Ahmedabad, the 606-year-old walled city in the western Indian state of Gujarat, was named the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage City in July 2017. It is considered a landmark city as it is here that the great Mahatma Gandhi first began India’s struggle for freedom. Its Hindu and Jain temples, as well as Muslim art, have made this city known for its rich architecture and historical significance.
“We have become a national example and we have to make sure we stand by it. People will now show interest in preserving their properties in the old city,” says Debashish Nayak, director of the Centre for Heritage Management at Ahmedabad University.
Much of the credit for the city’s recognition has been given to community members who have united in not only preserving the unique history of the country, but also campaigned to ensure that its heritage are recognised and celebrated. Enclosed by 12 gates, the city was facing fast deterioration because of major development and massive economic struggles. Unfortunately, many historical structures became dilapidated or, in some cases, were even destroyed to make room for modern expansion.
In 1996, a heritage cell was established to not only preserve the historical and cultural points of interest, but also to revive some of the mosques, monuments and bridges that had previously been destroyed. It was during this time that the residents’ contributions became a turning point with many taking part and hosting heritage walks and theatre days, and heritage awards being handed out by the city.
The city is now a major trading and textile centre. The Calico Museum of Textiles (below) is home to one of the world’s finest collections of antique and modern Indian textiles, all handmade, with some cloth being 500 years old. There is a museum tour but it is essential that you book beforehand as this is probably the busiest tourist attraction in the city. The tour is well worth it though as it will take you to the main textile galleries where you’ll get to see superb tapestries, sarees and many tribal outfits. However, children under 10 years old are not allowed and photography is also banned. Bags are also not allowed to be carried in and you’ll be given a basket or bag should you decide to make a purchase.
About 20km north of Ahmedabad is the Adalaj Vav (below). The beautiful stepwell was built in 1499 by Queen Rudabai, the wife of a local chief, and has entrances which lead to a platform that has 16 pillars with corners marked by shrines. Here, you’ll see intricate stone carvings that depict the culture of the city’s inhabitants.
The Sabarmati River runs through the city’s centre and in the tranquil grounds of the river’s west bank is the Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati (below). It was here that the great leader, Mahatma Gandhi had his headquarters from 1917 to 1930 during India’s battle for independence. Legend has it he chose the location because it was between a cemetery and jail and any “nonviolent resister” would end up in either location. True to his ideals, his sparse living quarters have been perfectly preserved and the museum provides an informative look at the spiritual leader’s teachings.
The Hutheesing Temple (below) will leave you in awe with its detailed carvings of flowers and gods in white marble. It’s dedicated to Dharamanath, the 15th Jain great teacher and each of the 52 sub-shrines in the courtyard is ‘home’ to his likeness. It is located just outside the Delhi Gate and if you’re lucky, the temple caretaker may take you up to the roof, giving you an incredible view of the city that not many are privileged to see.
The Jama Masjid is one of the city’s most beautiful mosques, and one of the largest in India. It was built by Ahmed Shah I, a ruler of the Muzaffarid dynasty who reigned over the Gujarat Sultanate, using material from demolished Hindu and Jain temples. It is known for its lotus-like carvings and impressive prayer halls (below). It was built with yellow sandstone and is centred on a large rectangular courtyard.
Lokayatan Folk Museum (below) is just west of the river in Bhudarpura and has a wide range of Gujarati folk art made by the Rabari people, which includes metal works, wooden carvings, elaborate headdresses and household utensils.
The Sarkhej Roza (below) is dedicated to the memory of Ahmed Shah I’s spiritual adviser, the holy man Ahmed Khattu Ganj Baksh. This mosque and tomb are in the Sarkhej area, just 8km southwest of the old city. It was once used as a retreat by Ahmedabad’s rulers, and the buildings, although dilapidated, carry much historical importance.
Kankaria Lake (below) is a man-made lake which was created in 1451 and is the perfect break from the busy city. If you’re travelling with your family, this is a great spot for the kids as they can indulge in hot-air balloon rides and an assortment of other activities on the lakefront. One Tree Hill Garden is a stone’s throw away and is worth a walk to see the colonial Dutch tombs.
Rani-na-Hazira is where the tomb of Ahmed Shah I’s queen lies. It is on a raised platform that is surrounded by market stalls.
Indulge in the food
Ahmedabad is known as the vegetarian heartland of Gujarat. Fear not though, the food is delicious. The city is also known as a ‘dry city’ as alcohol is severely restricted. There are a few hotels and restaurants that are allowed to sell alcoholic drinks but only in limited qualities.
The intimate Vishalla restaurant is probably the most well known in the city. It’s in an open-air area lit by lanterns, giving it a magical atmosphere. Gujarati dishes are served on leaf plates (above) while you enjoy folk music, dance performances and even puppet shows.
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If you want to know where the locals hang out and get their dinner, then the Ratri Bazaar (Mangal Pandey Rd) is where you need to go. Dosa stalls line the crowded streets and these Indian pancakes made with fermented batter with a delicious variety of fillings will leave you spoilt for choice.
Chandra Villas (Gandhi Rd, near Ratan Pole) is Ahmedabad’s longest-running eatery and has been on the go since 1900. You’ll find it at its busiest during breakfast time as locals line up to get their assortment of breakfast goods.
Shop till you drop
Hansiba is the retail outlet of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, a trade union for poor and self-employed women who earn a living through their own small businesses. The sarees, tapestries and shawls are made by some of the women, while others take care of the sales.
Next to the Mausoleum of Ahmed Shah I, locally known as Badshah no Hajiro (King’s Mausoleum), Gamthiwala Fab is known for selling quality tie-dyed textiles and materials (below).
The Law Garden Night Market is where the locals shop for the best deals. You’ll find thousands of brightly coloured sarees and shawls (below) here at very good prices. This night market is also known for its goods from the Kachchh and Saurashtra areas, which are producing high-quality tapestries, carpets and clothing.
– TEXT BY JESSICA FARAH
PHOTOS: INSTAGRAM, 123RF.COM, GANDHI ASHRAM AT SABARMATI, SHREYAS FOUNDATION, HANSIBA FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.