An early morning heritage walk is the best way to unravel the history of UNESCO’s first World Heritage City — Ahmedabad.
“One of the best things to do in Ahmedabad is to go on the Heritage Walk.” Spoken by my host Bijoy Sengupta, these words sounded like music to my ears. Soon enough I found myself at Swaminarayan Mandir Road in Old City, Kalupur on a rather cool morning. What ensued was a walk that lasted 2.5 hours, replete with history, heritage, and discovery of Ahmedabad’s illustrious past.
Down Memory Lane
Ahmedabad was founded in 1411 and has some of India’s finest architecture in its old monuments that display a mix of Indian and Islamic influences. The old city is replete with pol, or self-contained housing clusters made up of many families who are connected through caste, profession, or religion. They are unique to cities in Gujarat, and you’ll need to walk through several narrow alleyways to find them, but they are worth the trek.
The first temple of the Swaminarayan sect at Kalupur, built in 1822, is a perfect beginning to the walk. The temple is a stunning riot of color complete with painted Burmese teak arches and brackets. The adjoining haveli (palatial home) has living quarters for pilgrims. The temple itself has three sanctums dedicated to different Gods — Radha and Krishna, Nar and Narayan and Swamninarayan and his parents Dharmadeva and Bhaktimata. The entire exterior facade has intricate carvings of animals and human figures.
Continuing onwards, we reach the home of 19th century Gujarati poet Dalpatram, Lambeshwar Ni Pol. The poet championed many social reforms with his work and was immortalized here in recent years with a remarkably lifelike statue. You can even see evidence of a local style of embroidery, kathiawari, in the detail of his clothing. The narrow streets leading to this pol are home to traditional bird feeders called Chabutra, a tower-like structure with octagonal enclosures on top for pigeons to rest and receptacles for their food.
The next stop is the Calico Dome, a now partially-collapsed geodesic dome with connections to American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Calico Mills, a local textile company, initially contracted the architect to build a combined office and showroom, but the local building authority denied permission. The ensuing dome was designed by Gautam Sarabhai and opened in 1962. After its condition deteriorated in the 1990s, the 2001 earthquake caused the centre of the dome to collapse.
The walk takes you through some interesting temples as well. At the corner of Haja Patel ni Pol is Kala Ramji Mandir, a 350-year old temple said to have been built by a pious man known as Hariprasad, who discovered the idols buried underneath the housing properties in this district. The temple continues to be housed in a building that also acts as a pol, and is unique for the idol of Lord Ram (also known as Rama) carved in a rare type of black marble stone. It is said to represent Ram’s time of exile in the forest.
At the Shantinath Derasar at Haja Patel ni Pol you can see the magnificent wood carvings on the dome, panels, brackets and windows. Dating back to 1923 A.D., the temple has a 19-inch idol of Shantinath Tirthankar (a Jain saint) and the original structure is believed to have been built entirely from wood. Likewise, the Jagvallabh Mandir at Nisha Pol is an old Jain Temple and its intricate architecture makes it stand apart.
The oldest Jain temple of the city Sambhavnathji Derasar built in 1662 A.D was also originally constructed in wood and restored in 1904 A.D. using marble stone.
Art Meets Community
Walking along the heritage trail, we stop at Kuvavala Khancho, an intersection that has four homes opposite to each other that each have a different style of architecture – Persian, Mughal, Maratha and European. Our guide mentions that these varied influences come from Gujarati businessmen who had interests abroad and would build homes according to these influences when they returned home.
A little away is a chowk, or square, that has Parrot Holes on walls to help the birds nest in the absence of trees. At Zaveri Vad, you can see old ornate homes belonging to the goldsmith community and a beautifully carved Chabutra with stained glass.
One of the best sights along the trail is the 180-year-old Harkunvar Shethani ni Haveli, a style of mansion typical in Gujarat on account of the many wealthy merchants who called Ahmedabad home. Families who built haveli also commonly sponsored many other architectural projects in the city. With more than 60 rooms across 3 floors, the main event in this haveli is the longest carved wooden bracket in Ahmedabad that has Indo-Chinese architectural elements.
The walk will also take you through Chandla Pol, among the oldest brass Puja markets, and Muharat Pol one of the first pol of the city that houses the erstwhile building of the stock exchange of Ahmedabad.
Monuments of the Past
At Manek Chowk, you will arrive at the Mandir (temple) of a saint named Manek Baba, a saint who lived along the banks of the Sabarmati River and briefly stopped Ahmad Shah’s effort to build the new city of Ahmedabad. The Shah was a 15th-century ruler of the Muzaraffid Dynasty who oversaw the construction of some of the new city’s most historic sites, such as the Jama Masjid (mosque).
Ahmad Shah also built Rani no Hajiro, which houses the graves of the queens and is an excellent example of Hindu, Jain and Islamic architectural styles. Badshah no Haziro houses Ahmed Shah’s Tomb and is another architectural marvel with porticos, perforated windows and intricate carvings. The last stop is at Jama Masjid itself, which has three arches and was built in 1424. The yellow sandstone architecture is a blend of Hindu and Muslim influences and has over 260 pillars and 15 domes. At the end of the walk we headed to a 120-year-old heritage restaurant Chandravilas and enjoyed a traditional breakfast of Khamman, Fafda, Khandvi, Kadi and Jalebi. The eatery has been frequented by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Indulal Yagnik, Sardar Patel and actor Raj Kapoor. In all this is a great way to see the historical influences of the city and a great way to kickstart your Ahmedabad sojourn.
- Reporting Time for the walk is at 07:30 am at Swaminarayan Temple Complex.
- The walk ends at Manek Chowk in Gandhi Road.
- The 2 Km walk takes roughly 2 Hours 30 Minutes and has 22 stops.
- Standard Package for Indian citizens Rs.200 Per Person and Rs 350 per person if you opt for the breakfast.
- As the route passes through temples and mosques the dress code mandates that you cover your shoulders, chest, navel, upper arms and wear clothes below knee-length.
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