Lothal and Beyond

Oct 2 : I have been observing, with some curiosity, the many ways in which tea is served here in Gujarat. There is the kaat(half) chai and the full tea. Full tea, at eight rupees, is quite expensive. However, if you consider the percentage of milk in it, then it is good value for money. The Gujaratis like their food and drink, and will pay for them too! The full tea is not considered full until the tea overflows from the cup into the saucer, and a significant amount at that. Many hotels stock more saucers than cups. The reason? The more popular half tea is served directly in saucers. This annoys me since the tea cools off fast. Not a problem for the locals who seem to rin through their tea fast.

I have a lazy start at 7. Looks like I have begun mastering the art of procastination. Not good for this place and its hot climate. Some locals make the proceedings interesting by pointing me down a circutuous route to Lothal-Bhurki. Bhurki is a village close to Lothal, and unlike Lothal, it is inhabited. For once, I am glad tp have left the highway - its heat and pollution. Side roads provide a good means to talk with people. Highway folks are too busy to stop for a chat. The road that I take turns out to be green. The greenery is courtesy the water supply from the Sardar Sarovar Dam. A local tells me that the cropping patters have shifted from cotton to paddy after the water supply from the dam started. The availabilty of water has a colling effect as well. Otherwise, this area is surely arid, as evidenced by the good growth of the baval tree, which is only slightly larger than a thory bush.

Lothal, as expected, turns out to have not much to offer. Today being a friday, the museum is closed. So I have make do by seeing the excavations of the Harappan times. These date to 2500-1500 BC. Lothal in those days was apparently a wealthy sea port. Now it is a large distance away from the sea. The excavations show a drainage system, a bathroom, market and a 'bead factory'. I have to take the archaeologists word for the last one, since it was hard to figure out how beads could have been made here. The watchman doubles up as my guide; there is nobody else around.

Continuing from Lothal, I take another interior road. I have a choice to retrace my route 4 kms to join the highway to Bhavnagar. I want to stay on the local roads, so I take the road to Pipli. This would turn out to be my second mistake of the day. I get speaking with a fellow cyclist who I found wearing socks but no shoes. Baldev is a 10th standard pass out, who now works in a garment factory for a daily wage of 130 rupees. Less thirty in expenses, he tells me. He had to take up a job to support his mother and sister. I have tea at his house. There is some trouble brewing in this village, with a couple of people walking around with swords. Baldev's sister is suspicious of me, further heigtened when I ask him about the postal address. A few snaps later, I hope they understand why I took their address. Time to move on.

With Pipli 6 kms to go, I had to just stop. There was a roadside shelter and nothing else in sight. The hot sun was unbearable.Two guys in a motorbike took shelter there as well. I finished 90% of my packet of dates and rested there for a while. Lunch in Pipli after an hour. The heat kept me off the road for a couple of more hours.

Next comes the last mistake in todays comedy of errors. I decide to go towards Dhanduka instead of Dhokla. Ten more kilometers ridden without moving an inch.

I reach Dholka a little while after sunset. A few old men are sitting near a tea shop discussing. These are the local people of Kathaiwad, the region where I am riding now. The older of these folk dress in white, sometimes with a red or white turban. The whiteness of their clothes would make the waiters of Airlines Hotel(a good old hotel in Bangalore with filthy looking waiters) proud. And those of India Coffee House too. These folk also wear thick silver bracelets, plus gold ornaments near the upper parts of their ears. The slightly younger of these folk wear white shirts fashioned into something like a jacket. On their motorbikes, you may well confuse them to be the local cowboys. The women aren't seen much outside, perhaps preferring to escape the heat.

My attempts at getting familiar with them in a bid to earn a house stay fails miserably. That leaves me to find a lodge(called a rest room) here. One lodge is full and the other ridiculously expensive, so off I go trying my luck at a dhaba. Success. The dhaba owner is kind enough to give me a charpoy to sleep. I have the regular chit chat, with him entertaining me with stories from Iraq, where he apparently worked as a driver before the Kuwait war.

With the moon and the shining stars in view, I dozed off to sleep. Destination for tomorrow: Palitana, near the Jain piligrimage place called Shatrunjaya

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