Mohenjo-daro (sometimes spelt Moenjo-daro or Moenjodaro) is an ancient city in what is now northwestern Sindh in Pakistan. Listed as an archaeological site of immense historical significance on the UNESCO World Heritage List, this is a true highlight of the country and not to be missed if you are interested in archaeology or in the history of this region.
The city was built in about 2,600 BCE and had a population of 35,000 to 50,000; it was one of the main centres of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the first great civilisation of the Indian Subcontinent and one of the earliest anywhere. It was one of the largest and most advanced cities of its time, with remarkably sophisticated civil engineering and urban planning. The reasons for its sudden abandonment around 1,900 BCE are uncertain; one theory is that it was caused by shifts in river courses.
Mohenjo-daro is a name in the local Sindhi language, literally 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. The site is threatened by erosion and, despite conservation efforts funded by both the Pakistani government and UNESCO, it is considered endangered. Some archaeologists say that it will be gone by 2030 unless there is a major new conservation initiative,.
Mohenjo-daro was one of the earliest cities in the world, one of the most advanced of its time, 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 artefacts 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. Cities contemporary with Mohenjo-daro included Thebes in Ancient Egypt, Nineveh and Ur in Mesopotamia and Knossos in Minoan Crete. While Ancient Egypt may have been better with building skills and constructing giant pyramids, the Indus cities were better with urban infrastructure; for example, they had the world's first municipal sewage systems as their efficient municipal government put a high priority on hygiene. They were also quite technologically advanced for the time with expertise in arts and crafts and great skills in metallurgy and hydraulic engineering. China also had well-developed cities at around that time, but the Liangzhu Culture and Longshan Culture were still Neolithic (late Stone Age).
The demise of the IVC is not fully understood. Many believe that it was caused by climate change — in particular floods of the nearby Indus river. Another theory is that it was conquered by Aryan invaders about 1,500 BCE, though an alternate view holds that the nomadic Aryans were 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 the modern Indian subcontinent is not entirely clear. Some archaeologists see parallels between various IVC artefacts and 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 1,200 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. Some items like the pottery were well enough developed in this ancient civilisation to resemble items still made and used today.
Mohenjo-daro Airport (MJD) is adjacent to the archaeological site complex. Pakistan's flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines flies from Karachi to Mohenjo-daro. Direct flights run four times a week and take 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 under Rs 10,000 to/from Karachi. 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 only one train each day from Karachi bound for Peshawar, and it has only economy class: the Khushal Khan Khattak Express calling at Mohenjo-daro railway station early in the morning at around 6 AM. The train leaves Karachi in the evening at around 7 PM, the journey takes approximately 11 hours and a seat costs Rs 400. 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.
Due to negligence, Mohenjo-daro has been significantly vandalised and damaged in the last few years. Recently experts suggested Moenjo-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 structures while touring the site and and play your part to keep the site protected and preserved.
The archaeological ruins are widely scattered inside a vast complex, surrounded by a protection wall and only accessible through a large main entrance gate. The complex can be 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 ruins scattered far and wide but note that walking can be quite exhausting and tiring, 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. 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. 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.
The entrance fee for the whole complex is Rs 300 for foreigners, and only Rs 20 for locals. Interestingly, Mohenjo-daro is also depicted on the Rs 20 currency note. 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.
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 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 an conjectural view of the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro. Rs 300 for foreigners, Rs 20 for locals.
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 for the elite.
- Citadel Mound (Stupa Mound). This is a massive unbaked mud-brick platform with many buildings constructed on top. This is where most of Mohenjo-daro's major structures can be found, including the Great Bath, Granary, College and Assembly Hall. It is thought to have housed the elite of the IVC society and to have been a very sacred part of this ancient city.
- The Buddhist Stupa. The Buddhist Stupa, visible from a great distance, is the highest and most prominent structure in Mohenjo-daro. The stupa 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.
- The Great Hall (Granary). The Great Hall is a large building and is believed to 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" 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.
- 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 is 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.
The lower settlement to the east was mainly a residential area for people of middle and lower class. It was 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.
Very little of the acropolis has been excavated so far, but it shows advanced urban planning. The city was built on a grid system with some of the streets perpendicular to each other and as wide as 10m to accommodate carts. The houses along this wide road are thought to have been inhabited by the elite people. The city had a proper sewer system connecting public and private baths as well as wells. The homes of the rich had courtyards surrounded by bedrooms, kitchen, toilet and even servants' quarters. Adjoining the wealthy residential area, there is also what is thought to be a large bazaar while one building that has been excavated has 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.
In summary, the lower settlement has a variety of structures — residences, workshops, and public facilities such as stupas, baths, wells and a guardhouse.
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. The cafeteria inside the archaeology rest-house admits any paying customer (no rest-house stay required), provides some good food and can cater to many people at once. Alternatively, there is an open-air cafeteria inside the complex near the museum building where you can take a rest after a tiring stroll and 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 to visitors.
You may bring your own food. 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, 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. The PTDC Motel shown on the map was shut down in 2013 and remains so as of late 2014.
- 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 (basic non-A/C room) Rs 2,500 (double room with A/C).
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. 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.
The main risk in Mohenjo-daro and nearby areas is extreme heat. 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. Visit in the cooler winter months if possible.
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