Reliving History: A Quest for the Lost Cities of the Indus Valley by Jaffar Ali

No matter the age we live in, there is a connection between our souls and the past. We have a curiosity to know how life was for those that came before us. To satisfy this urge to know, we explore the past civilization. The word civilization comes from the Latin term ‘Civitas’, meaning ‘city’. Renowned historians defined civilization as, “A complex culture in which large numbers of people share a variety of common elements.”


Historically, riverbanks have been the breeding grounds for civilizations during different periods between 7000BC-1500BC, including the Egyptian civilization along the River Nile, the Sumerian civilization along the Euphrates-Tigris Rivers, and the Indus valley civilization, along the mighty Indus.
In his book, “Ancient Pakistan: An archaeological History”, Mukhtar Ahmed communicates the point that the Indus River or ‘Sindhu’ was a major landmark for ancient Pakistan, even so for the modern-era. The name was referred to as ‘Shen-tu’ by the ancient Chinese, ‘Indos’ in Greek texts, and ‘Hindu’ in Persian inscriptions. The Arabs had used ‘Sind’ or ‘Hind’ to describe this area.


The mighty Indus River originates from the mythical Himalayas (Tibet), flows through Ladakh (India), into Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan), and finally enters Sindh to progress towards its final destination of the Arabian Sea. Over the millennia, Indus has been a witness to the rise and fall of the great Indus Valley/Harappan Civilization.


According to prominent historians, the history of the Indus Valley civilization dates back thousands of years to the time of around 3300 BC-1600 BC, however, the time around which it culminated was during the period when it flourished in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (both cities are located in modern day Pakistan in Sindh and Punjab provinces) circa 2500 BC-1800 BC, making it part of the Bronze age.


In 17th and 18th century, the region was colonized by the Britishers, tracing all the initial discoveries to the Britishers or Europeans. The initial site in Harappa was discovered by Charles Masson in the 19th century AD; however, proper excavation of the site wasn’t carried out until the 20th century. It was in 1921, when formal excavation was initiated under the supervision of Sir John Marshall which led to the uncovering of pottery, jewelry, and stone, hinting towards the remnants of a highly civilized society.


Harappa ruins, spread over an area 150 hectares or roughly 1 sq mile, architecturally have the same characteristics that are found in Mohenjo-Daro; say for example the presence of several mounds with walls or fortifications, and grain silos. However, no “Great Baths” resembling that of Mohenjo-Daro have been discovered yet. As a visitor, you will find ruins and thousands of years old debris. But, there is “something else” in the air that recollects ancient times and offers tranquility.


Mr. Salman Rashid, a travel writer and fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, with 10 books on travel and history of the region to his credit, says of the Indus Valley Civilization, “If we compare the Indus Valley civilization to its contemporaries, the former was equally developed and civilized, rather more advanced, if we take into account the way they spent their lives. It’s just that certain aspects of their lives are yet to be uncovered. We’re unsure as to what happened to them, plus their scripture-language is still undeciphered, so a lot remains to be explored.” Mr. Rashid also stresses the fact that since Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were contemporaries, they also had strong trade ties.


The ancient-marvel city of Mohenjo-Daro – literally means ‘mound of the dead’ in Sindhi language, it was the most glorious city just a few millenniums ago, located approximately 17-miles away from Larkana city in the Sindh province of Pakistan.


Sikander Hulio, an anthropologist hailing from Sindh translates Mohenjo-Daro as the ‘village of fishermen’. A German anthropologist and archaeologist Dr Michael Jansen, who carried out extensive research on the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan civilizations for three decades, says that due to the un-deciphered Indic scripture, the fate of those people is unknown. It is still a mystery whether they became victim to an epidemic, were conquered and eliminated by invaders, or if the climate change caused their extinction.


While delivering a lecture at a university in Sindh, Pakistan, Dr Jansen, terming the Mohenjo-Daro Civilization as far more developed than its contemporaries (Egyptian and Mesopotamian Civilization), regretted the fact that more than 90% of the ruins remained to be explored.


Revealing some important facts about Mohenjo-Daro, Mr Rashid says, “Beneath the excavated site, there are several undiscovered layers that can’t be excavated, validating the argument that the area could pre-date even the Bronze Age.”


He said, “This is exactly the same period when Sargon-I, the Sumerian king who is also referred to as ‘Sargon the Great’ was ruling the empire of Akkad, modern day Iraq, between 2400-2300 BC.”
Expressing his views about the religion of the Mohenjo-Daro dwellers, he says that there can’t be anything certain about their religion. They might have been Buddhists, worshiped the sun, trees, or Mother Goddess. The presence of stupas in Mohenjo-Daro ruins raises the possibility that the place might have been the birth place of Buddhism. The idea that they used to worship the sun is possible as the Harappans used to bury their dead with their faces towards the east (from where the sun rises).


While visiting these ancient marvels of city planning and architecture, you can easily find the traces of symmetrical elegance and high-levels of civic planning. One of the most prominent features in the Mohenjo-Daro’s architecture is the ‘Great Bath’ or ‘Public Bath’, where bricks and tar were extensively used in construction, showing excellent skills and intricate craftsmanship.


Harappa was discovered and excavated one-year prior to Mohenjo-Daro, so both the cities are collectively referred to as Harappan civilization. These people were not only advanced city-planners but were also clever businessmen, manufacturers and tradesmen. Mr. Rashid is certain that there were strong trade ties between the Indus Valley civilization and other civilizations of that time.
Ms. Sidra Gulzar, who works at the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and carried out extensive research on the Harappa civilization, believes that pots and gold/silver ornaments – discovered from the area which was ruled by Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations – have similar characteristics to those found in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, suggesting the high probability of strong trade-ties.


Another important site ‘Ganweriwala’ was discovered in the early 40s by Sir Aurel Stein. Further excavation and field work was initiated in the 1980s by Dr. Muhammad Rafiq Mughal – a Pakistani archaeologist working collectively on the South Asian and Indus Valley Archaeology. The area was discovered on the dry ‘Ghaggar-Hakra’ riverbed. The ‘Ghaggar-Hakra’ river used to flow parallel eastward to the Indus, in an area currently comprising the Cholistan desert, close to Bahawalpur, and near the Pakistan-India border. At this site, the most significant discovery to date has been of a clay tablet with an engraved yogi, which is a common attribute among all discovered sites in the region, making it easier for historians, archaeologists and anthropologists to link it with the Indus Valley Civilization.


Gregory Possehl, an eminent anthropological archaeologist and author of various books on Indus Valley/Harappa civilizations says that the historical site of ‘Ganeriwala’ is equi-distant from both Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa and has many cultural similarities with these cities that make it a part of Indus Valley Civilization.

The ‘Ganweriwala’ site, spread over an area of more than 80 hectares or 0.5 square mile, is more or less equal in size to Mohenjo-Daro. It is largely an un-excavated site; however, the discovery of a few artifacts has led archaeologists to believe that it could be a contemporary of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.


The Indus Valley Civilization stretched across much of present day Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and to some extent, Iran. A majority of these sites have been discovered in Pakistan and India, with the most ancient discovery “Mehergarh”, in Balochistan Province of Pakistan. The historic site of Mehergarh, located near the Bolan Pass in Balochistan, is spread across an area of 250 hectares or 1.5 square miles and was excavated by French Archaeologist Jean-François Jarrige. The site pre-dates even the Harappan Civilization and can be traced back to Neolithic times, around 7500 BC, and it is regarded as one of the oldest archaeological sites on earth.


During the excavation at Mehergarh it was discovered that the people used to live in mud houses that had granaries. They had developed tools for cultivation of wheat and barley. Sheep and goats were part of almost every household.


Counting similarities between Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Mehergarh, Mr. Rashid says, “The Mehergarh, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa dwellers were the same, people who migrated from one site and settled at another with the passage of time and according to the requirements of time”
If you consider the example of Mehergarh and Mohenjo-Daro, the likelihood is that inhabitants of Mehergarh, over the centuries and millennia, migrated from the mountains, stumbled upon Mohenjo-Daro, found it more suitable for life sustenance, and hence settled down there. The argument has a solid basis, as there is a striking resemblance between the discovered relics, use of farming techniques, sewage system, and cultivation tools.


According to experts, prominent historical sites in Lothal, Dholavira, Rakhigarhi, and smaller, lesser known settlements at Gola-Dhoro and Daimabad, all located in present day India, are from the same Harappan-period, since relics unearthed from the sites matched those from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.


Besides the current famed sites, there are scores of other historic sites dating back to the same era; some of them are ‘Sokhtagen Dor’ near Gwadar in Balochistan, Pakistan; Kot Diji and Chaudaro in Sindh, Pakistan.


Until the Indic scripture is deciphered, there’s no certain way to figure out what actually caused the downfall of such an organized and intelligent people. Until then, we have to rely on best-guesses and assumptions. The Indus Valley peoples remain another unsolved mystery in the history of our world.∞


Jaffar Ali
Jaffar Ali

I am a communications professional, based in Lahore, Pakistan, with more than a 7-year stint within the media and communications sector, and an added background in Journalism. I like to dabble in writing, learning new languages, traveling, and scaling peaks.
When I’m not indulging in the above, I can be found learning a new skill, reading, or designing. Email me: jafferdar41@gmail.com