Exploring Ahmedabad - India's first UNESCO world heritage city

February 17, 2019

by Smriti Khanna

Ahmedabad is the largest city in the state of Gujarat. For residents of India, name of this speaks of a spirit, culture and energy rather than just a geographical location. When I ask people around me to give the first word/image that pops in their head when they hear the word “Ahmedabad”, the answers are varied and so true in their essence. Some of the amusing associations people draw with Ahmedabad are as following:

  • India’s first UNESCO World Heritage City
  • HQ of Indian Space Research Organization
  • Garba/ Dandiya/ Navratri – the longest dance festival of 9 days and more like a traditional version of sunburn
  • Uttarayan – two day long festival of kite-flying
  • Dry place
  • Bandhej, Patola, Kutch embroidery – variety of textile craft available
  • Homeland to many famous India personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabh bhai patel, Irfan Pathan, Vikram Sarabhai
  • Business acumen and entrepreneurship
  • Sabarmati riverfront
  • Loads of good street food

In general, every Indian city has some historic significance and has rich culture in terms of art and craft. Ahmedabad is no different. The spirit with which the western influences get merged in here with traditional roots is sheer amusement to a traveler/ tourist here. It is very difficult to write in one article all that Ahmedabad has to offer to a traveler. Broadly categorizing as a local person here, Ahmedabad trails can be over following themes:

  • Food
  • Cultural
  • Heritage
  • Architecture & Urban planning
  • Entrepreneurial success stories

Over this article, I will cover things to do in Ahmedabad for heritage trail. Other themes and trails will get covered as subsequent topics. So let us get started!

The Walled City tour

The area of Ahmedabad was inhabited since 11th century however, the city’s origins are based on its founder Ahmed Shah. In 1400s, it got fortified with an outer wall 10 km (6.2 mi) in circumference and consisting of originally twelve gates acting as entrances to this walled city. During later times, further gates were added. Overtime, as city expanded the walls got broken down but still in some old city areas, one can find ruins/ remains of the wall hardly of an average human’s height. However, the gates were preserved as monuments. Each gate faces a different direction.

The old walled city area is still preserved to a great extent by families living there across generations and the lifestyle still has strong reflections of traditional customs. One must never miss that!

What one needs to do to see this?

Take a Heritage Walk conducted by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporate on daily basis at a nominal fee. There are many private agencies organizing the same and the script and stoppages are similar. You can choose it as per your convenience. My basis of recommendation was only cost and assurance of daily tour irrespective of batch size.

During the walk, do not miss to understand the concept of Pols. Pols are self-contained neighborhoods, sheltering large numbers of peoples. Some of these virtually small villages, traversed by narrow streets, usually terminating in square with community wells and chabutaras for feeding birds, gates, Cul-de-sacs and secret passages.

Kindly note that this walk will cover few important attractions of the city, Jama Masjid, Swaminarayn Temple, Badhshah no Haziro and Rani no Haziro. However, just at walking distance lies another important attraction called Badhra Fort which directly is not covered in the walk. Thus, ask around and do not miss this Fort.

Freedom Struggle Circuit

Two of the most important global figures that get associated with Ahmedabad during the freedom struggle of India are Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Going through their life is an important aspect of how two people shaped not just the history of the city but the nation.

Kochrab ashram was a major centre for students of Gandhian ideas during the freedom struggle time, to practise satyagraha, self-sufficiency, Swadeshi, work for the upliftment of the poor, women and untouchables, and to promote better public education and sanitation. The ashram was organised on a basis of human equality, self-help and simplicity. However, as Kochrab became infested with plague after two years, Gandhi had to relocate his ashram, this time to the bank of the Sabarmati River. Thus, a heritage lover should visit both these Ashrams.

For Sardar’s life, there is a museum created in the city. Recently the world’s tallest statue of Sardar was created called “Statue of Unity”. However this statue is around 200 kms from the city of Ahmedabad. Thus, those who have one extra day atleast to spare for that kind of travel should go there and can skip the museum in the metro city.

What one needs to do to see this?

Take guided tour at Kochrab Ashram, Gandhi Ashram and Sadar Vallabhbhai Patel Museum. There is a facility of audio guide as well to ease your exploration. One warning to the travellers, these venues are not located adjacent to each other but in different areas of the city. Hence, it is recommended that you plan your route with the local city map properly to avoid long distance cab/auto fare.

Adalaj Step-Well

Stepwells, also called stepped ponds, built between the 5th and 19th centuries, are common in Western India; over 120 such wells are reported in the semi-arid region of Gujarat alone, of which the well at Adalaj is one of the most popular. They are integral to the culture as they provided water for drinking, washing and bathing. These wells were also venues for colourful festivals and sacred rituals. Every year there is a music festival this venue hosts and is a sheer visual and audio delight to attendants.

What one needs to do to see this?

Take a cab or auto to Adalaj Step Well/ Rani ki Vav as locally known here. It is 19kms from the city of Ahmedabad and hence, please decide the mode of transport according to your comfort for such medium distance.

In total, a visit to these 5 places will give you a good feel of heritage of Ahmedabad. There are many more places to visit and explore which overlap with heritage and architecture. That will require more time. The above mentioned trip can easily be covered in a weekend trip to Ahmedabad.

Aavjo! (translation – do come!)

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