  However, we were surprised to see not just a large number of birds but also of countless types and we now understood why Nalsarovar is called a ‘Bird Watchers Paradise’.

More than 200 types of birds like Herons, Storks, Cranes, Plovers, Ducks, Wagtails, Stilts, Godwits, and even Flamingos and Pelicans have been known to frequent it. The sunbeams sent the lake a-glitter with golden sparkles as these avian beauties left us awestruck. In fact, some of them seemed to be enjoying the attention while still others were oblivious to the human visitors busy skimming the shallow waters to catch fish. The lake is barely 4-5 feet deep so one could easily see the reeds and algae growing underneath as well as the fish when they swam closer to the surface. Our boatman advised us to throw some ‘gathiya’ in the lake, which we had purchased before alighting on the boat, to attract the birds.

A concrete cross in the middle of the lake with two Black-headed Gulls and a Little Cormorant perched on it were easy to spot and capture in the camera lens unlike some of the tinier ones like the Swallow and Little Ringed Plover. There were birds everywhere some nesting, others feeding, some mating and breeding while others quarrelling and perhaps arguing. Some wanting the attention of their mates were busy preening their feathers and flapping their wings loudly. Still, others tiptoed on the waters creating ripples and patterns while some were standing still in the waters as if in deep contemplation.  Wherever you looked there were birds.

Black-headed Gull & Little Cormorant
Concrete Cross with Black-headed Gulls & Little Cormorant, Nalsarovar @Rafiq Somani

Each of the islands in the lake has names given by the locals, explained our boatman. One tends to find avian colonies of a specific type of bird on each island is what we noticed. As we got near to one of the islands we saw painted storks which have a prominent wing pattern- largely white plumage with black bands of feathers across the chest and a hint of pink at the tail. This bird has a large wingspan and it is a sight to behold when seen with outstretched wings. Another island had a colony of the slender black Little Cormorants basking under the sun.

Painted Stork
Painted Stork, Nalsarovar @Rafiq Somani
Little Cormorant
Little Cormorants basking in the Sun, Nalsarovar @Rafiq Somani

The Brahminy Ducks are extraordinary birds that migrate from Central Asia and Siberia by flying over the Himalayas and arrive at the bird sanctuary in the winter months. We saw several of these orange-brown waterfowls wading in the lake and grazing on the foliage. The Purple Swamphen with its vibrant bluish-purple plumage and a bright red bill is another stunning bird that we saw. Walking gracefully amongst the reeds, suddenly finding its prey and then taking flight with its long legs and elongated toes trailing behind its outstretched wings. A Glossy Ibis wading through the waters with its prized catch of fish in its bill.

Brahminy Duck
Brahminy Duck, Nalsarovar @RafiqSomani
Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis, Nalsarovar @Rafiq Somani
Purple Swamphen
Purple Swamphen, Nalsarovar @Rafiq Somani

We were so busy looking at these aquatic creatures that we had almost forgotten about the birds that were on the trees near the lake. A White-throated Kingfisher perched on a shrub perhaps trying to spot its next catch. A handsome Steppe Eagle on a tree with its piercing eyes looking for its prey. It was almost two hours since we were bird watching.

White-throated Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher, Nalsarovar @Rafiq Somani

At the beginning of the boat ride, I was a witness to the saga of these aquatic creatures unfolding in front of me but towards the end of the journey I felt it wasn’t ‘I’ and ‘they’ it was ‘us’. The boundaries between us had dissolved. I had become one with nature very much like the spiritual seeker in search of the divine realizes one day that he and the creator are but one. A subtle transformation had occurred inside me. Bird watching is a meditative experience which teaches you to be mindful in the present moment and in a state of awareness.

My husband was photographing these avian creatures, identifying them and sharing interesting details and facts throughout so the boatman was even more helpful trying to get close to birds without disturbing them and stopping as and when asked to. After tipping the boatman we headed back to the parking bay super thrilled at having been able to be part of this ‘conference of birds’. Seeing so many species of birds in a matter of just two hours is a rare treat for city dwellers like us habituated to either shooing crows and pigeons that create nuisance in our balconies or squealing with delight at the mere sight of a myna or a bulbul.

Watching the sunset at the horizon we set off for Ahmedabad carrying resounding memories of the avian cosmos with us. After checking into our hotel and freshening up we went to the Law Garden area which is famous for its street food. Pav bhaji, pizzas, chaat, sandwiches, South Indian fare of dosas and uttapams – the list is endless not to forget an array of desserts like kulfi, falooda, ice-cream… Since it was the first day of the new year and a holiday; families, friends, college students any and everyone seemed to have flocked to this area.

After having our fill, we decided to check out the stalls near Law Garden which sell colourful chaniya cholis, bandhani (tie and die) outfits, embroidered bags, costume jewellery and other knick-knacks. What I noticed was that unlike till a couple of years ago when one could get clothes painstakingly hand-embroidered with mirrors, beads and thread we now saw mostly cheap machine-made copies. It made me value some of the hand-embroidered stuff that I have which may soon become heirlooms passed from one generation to the next. We had managed to do so much in one day and it was a truly fulfilling experience.

Nalsarovar and Lothal located just a few kilometres from each other are as different as day and night. To me, they are a metaphor for life and death with the former robust and thriving with countless birds and aquatic creatures while the latter is an inert site with scattered ruins and remnants of a lost civilization. Yet both have a distinctive allure and appeal which will leave a lasting impression on you.  

Nearest Airport: Ahmedabad is the nearest airport with the next option being Vadodara. You can then drive down from there to Lothal and Nalsarovar.
Distances: Vadodara – Lothal 2 hours 37 mins/ 143 km
Lothal – Nalsarovar 53 mins/ 43 km
Nalsarovar – Ahmedabad 1 hr 45 mins/ 62 km
Where to Stay: It is best to stay in Ahmedabad since it’s the nearest city which has a range of hotels to suit your budget and comfort requirements.
Travel tip: Do negotiate boat rates at Nalsarovar as there is no fixed price entry ticket. Also, do carry your binoculars and a hat.  

This Travelogue was first published in Corporate Tycoons Magazine, Nov 2018

3 thoughts on “Lothal and Nalsarovar- Gems of Gujarat”

  1. Neha Phadke

    I just happened to add Nalsarovar to my bucket list after reading this! As usual beautiful frames from Rafiq Sir 😊

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