Even as archaeologists bring the past back to life, present-day existence in Kutch, Gujarat, remains suspended in time.

My colleague, T.S.Subramanian, nudged me and pointed to the landscape below, as we approached the Bhuj airport in Kutch, Gujarat. Huge stretches of sand broken in places by rows of thorny bushes.

It was mid-April and we knew what we were in for. The in-flight announcement that welcomed us to Bhuj informed us that the temperature was 42 degrees and wished us a pleasant stay!

We were on an assignment to cover the ongoing excavation at Khirsara and the Harappan site of Dholavira — remains of civilisations over 5000 years old.

The first thing we noticed was the shape of the horns of the bulls in the area — strikingly similar to those depicted in the Harappan seals.

At Khirsara, we were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work. The meticulous chipping, scraping and brushing to expose what lies beneath; inch by inch, the layers of sand and stone that had covered the civilisation for millennia slowly came off.

The labour constituted mainly women, all hired locally. Covering themselves literally from head to toe with only a slit for the eyes, they moved around mechanically.

We then went to the Rann — an expanse of white salt stretching for a few hundred kilometres on either side of a well-constructed road. The colours of the salt changed from a dull white in the early morning sun to a shimmering translucent bluish white, with puddles forming, as the day wore on. The sheer starkness and the expanse made it one of the most beautiful photographic scenes. After over 150 km of nothingness, suddenly we came to a village where a group of elderly men sat on a culvert, staring into nothing. It was a compelling image. Dholavira was massive. It had taken an army of 600 workers 23 years to excavate the site.

The Harappans had developed a fantastic rainwater harvesting and drainage system 5000 years ago. Ironically, at the Gujarat Government’s tourist hotel just a kilometre away, water in the bathroom stagnates and can’t find its way out!

The Dholavira village had a school with around 70 students. The children were all excited; screaming and making faces. Late in the evening, we ran into a settlement consisting of one solitary hut — probably the last Indian settlement before Pakistan.

We were welcomed and served hot tea. Two camera-shy women, attired in colourful dress, posed reluctantly. We came away wondering why people put up with the rigours of a hard life and continue to live in such far-flung places.