The ancient settlement of Mohenjo-daro is in Larkana District in the Sindh province of Pakistan. Listed as an archaeological site of immense historical significance on the UNESCO World Heritage List, it is one of the most important archaeological sites of South Asia, not to be missed if you are interested in archaeology or in the history of the Indian subcontinent.
Believed to have been built in about 2,600 BCE on what was then the west bank of the Indus river, the city had a population of 35,000 to 50,000 at its peak. It was one of the earliest cities in the world, one of the most advanced of its time, and one of the first to be a major centre of a Bronze Age culture, the Indus Valley Civilisation. The city was abandoned around 1,900 BCE, and the reason is not known for certain.
The town was buried underneath thousands of years of dirt and soil until it was 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 some believe only 10 to 20 percent has been discovered.
The site is threatened by erosion and, despite conservation efforts funded by the Pakistani government and UNESCO, it is considered endangered. In 2012, Pakistani archaeologists said that the site could disappear by 2030 unless there is a major new conservation initiative.
Mohenjo-daro is the modern name; it translates as Mound of the Dead.
Mohenjo-daro was one of the main cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) which was one of the earliest Bronze Age civilisations and the first great civilisation of the Indian Subcontinent. The IVC is also known as the Harappan Civilisation after another major archaeological site at Harappa, also in modern Pakistan. The terms apply to several cultures over the period 3,300-1,300 BCE, and to over a thousand sites where their artefacts have been found. The peak was the Mature Harappan period, 2,600-1,900 BCE, when Mohenjo-daro was a thriving city.
Ancient Mohenjo-daro seems to have been a socially classless society which focused on convenience of its citizens, in contrast to other ancient cities where vast resources were used to build royal palaces and giant tombs, solely to serve the rulers. Evidence suggests that Mohenjo-daro was ruled by an elected body of people who may have been religious leaders and traders. No evidence of warfare, invasions or weapons has been found in the area; the inhabitants of Mohenjo-daro seem to have been peaceful, though many contemporary societies were quite warlike.
Epic journey through Mohenjo-daro
In 2016, India's Bollywood produced an epic adventure-romance movie titled Mohenjo Daro with one of India's leading actors, Hrithik Roshan, in the lead role.
The story is set in 2016 BCE at the height of the Indus Valley Civilisation. It follows a farmer who travels to Mohenjo-daro for trade and falls in love with a high-status woman of Mohenjo-daro, and who must then challenge the city's rulers, and fight against overwhelming odds to save their civilisation.
The movie received some criticism both from the public and from the Government of Pakistan for distorting historical facts and it was not a commercial success, but it does provide an interesting fictional version of life in the city.
Mohenjo-daro was abandoned around 1900 BCE and the whole IVC declined from about then until there was nothing left by about 1300 BCE. The reasons are not fully understood; see the Indus Valley Civilisation article for discussion.
The site is not particularly easy or comfortable to get to since it is in rural Sindh, some 30 km from the nearest city, Larkana, and the region is extremely hot and dry.
On the other hand, it is accessible by rail, road or air and it is certainly worth a visit.
Pakistan's flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines flies from Karachi to Mohenjo-daro. Direct flights run three times a week and take around one hour. The outdated infrastructure of the Mohenjo-daro airport prevents the use of large, advanced aircraft so smaller prop aircraft such as the ATR 42 are used. A one-way ticket costs around Rs 6,000 to/from Karachi.
- 1 Mohenjo-daro Airport (MJD IATA) (adjacent to the archaeological site complex). A shuttle bus is available on flight days to drop you at the archaeological site entrance, or the distance can be easily covered on foot.
The nearest railway station is some 11km away from the site in the outskirts of the nearby town of Dokri, but named after Mohenjo-daro. There's one train the Khushal Khan Khattak Express, each day run between Karachi and Peshawar, and makes a brief stop at Dokri early in the morning at around 6 AM. It has both air conditioned and non air conditioned coaches. The train leaves Karachi in the evening at around 9 PM, the journey takes approximately 9 hours and a non-air conditioned seat costs Rs 400 while Rs 1,000 for air-conditioned.
If your train doesn't make a call at Dokri, you can opt to disembark at the larger nearby town of Larkana.
- 2 Mohenjo-daro railway station.
From Mohenjo-daro railway station, a rickshaw for Mohenjo-daro archaeological site can be hired for Rs 200. Shared rickshaws are also available for Dokri for Rs 20 and from Dokri, you can hire a rickshaw for the archaeological site for Rs 150.
Getting to Mohenjo-daro by public bus is a two-step process as there's no direct service to Mohenjo-daro. The nearest major city is Larkana, some 30km to the north, and one can easily get to Larkana by bus (either air-conditioned or not) from any major city of Sindh. From Larkana, both taxis and rickshaws can be hired for Mohenjo-daro. Moreover, vans run from Larkana up-to a bypass near the archaeological complex as well as shared motorcycle rickshaws. Hiring a taxi or a rickshaw is definitely the preferred option as both are comfortable as well as quicker than the cramped vans or shared rickshaws; they take less than an hour. Hiring a taxi for the archaeological site should cost less than Rs 1,000 if you manage to haggle well with the taxi driver whereas a rickshaw can be hired for Rs 500. Journeys on shared rickshaws may cost around Rs 100 and vans even less.
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 National Highway # N-55 (the Indus Highway) which runs between Karachi and Peshawar.
- 3 Mohenjodaro Car Park.
Protect Mohenjo-daro, it has the risk of being lost forever.
Once a symbol of the wealth and grandeur of the Indus Valley Civilization, today Mohenjo-daro slowly turning to dust. Due to negligence and no concrete preservation, structures at Mohenjo-daro has been significantly vandalised and damaged for decades and are in the state of crumbling. Experts suggested Mohenjo-daro could be completely diminished within the next 20 years if strict measures are not taken quickly to save and protect it. At the very least, avoid climbing over the ancient structures while touring the site and play your part to keep the site protected and preserved.
The archaeological ruins are scattered inside a large complex, surrounded by a protection wall and only accessible through a large main entrance gate. The complex can be covered on foot easily, and it is a pedestrians-only area; no other means of transport is allowed, not even bicycles. Pathways are constructed of bricks connecting the scattered ruins. Beware that walking can be quite exhausting, especially in the heat of summer. Make sure you wear proper and comfortable walking shoes and have a bottle of water with you when you explore the ancient city. It is also advisable to wear sunglasses and hats. Watch your step while walking through the ancient structure, as snakes have been sighted; they pose a hazard only if you disturb them.
The archaeological site is divided into two sectors: a higher settlement to the west and a larger lower settlement to the east. Both settlement sectors are further subdivided into several areas, whose names 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.
Facilities such as the museum, shops, park, canteen and resthouse are in a separate area a bit to the north, all near the entrance gate.
The entrance fee for the complex is Rs 3,000 for foreigners, and Rs 20 for locals. This does include admission to the museum. 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.
See and do
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 modern 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.
The actual excavation has two main areas, east and west. The higher settlement to the west has the ruins of ancient administrative buildings and some that were likely residences inhabited by the rulers while the lower settlement to the east was mainly a residential area for people of middle and lower class. Most of the major structures including the Great Bath, Granary, College and Assembly Hall can be found on citadel mound, which is a massive unbaked mud-brick platform with many buildings, believed to have been a sacred area.
The lower settlement is further divided into two areas: the wealthy residential area to the north had the mansions of the wealthy while the poor residential area to the south had much smaller structures, believed to be inhabited by the common people. It has a variety of structures — residences, workshops, and public facilities such as stupas, baths, wells and a guardhouse.
The city shows advanced architecture and urban planning. Like other cities of the IVC, it was built on a grid system with streets as wide as 10m to accommodate carts. Streets were perpendicular to each other, dividing the city into rectangular blocks.
A rare thing even in modern villages of Pakistan today, Mohenjo-daro had a channeled sanitary system; the impressive structures of the sewerage and drainage system can still be identified easily. These connected public and private baths and wells and appear to have provided comfort and convenience to the people and a hygienic environment.
Not magnificent but simple multi-storeyed rectilinear houses were made with standard size bricks. House varied in size but had a similar layout and proper sanitation system. Some had courtyards surrounded by bedrooms, kitchen, and even servants' quarters.
Adjoining the wealthy residential area, there is what is thought to have been a large bazaar. One building that has been excavated has circular depressions in the ground, leading many to believe that it was a dyer's workshop and that the depressions were used to hold pottery vessels.
Some of the major structures of Mohenjo-daro are described below:
- 1 The Buddhist Stupa. Visible from a great distance, this is the highest and most prominent structure in Mohenjo-daro. It was built atop the citadel mound long after the fall of the ancient city; it is from the Kushan Empire, 1st to 4th centuries CE, while all of the other excavated ruins are from 2,600-1,900 BCE. It is believed that the Buddhist Stupa was built over an older Hindu temple.
The stupa is shown on Pakistani twenty rupee notes.
- 2 The Great Hall (Granary). The Great Hall is a large building and is believed to have been a granary; it has what appears 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.
- 3 The Great Bath. A 2.4-m-deep, 12-m-long, and 7-m-wide pool in the centre of higher settlement is the best-known structure of Mohenjo-daro. It 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 is a well that was used to supply water to the bath.
- 4 Assembly Hall (Pillared Hall). This brick pillared structure of approximately 27.5 m² is thought to may have been an assembly hall, a place for people to sit for meetings and social gatherings. Some believe it to be prayer hall or a palace.
- 5 College of Priests. A unique large open space and courtyard lying to the east of the Great Bath, this large building has several rooms and three verandas, with two staircases leading to the roof and upper floor. It is thought to have been either a college for priests or the residence of a high official.
- 6 Mohenjo-daro Archaeology Museum. 08:30 to 12:30 and 14:30 to 17:30 from April to September, and 09:00 to 16:00 from October to March. The museum was inaugurated in 1967, and contains relics found at the archaeologic site. The relics include weapons, engraved seals, kitchen utensils, sculptures and terracotta toys. Jewellery and other ornaments are showcased on the first floor and illuminated in natural light while heavy stones found during excavation are kept as well. A wall on the first floor is illustrated with a conjectural yet impressive view of the ancient city. Rs 300 for foreigners, Rs 100 for locals.
Among the most popular souvenirs are replicas of two famous pieces of sculpture found at Mohenjo-daro: the 'Dancing Girl', and the 'Priest-King' as well numerous seals and ancient jewellery. The 'Dancing Girl' is some 4,500 years old and was found in 1926; the bronze statuette is an image of a young dancer wearing nothing but bangles and a necklace. The 'Priest-King', was found in 1927 and has become symbolic of the Indus Valley Civilisation; the soapstone sculpture is of a bearded male believed by some to be a priest or monarch who had ruled Mohenjo-daro; however, there is no evidence that Mohenjo-daro was ruled by a priest or monarch.
You'll find locals selling these souvenirs inside the Mohenjo-daro complex. There's a good gift shop adjacent to the site near the entrance gate where you can buy many kinds of souvenirs as well. Various stones, post cards, photographs and books on Mohenjo-daro can be purchased both from the gift store and local sellers. The museum also sells books and photo postcards of Mohenjo-daro.
Eat and drink
Water and tea are the main choices to combat the dry climate. Because of the heat, it is essential to keep well hydrated.
The cafeteria inside the archaeology rest-house admits any paying customer (no rest-house stay required), provides some food and can cater to many people at once. Alternatively, there is a cafeteria inside the complex near the museum building where one can take a rest in open-air on lush green ground after a tiring stroll, refresh yourself with drinks such as juices, tea or bottled water and have some light snacks. You'll also find many hawkers inside the complex selling light packed snacks, soft drinks and bottled water.
You might bring your own food to double your enjoyment. Many families and tour groups head to Mohenjo-daro on weekends to enjoy picnics in the lush grass parks inside the complex.
There is only one lodging facility in Mohenjo-daro, inside the complex and close to the archaeological site. Alternatively, there are a few good options to stay in the nearby town of Larkana. The PTDC Motel shown on the map was shut down in 2013 and remains so as of late 2014.
- 1 Archaeology Rest-house, ☏ , . Renovated accommodation is run by Pakistan's archaeological department is overall, ideal for a stay overnight and available at affordable rates. They can also provide pick and drop to/from Larkana or Badah station via car. The rest house has nine rooms with attached baths. Three air conditioned rooms, double bed, TV, and sofas are on the first floor while six non-air conditioned 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 3000 (basic non-A/C room) Rs 5000 (double room with A/C).
A weather record
The highest temperature recorded at Mohenjo-daro was 53.5°C (128°F) on 26 May 2010, which is the highest reliably measured temperature in Asia and the fourth-highest temperature ever recorded anywhere in the world.
The main risk in Mohenjo-daro and nearby areas is extreme heat. You might want to visit in the cooler winter months (October to March); otherwise you should be prepared for blisteringly hot weather. Generally, June is the hottest month of the year, with temperatures around 35°C, while December and January see an average temperature of some 15°C.
It is essential to stay hydrated; carry drinks with you or buy them along the way since tap water is unsafe in the region. Consider freezing a bottle of water overnight and drinking it as it melts; this can give cold water for much of the day.
- Kirthar National Park — this large park offers great natural beauty and a good variety of wildlife
- Karachi — Pakistan's biggest, most diverse and cosmopolitan city, some distance to the south
- Lahore — the country's second largest city, historically important, further away to the north