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It is 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 2,600 BCE and had a population of about 35,000 to 50,000; it was one of the main centers of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. 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 1900 BCE; one theory is that it was caused by shifts in river courses.
Something that tends to amaze foreign visitors is the extent to which some artifacts resemble items in modern use. Look at some ancient pottery from Mohenjo-daro, for example, and then at the pottery in a nearby bazaar. No doubt there are differences that would be entirely obvious to an archaeologist, probably most local residents would notice differences as well, and even a foreign tourist might find some on careful comparison. However, on quick inspection by someone without background in the area, they appear not to have changed much over a 4000-year interval.
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 Civilization after another major archaeological site at Harappa, also in Pakistan. The terms apply to several cultures over the period 3300-1300 BCE, and to over a thousand sites where their artifacts have been found. The peak was the Mature Harappan period, 2600-1900 BCE, when Mohenjo-daro was a great city.
At its height, the IVC spanned almost all of what is now Pakistan and parts of 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 centers.
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 1200 BCE; 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.
Mohenjo-daro Airport (MJD) is adjacent to the archaeological site. Pakistan's national carrier PIA 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 airport prevents the use of large, advanced aircraft, with the PIA only using a regional airliner for flights. A one-way ticket can cost not more than PKR10,000. A shuttle bus can drop you at the site.
The nearest railway station is located in the nearby town of Dokri, which is some 7km away from Mohenjo-daro. There are two trains each day from Karachi that briefly stop at Dokri railway station: the Bolan Mail that is bound for Quetta and has air-con class, and the Khushal Khan Khattak Express bound for Peshawar. The train later makes a stop at Larkana railway station. Each takes around nine to twelve hours, depending on the traffic on the railway line. From Dokri, a shared rickshaw or a public van is available for Mohenjo-daro.
No direct buses run between Mohenjo-daro and any other major city and therefore you'll have to go to Larkana first. Larkana is 30km from Mohenjo-daro and is on National Highway N-55, the Indus Highway. The 1,264 km long N-55 runs from Karachi to Peshawar and one can easily get both air-conditioned and non-airconditioned bus for Larkana from cities situated along the highway. From Larkana, a taxi to Mohenjo-daro, costs about Rs 1,000 (one way) and can take not more than an hour. Alternatively. you can also get a cheap shared motorcycle riskshaw or a public bus.
Mohenjo-daro is quite a small town and the circumference of the entire site is less than 5km. This is a walking site and it is easy to get around on foot; the entire archaeological site can be covered in couple of hours. 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 ever recorded in Pakistan, 53.5°C, was recorded here on 26 May 2010. It is the highest reliably measured temperature in Asia, and the fourth highest temperature recorded anywhere in the world.
The archaeological site is divided into two sectors: a high settlement to the west and a larger lower town to the east. These sectors are further subdivided into several areas. The names of the subdivided areas are actually abbreviations of those 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 entrance fee for the complex is Rs 200 for foreigners, but only Rs 10 for locals, and Rs 5 for children. The museum is open between 08:30 and 19:00 from April to September, and between 09:00 and 17:00 from October to March.
- Mohenjo-daro Archaeology Museum. The museum is 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. It was opened in 1967, and contains relics found at the ancient town. These are showcased on the first and ground floors, and illuminated in natural light. The museum showcases weapons, engraved seals, kitchen utensils, sculptures, terracotta toys, jewellery and other ornaments. Heavy stones, rings and platforms are kept at the ground floor, and the walls of the floor are filled with maps and pictorial illustrations. The entrance fee PKR200 for foreigners, Rs 10 for locals, and PKR5 for children.
Many of Mohenjo-daro’s best-known relics, such as the iconic sculpture of the priest-king and a bronze statuette of a dancing girl, are displayed at the National Museum in Karachi instead of at the site museum. Others left what is now the country before 1947 and are now in the National Museum in Delhi or the British Museum. Other museums in both Pakistan and India also have relics of the Indus Valley Civilisation; in particular the Lahore Museum has a good collection.
High western settlement
This settlement is generally referred to as the citadel mound, and it is mostly comprised of the ruins of ancient administrative buildings and are constructed on top of a massive mud-bricks platform. Some of several major structures are:
- The Buddhist Stupa. atop the citadel mound, this is the the highest and most prominent structure, which was built much later than any of the other structures while all of the other excavated ruins are the original structures from 2,600 BCE.. It symbolically overlooks and overshadows the rest of the site, and was said to have housed the elite of the early society. This is considered to be the very sacred part of the ancient city.
- The Great Hall. This large building comprises of a loading platform and is thought by some to have been a granary, a public hall or a warehouse to store the grain although the actual function of the building has not been determined. It was designed to receive the carts transporting grains.
- The Great Bath. A 2.4m deep, 12m long, and 7m wide bath 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 a assembly hall, which may have been 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 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, 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.
- Other ruins to see in this sector include 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, and more.
Lower east settlement
This settlement in the east is made up of numerous lower mounds and was mainly a residential area for the ancient people. It is an extensive area, but very little of the lower site has been excavated. Excavation shows that the settlement was built to follow a grid system. The main streets are perpendicular to each other, being ten meters wide with bricked drains. The houses were entered from the main streets. A large part of the un-excavated mound located in the north is known as the wealthy residential area; this could have been the location of the mansions of the wealthy people. To the south is the poor residential area, which consists of much smaller structures when compared to the wealthy area. There are many private wells, bathing platforms and toilets in this area. 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.
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 Civilization.
You'll find locals selling various souvenirs outside the site complex. There's also a gift shop adjacent to the site where you can buy souvenirs as well. Various seals, stones, and books written on Mohenjo-daro can also be purchased both from the gift store and local sellers.
Eat and drink
Water and tea are the main choices to combat the dry climate. There is only one proper restaurant in town, which is inside the PTDC motel. It provides some good food, available to non-resident guests too, and can cater to many people at once. Archaeology Resthouse can also provide you with food and drinks. There are also a few small general stores and stalls outside the complex that sell some food such as snacks, soft drinks, and bottled water.
There are only two lodging facilities in town, both located close to the archaeological site. Alternatively, there are a few good options to stay in the nearby town of Larkana.
- Archaeology Resthouse, Mohenjo-daro Rd, ☎ +92 21 3452-1670, +92 21 3452-0638 (both in Karachi). This recently renovated decent accommodation is run by Pakistan's archaeological department and available at affordable rates. Rs 500-1,000.
- PTDC Motel, Mohenjo-daro Rd, ☎ . The motel is run by Pakistan's tourism bureau, has nine rooms, some air-conditioned and some not, and a good restaurant. Overall, ideal for a stay overnight. Rs 2,000-3,000.