buildings, chaotic alleys, narrow pathways, tapered roads leading everywhere
and apparently nowhere, and a lot of kind and happy smiles that greet you along
your way. Does the place sound enthralling? It totally does. After all one
doesn’t get the privilege to get on the UNESCO heritage city list for no reason
“Heritage” is considered as a very individual identity which keeps shifting and moving as it should. Ahmedabad’s heritage lies in its walled city which has very well preserved its old charms and also keeps on moving with time without setting loose its heritage. The doors of Amdavadi “Pols” that still welcome you are nearly 300 years old and are considered to be built upon local needs, what we knowingly call as vernacular architecture. Quaint neighborhoods, hidden corners, the shades of red, yellows, blues and greens of the walls of the houses, French balconies through which the rays of the sun slowly radiate their magic and the chabutro (bird feeder) in the center of the courtyard always welcomes its first flock. The entrance of each pol also has a small uniquely structured cabin which was built at a height so that the watch guard can have the view of the entire pol. Sssshhhh…!! Let me tell you a secret, each and every pol in the walled city has a secret passage way constructed so mindfully that it connects two pols which only the locals knew about in those times. The main intention behind these secret passage ways was to hide themselves during the times of wars, riots and other emergency situations.
Let me take you 600 years back in history by taking a walk through the heritage of Ahmedabad known as “The Heritage Walk” which was initially started by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) many years back and now also organized by many private travel agencies. The entrance to the walled city or let’s say the heart of the walled city is the “Bhadra fort” which was built by Ahmad Shah in 1411. This beautiful fort is surrounded by 12 gates and one can see very intricate designs which represents Islamic architecture.
The heritage walk starts from the “Swaminarayan temple” in Kalupur which is 200 years old at 8:00 in the morning. The wonderful gates which shows local and British style of architecture and the bells in the temple that greets you simply leaves you mesmerized. A small 10 minute slide show is shown to you and a brochure which has a small map is given to you before starting the walk to assist you through the walk. Moving forward, the next stop is “Kavi Dalpatram Chowk”. Kavi Dalpatram was a very famous Gujarati poet of the 19th century who used to reside there. One can still see the façade of the old house and near the stairs of the house is his life size statue. The statue still shows the complete details of DADA (as the locals call him), his kurta with Kathiawadi embroidery, one shoe on and the other on the ground, wrinkled hands and a pen in his hand. The house has a big chowk (courtyard) where women and children living in the surrounding pols get together in the evenings.
From there we move on to the bird feeders (Chabutras) which are made in sparkling green color in order to attract the birds. You find at least one bird feeder in each and every lane you go, doesn’t matter how much congested the lanes are. Moving ahead, we stop at Calico Dome which was designed by Gautam Sarabhai and his team. The dome housed the showroom for Calico Mills in the year 1962. The center of the dome collapsed during the 2001 earthquake which was followed by heavy rains leading to damaged interiors of the underground shops. The interesting fact of this place is the first fashion show in Ahmedabad took place here in the early 1970’s. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation declared this place as a heritage property in the year 2006 after the liquidations of the mills.
Next is the “Kala Ramji Mandir”(Lord Rama), a very old temple which is located inside the residential neighborhood. The very unique thing about this temple is the idol of Lord Rama which is made in a sitting posture and is made with a black stone. Not only that, there are also idols of Laxman and Sita also made out of black stone. When asked, Hariprasad who originally build the temple said that the black stone was used to test the purity of gold. The temple has very delicate wood carvings and is considered to be a very rich example of the architecture of Ahmedabad.
Moving further we stop at “Kuvavala Khancho” (Kuva meaning well and Khancho meaning passage). The most amazing thing about this place and also my personal favorite thing is that there are 4 homes which are opposite to each other and you can see 4 different types of architecture which reflects the respective periods. One can see Persian, Mughal, Maratha and European architecture and the emblems of each of the earlier owners above the doors. This architecture is the perfect example of the cosmopolitan culture of Ahmedabad.
Next stop is the “Doshivada ni pol”. This pol is located on the main road and there are lots of small and medium jewellery shops on both the sides of the road. The houses in this pol are the haveli style houses and is considered to be a very unique example of colonial architecture. This pol also hosts the tallest landmark building in the whole walled city.
“Fernandez Bridge” also known by the name “Chopda Bazaar” by the locals is known as one of the oldest book market in Ahmedabad is our next stop. Thousands of people visit the bazaar every day in search of old and new books. The surprising fact here is the businessmen here still use the old traditional way of accounting and also maintaining the stock. As soon as you speak the name of the book you want, the man will give you the book in just 30 seconds out of the pile of a thousand books.
The next point is the “Rani no Haziro”. This place is a very good example of the mix of Hindu, Jain and Islamic architecture. The Rani no haziro is considered as a vault for graves and it serves as the last resting place for the queens of the 15th century Empire. The walls that surround the graves are magnificently carved out of unique stones and a beautifully hand woven Zari cloth is used in order to cover the graves of the queens. In order to keep the place and untainted and pure it is very well maintained by a family of care takers who have been working for almost five generations now. Exactly opposite to this place is the “Badshah no Haziro” where all the male members of the royal family are buried. The architecture of this place is of the shape of a square which has verandas with windows around it which has simply breath taking carvings on them.
The walk concludes with the visit to “Jumma Masjid” – considered to be the largest mosque build in that period on the Indian subcontinent. The whole mosque is made by using yellow sandstones and the architecture is a blend of Hindu and Muslim styling. The items rescued from the demolished Hindu and Jain temples were used in the building of this stupendous structure. There are 260 pillars supporting this magnificent structure and it consists of 15 domes. This stunning structure lies in the heart of the old city.
Another intriguing fact about the walled city is its drainage and rainwater harvest system which has some very unique features not to be found in modern architectures. There are long iron poles which serve as escapes as vents for the subterranean tunnels. There is a directional arrow at the top of each pole which provides the bifurcation of the tunnels and in turn forms a dotted map of the entire system. The drainage system is so well maintained till date that during the times of heavy rainfall the water does not add up and the old city gets dried up more quickly as compared to modern architecture.
Also, not to be missed after the walk is a mouthwatering Gujarati breakfast at Chandra Villas which is around 120 year old heritage eatery and which has also been an abode to very famous personalities like Amitabh Bachan, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Raj Kapoor.
Timings of the walk- 8:00 to 10:30 AM, Everyday
Starting point- Kalupur Swami Narayan Temple- Heritage Walk Office
Cost- INR Rs. 350 per person (Indian Citizens), INR Rs. 450 per person (Foreign Citizens). Please don’t forget to carry Identification proof
Dress code- The temples are considered to be a very sacred place of worship so a strict dress code that cover the shoulders, chest and upper arms should be observed to preserve the spiritual ambience.
Suggested Essentials- Water bottle, Camera, Walking shoes, a pair of sunglasses and a mini backpack to carry all this.