Mohenjo-daro (sometimes spelt Moenjo-daro or Moenjodaro) is a 5,000-year-old city in what is now northwestern Sindh in Pakistan and a popular and a major tourist attraction due to the fascinating archaeological site which presents the best-preserved ruins of the Indus Valley Civilisation - one of the world's earliest.
It's an archaeological site of immense historical significance, on the UNESCO World Heritage List and not to be missed if you are interested in such sites or in the history of this region. It has the ruins of an ancient city; they are among the best preserved urban ruins in South Asia.
The city was built circa 2,600BCE and had a population of about 35,000 to 50,000; it was one of the main centres of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. It was one of the earliest cities and one of the largest and most advanced cities of its time, with remarkably sophisticated civil engineering and urban planning. It was abandoned for uncertain reasons around 1,900BCE; one theory is that it was caused by shifts in river courses.
Mohenjo-daro is a name in the local Sindhi language, usually translated as Mound of the Dead. The ruins were first discovered in 1911 and excavations started in 1922, while major excavations were carried out in the 1930s. After 1965, further excavations were banned due to fears of damage to the ruins. It is estimated that only one third of the site has been revealed thus far, and site conservation works continue to this day.
Mohenjo-daro was one of the earliest cities in the world and one of the main cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC). That was one of the great civilisations of the ancient world, and one of the earliest Bronze Age civilisations. It is also known as the Harappan Civilisation after another major archaeological site at Harappa, also in Pakistan. The terms apply to several cultures over the period 3,300-1,300 BCE, and to over a thousand sites where their artifacts have been found. The peak was the Mature Harappan period, 2,600-1,900 BCE, when Mohenjo-daro was a great city.
At its height, the IVC spanned almost all of what is now Pakistan and parts of what are now northern India and eastern Afghanistan. It had outposts further afield, including one far to the North in Bactria. Trading links extended at least to Central Asia, Persia and the great Mesopotamian civilisations of the period in what are now Iraq and Syria. Like its contemporary civilisations, the IVC was primarily based on agriculture; irrigation and flood control were important areas of engineering. The cities handled grain storage, trade, crafts, government and education, and acted as the main religious centres.
Other civilisations were at a similar level of development in about the same time period as the IVC. Cities contemporary with Mohenjo-daro included Thebes in Ancient Egypt, Nineveh and Ur in Mesopotamia and Knossos in Minoan Crete. However the Indus cities were more advanced in some ways; for example, they had the world's first municipal sewage systems. China also had well-developed cities at around that time, but the Liangzhu Culture and Longshan Culture (named for a site near Jinan) were still Neolithic (late Stone Age).
The demise of the IVC is not fully understood. One theory is that it was conquered by Aryan invaders about 1,500 BCE; an alternate view paints it more as nomadic Aryans being assimilated by the more advanced Indus Valley culture. The Aryans spoke Sanskrit, the language of the oldest Hindu sacred texts, the Vedas, and the ancestor of all the main modern languages of Northern India and Pakistan. Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-European language family, as are almost all the languages of Europe, Persian (the modern name for Persia, "Iran", is from the same root as Aryan) and the main languages of Afghanistan, Dari (Afghan Persian) and Pushtu. It is thought that the Indus Valley people spoke a language of the non-Indo-European Dravidian group, related to the modern languages of South India and Sri Lanka. However, this is somewhat uncertain since the Indus Valley script has not been deciphered.
The extent and nature of the IVC's influence on modern India is not entirely clear. Some archaeologists see parallels between various IVC artifacts and various members of the Hindu pantheon while others see more relation to religions further west, in particular the "Mother Goddess" religions of Mesopotamia and Crete. Some of the "Hindutva" nationalists talk of the "Saraswati Culture" and believe the influence was very strong.
Some links to modern culture are considered likely, though none are certain. The earliest cities along the Ganges — including Varanasi, "the spiritual capital of India" — appeared about 1,200BCE; it is thought the founders may have been migrants from the IVC, moving east as that culture fell. The Great Bath and the many household baths at Mohenjo-daro may have been used for purification rites similar to those in modern Hinduism. Cremation of the dead became common in late Harappan culture and is now the usual custom for Hindus. Some items like the pottery were well enough developed in this ancient civilisation to resemble items still made and used today.
Best time to visit
You might want to visit in the cooler winter months (October to March); otherwise you should be prepared for blisteringly hot weather. The highest temperature recorded was 53.5°C (128°F), here on 26 May 2010. It is the highest reliably measured temperature in Asia, and the fourth highest temperature recorded anywhere in the world.
Mohenjo-daro Airport (MJD) is adjacent to the archaeological site. Pakistan's national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines operates both direct and non-direct flights from Karachi to Mohenjo-daro. Direct flights run four times a week and take one hour. The non-direct flight makes a stop at Sukkur Airport and only operates on Fridays. The outdated infrastructure of the Mohenjo-daro airport prevents the use of large, advanced aircraft so smaller regional airliners are used. A one-way ticket costs under Rs 10,000 to/from Karachi. A shuttle bus can drop you at the archaeological site entrance.
The nearest railway station is located in the nearby village of Dokri, which is some 7km away from the site. There's only one train each day from Karachi: the Khushal Khan Khattak Express calling at Dokri railway station early in the morning and has only economy class. From Dokri railway station, a shared rickshaw or a public van is available for Mohenjo-daro archaeological site.
Unfortunately there's no direct public transport bus service to Mohenjo-daro so getting to Mohenjo-daro by bus is a two-step process. First you'll need to come to Larkana which is is 30km from Mohenjo-daro and then to Mohenjo-daro. One can get to Larkana by bus from any major city in Sindh. From Larkana, both buses and shared motorcycle rickshaws are available throughout the day for Mohenjo-daro but a taxi is definitely the preferred option and quickest as well. The trip should cost less than Rs 1,000 if you manage to haggle well with the taxi driver.
If you are driving or being driven, Mohenjo-daro can be accessed most easily by some arterial roads branching off (at Mehar, Nasirabad and Larkana) from the 1,264km-long multiple-lane National Highway # N-55 (the Indus Highway) which runs between Karachi and Peshawar.
The archaeological site is inside a complex surrounded by a wall and only accessible through the main entrance gate. The complex is small enough to be covered on foot easily and it is a pedestrians-only area; no other means of transport is allowed, not even bicycles.
The entrance fee for the whole complex is Rs 200 for foreigners, but only Rs 10 for locals, and Rs 5 for children. The complex is open between 08:30 and 19:00 from April to September, and between 09:00 and 17:00 in winter from October to March.
The archaeological site is divided into two sectors: a higher settlement to the west and a larger lower settlement to the east. Facilities such as the museum and resthouses are in a separate area a bit to the north.
Both settlement sectors are further subdivided into several areas. The names of the those subdivided areas are derived from the names of the archaeologists who excavated the ruins in the area. Everything is properly marked so it is quite easy to navigate and understand where you are and which structure is what.
The settlement to the west is generally referred to as the citadel mound, and it is mostly comprised of the ruins of ancient administrative buildings constructed on top of a massive mud-brick platform. This is where most of Mohenjo-daro's major structures can be found.
- The Buddhist Stupa. This is the the highest and most prominent structure, and is located atop the citadel mound. The mound is thought to have housed the elite of the early society and to have been a very sacred part of the ancient city. The stupa was built during the Kushan Empire, 1st to 4th centuries CE, while all of the other excavated ruins are from 2,600-1,900BCE.
- The Great Hall. This large building may have been a granary; it has what appear to have been a loading platform for carts transporting grain and a ventilation system to prevent spoilage. An alternate theory is that it was a public hall; the actual function of the building has not been determined.
- The Great Bath. A 2.4m deep, 12m long, and 7m wide pool known as "The Great Bath" is located at the centre of the Citadel, is made of fine baked waterproof mud bricks and a thick layer of bitumen (natural tar – presumably to keep water from seeping through the walls), which indicates that it was used for holding water. Many scholars have suggested that this huge deep bath could have been a place for ritual bathing or religious ceremonies. It is the earliest public water tank of the ancient world. Adjacent to it are a well that was used to supply water to the bath.
- Assembly Hall (Pillared Hall). This structure may have been an assembly hall, a place for people to sit for meetings and social gatherings.
- College of Priests. A large open space and courtyard referred to as a college lies to the east of the Great Bath. This large building having several rooms and three verandas, with two staircases leading to roof and upper floor, is thought to have been the residence of a very high official priest or college for priests.
- First Street. This ancient city is also well known for its well planned roads and the houses along this wide road supposed to have been inhabited by the elite people.
Other structures in western settlement are the remains of trenches, public wells, bathing platforms and old buildings, some of which may have been the residences of priests. Several drains branch off from the baths. There is also a temple complex nearby. Bastions and a tower built of baked brick are also located on this mound, monastic cells, Divinity street, a private bath, a dust bin, Main Street, the double ring well, a drain with a corbelled roof, a series of bathrooms, votive stupas, an oval-shaped well, a shell working shop, the well with the largest circumference, as well as a mud-brick embankment between the stairs and the tower. Much of the rest of the mound is yet to be excavated.
The lower settlement to the east was mainly a residential area for the ancient people. It is a large area, but very little has been excavated so far. This residential area were divided into separate areas for the rich to the north known as the wealthy residential area which could have been the location of the mansions of the wealthy people and for the poor to the south known as poor residential area, which consists of much smaller structures when compared to the wealthy area. Excavation shows that the residential area shows an advanced urban planning and was built on a grid system with some of the streets were perpendicular to each other and were as wide as 10m to accommodate the carts. The houses of the rich had courtyards surrounded by bedrooms, kitchen, toilet and even a servants quarter. There is also what is thought to be a large bazaar adjoining the wealthy residential area. One building in this section that has been excavated consists of circular depressions into the ground, leading many to believe that it was a dyer's workshop and that the depressions were used to hold pottery vessels.
Other ruins to see in this sector include a deep excavated well, a rubbish water chute, a well preserved house, more wells, the chief's house and its ovens, a room with a double stair case, a low lane, First Street, Central Street, the guard room, an assembly hall, a cesspit, Lane No. 1, and a market building.
Lost artefacts of the lost city
Some of Mohenjo-daro’s best-known relics are actually elsewhere, though the on-site museum has good replicas. The iconic sculpture of the priest-king is at the National Museum in Karachi, and others left what is now Pakistan before 1947; the bronze statuette of a naked dancing girl is in India's National Museum in Delhi, and some are in the British Museum in London. Other museums in both Pakistan and India also have relics of the Indus Valley Civilisation; in particular the Lahore Museum has a good collection.
- Mohenjo-daro Archaeology Museum. Open between 08:30 and 12:30 and between 14:30 and 17:30 from April to September, and between 09:00 and 16:00 from October to March. The museum was inaugurated in 1967, and contains relics found at the archaeologic site. The relics which contains weapons, engraved seals, kitchen utensils, sculptures, terracotta toys, jewellery and other ornaments. are showcased on the first and illuminated in natural light while the heavy stones, rings and platforms are kept at the ground floor. The walls of the museum are filled with maps and pictorial illustrations of the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro. Rs 200 for foreigners, Rs 10 for locals, and Rs 5 for children.
Among the most popular souvenirs are replicas of two famous pieces of sculpture found at Mohenjo-daro: the 'Dancing Girl', some 4,500 years old, which was found in 1926, and the 'Priest-King', which was found in 1927 and has become symbolic of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
You'll find locals selling various souvenirs inside the site complex. There's also a good gift shop adjacent to the site where you can buy many kind of souvenirs. Various seals, stones, and books on Mohenjo-daro can also be purchased both from the gift store and local sellers. The museum sells various books and photo postcards of Mohenjo-daro.
Eat and drink
Water and tea are the main choices to combat the dry climate. The cafeteria inside the archaeology rest-house may provides some good food, available to non-resident guests too, and can cater to many people at once. There is also a open air cafeteria inside the complex where you can take a rest after a tiring stroll in ruins and refresh yourself with drinks, juices, tea, bottled water as well many snacks. You'll also find many hawkers inside the complex selling snacks, soft drinks, and bottled water to visitors at affordable rates.
There are only one lodging facilities in Mohenjo-daro, located inside the complex and close to the archaeological site. Alternatively, there are a few good options to stay in the nearby town of Larkana.
- Archaeology Rest-house, ☎ +92 344 3172575, +92 313 3063317. Recently renovated accommodation is run by Pakistan's archaeological department is overall, ideal for a stay overnight and available at affordable rates. Has total nine rooms with attached baths. Three air-conditioned rooms, double bed, TV, and sofas are on the first floor while six non-aircondioned rooms with two single beds in each room on ground floor. Has a cafeteria, sitting area in lounge as well a big hall to accommodate large group of people for overnight stays. Cafeteria can prepare a meal according to your taste but may charge Rs 500 per person for lunch or a dinner meal while Rs 200 for breakfast. It is advised to book in advance. Rs 1500-2,500.