With Ahmedabad bagging a UNESCO Heritage City tag, it is imperative that you sign up for the heritage walk. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and The House of MG, a heritage hotel, organize these walks. The city, founded by Sultan Ahmed Shah, has some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture, Jain temples and wooden architecture that date back to the 1400s. You can pick and choose from an array of heritage walks that begin early morning, some in the evenings and others at night. We signed up for the morning Heritage Walk organized by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation since we wanted to get good pics in daylight. Read on to find out how we made the most of the Ahmedabad Heritage Walk.
All set for Heritage Walk
It is 7:30 am as we hurriedly assemble with our online tickets in the first-floor room in a building in the Swaminarayan Temple complex in Kalupur. The attendant registers us, gives us wristbands, and asks us to be seated in a room to view a short film on Ahmedabad. Our guide Murtaza informs us that the heritage walk begins at a temple and ends in a mosque which is symbolic of the harmony in diversity as different people from varying religions enjoy friendship and the spirit of camaraderie.
Swami Narayan Temple
We are asked to explore the Swaminarayan temple after the movie screening. The temple complex is buzzing with devotees dressed in their best as it is Diwali. It is the first temple of the Swaminarayan Sampradav sect, built in 1822. We notice the intricate carvings of figurines and natural elements like flowers, birds and animals on the arches and pillars of the buildings in the temple complex. Burma teak wood is used to create detailed ornamental designs with multiple hues. The impressive gateway to the temple has images of men wrestling, women holding their toddlers on their waists, a Braveheart fighting a wild cat and several others.
Kavi Dalpatram Chowk
We then head to Kavi Dalpatram chowk, where we can see a statue of the late poet in a sitting position. The original home is no more, and we see a façade that has been recreated of the late poet’s home. The ‘chowk’ is where four roads meet, and people would assemble to meet and greet. The chowk is in the centre of Lambeshwar ni Pol.
‘Chabutaras’ or Pigeon towers are tower-like structures with octagonal-shaped enclosures covered with an umbrella or chatri. Built to feed and breed pigeons, they are a fixture in most chowks. Feeding grains to pigeons is considered holy in Hindu religions, so families put grains in these chabutaras.
‘Pols’ are a standard fixture on the heritage walk, and we saw several. So, what exactly is a ‘pol’, one may ask? A pol can be compared at best to modern-day gated communities but in an elementary form. Each pol consisted of certain common fixtures- homes where people lived, chabutaras, a temple, a well, an ‘aangan’ or open space for social gatherings and even secret passages!
Khara Kuvani Pol
Our next stop is Khara Kuvani Pol, which gets its name from the salt water that the well had. On top of the entrance is a room with a window where a guard was typically positioned to keep a watch on who entered and left the pol. There is a Jain Derasar/temple near the entrance and as we walk further, we see the well, a chabutara and a cluster of homes.
Kala Ramji Mandir
We then head to the Kala Ramji Mandir, which has an idol of Lord Ram in a sitting posture with Sita and Laxman on his sides. The idols are made of black ‘kasauti’; a stone used to test gold’s purity by goldsmiths. The courtyard outside the temple has heritage homes. The exquisite carvings on the wooden pillars are worthy of praise.
As we step out of the temple and head to the streets our guide, points to a 2-storey tall metallic structure. He quizzes us to guess what it is. The heritage walk’s participants provide multiple answers ranging from weather cock, to rainwater harvesting to grounding in case lightning strikes. But alas, our guesses are far from correct. It is a sewage pipe which indicates the direction of the underground sewage lines.
Shantilal ni Pol
Next in line is Shantinath ni Pol, which has a Jain temple, a chabutara made of wood and ‘otla’ or a platform where the residents sat, caught up and gossiped. A blackboard was the social media platform in the earlier days when any significant announcements were chalked out on it, explains our guide. Depression, loneliness and mental health disorders were rare as residents’ homes doors were open, and everyone knew each other and vented out and discussed their problems and challenges, he adds. But the flip side was one always had to be wary of what one spoke as secrets could be spread very quickly by word of mouth!
‘Khancha’ means narrow spaces in Gujarati, and they are like subclusters of pols. The unique feature of Kuvavala Khancha is that one gets to see an amalgamation of various architectural styles. One house has a Marathi cultural influence, another has elements of Persian architecture incorporated, a third has a colonial influence in the form of red bricks on external walls, and a fourth house has Hindu Jain influences. This indicates harmony and integration amongst diverse influences.
Our guide then asks us to look for a secret passage in the vicinity. The secret passages were designed to allow the residents to escape should there be an invasion by the enemies. Within seconds it was possible to run from one pol to the next leaving the invaders confused and lost. We use a secret passage and end up in another pol.
Parrot holes are another unique occurrence in the pols. Not just chabutaras but even parrot holes signify the harmony between humans and birds. The external walls of homes have holes which provide shelter to the parrots since not many trees were available for nesting in the cramped old city. Often during the construction of the walls, ‘matkas’ or earthen pots were embedded in the external walls, which served as parrot holes. We see not just parrots but even squirrels on the adjacent brick walls. These testify to the synergistic relationship between humans and other creatures.
Astapadi Derasar is a Jain temple with beautifully carved jharokhas on the first floor that overlooks the street. On the external façade of the Jain temple are figurines playing various musical instruments, floral patterns, and other designs. A shop next to the temple sells all the items that Jain monks carry. Photography inside the temple is not allowed.
Doshiwadi ni Pol
The next pol we visit is Doshiwada ni Pol, where the goldsmiths lived. Havelis with wooden architecture, intricate carvings and stained-glass windows dot this pol. Some of the havelis have been thrown open for homestays. This has a dual advantage as cash-strapped haveli owners get much-needed funds to maintain the havelis and guests get the experience of staying in a heritage home and experiencing local life.
Harkunvar Sethani ni Haveli
We next head to Harkunvar Sethani ni Haveli a three-storey structure with exquisite wooden carving. Elephants, dragons, flowers, and geometric patterns are intricately carved on the pillars, brackets, doors and façade. The Haveli belonged to Huttesingh Seth and his wife Harkunvar, who was a champion in promoting women’s education and provided welfare schemes for them.
Fernandez Bridge is a paradise for book lovers. Students, before their exams, flock to the book stalls to get books on rent, which they diligently return when exams are over. The booksellers cover their books at night and trust they will find their books as is the next day with no incidents of thefts.
Just as you have ‘pols’ in the old city, one is also likely to see ‘ols.’ So, what are ‘ols’? How are they different from pols? ‘Ols’ can be best described as ‘Neeche Dukan Upar Makan’ or buildings with shops on the ground floor and homes on the top floor. We find ourselves next in Chandla Ol. The shops sell mainly pooja items, and some even purchase old sarees made with real gold zari.
Ahmedabad Stock Exchange
We are now in front of a magnificent building with colonial architectural influences. The Ahmedabad Stock Exchange is the second oldest in the country, the first being the Bombay Stock Exchange. The Gujaratis have an excellent knowledge of the stock market, so much so that in India, the two languages used for trading are English and Gujarati.
Muharat Pol as the name suggests, was the first pol that came into existence in Ahmedabad. ‘Muhurat’ means ‘auspicious time’ for new beginnings. Since it was the city’s first pol, it befitted to be given the name Muhurat pol.
Ask anyone where you should go for gems, jewellery and good food, and they will tell you it is Manek Chowk. This square is chockablock with jewellery shops. Our guide explains that despite so many jewellery shops in the chowk, none have a watchman or guard. The reason is simple, at night, this same square buzzes with foodies as make-shift food stalls churn out multi-cuisine dishes. Since the street is empty at no point, the question of theft doesn’t arise.
Rani no Hajiro
If a woman wants to shop for oxidized jewellery and clothes, she is most likely to head to Rani no Hajiro. We see some stalls selling jewellery. A stall sells more than twenty varieties of mukwas or mouth fresheners. Rani ni Hajiro is a mausoleum that has tombs of several queens. Our tour guide showed it from the outside, but we decided to return to it later. It is locked and out of bounds. Through the lattice windows, we can see the tombs. It is sad to see the structure in shambles and ill-kept. Children play in the passages, the clothes of nearby families are strewn, and mattresses are folded haphazardly. It’s a pity to see our rich heritage neglected and abused.
Badshah no Hajiro
If there is a Rani no Hajiro, can the Badshah no Hajiro not be there? The mausoleum has the tombs of Ahmed Shah, the founder of Ahmedabad, his son and grandson. Women are prohibited from entering, and men need to cover their heads before entering.
We have now reached the last stop of our Ahmedabad Heritage Walk, the Jama Masjid. The Masjid complex has a courtyard, in the centre of which is a water reservoir where the faithful perform ablutions before offering prayers at the mosque. The names of prophets in Arabic calligraphy are engraved on the walls facing the courtyard. This mosque is unique as it has a first-floor balcony covered with latticework from where the women could offer prayers. Built in 1424 by Ahmed Shah, the mosque is an excellent example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. A fusion of Islamic Architecture like geometrical patterns and Hindu motifs like the tree of life and lotuses.
600 years of History in 2 Hours
Our two-hour heritage walk, which began at a Mandir, has ended at a mosque. En route, we witnessed monuments from a bygone era, each having a story to narrate. We have walked back in time 600 years, and without hesitation, we agree that Ahmedabad truly deserves a UNESCO World Heritage City Tag.
The city has several other heritage structures, which have been covered in other articles that we hope you will read too.
Nearest Airport: Ahmedabad has an airport for both domestic and international flights. The other option is Vadodara and after landing you will have to drive down to Ahmedabad.
Location: The assembly points vary depending on which heritage walk you sign up for and by which service provider. Here is the link to register for the Ahmedabad Heritage walk by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and The House of MG.
Cost: The Morning Heritage Walk by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation cost us Rs 200 each.
Travel Tip: Make sure that you are respectfully dressed. Avoid shorts, skirts and outfits that expose your arms and legs. You will be visiting temples, mosques and derasars, so respect the sanctity of these places. Wear good walking shoes, as you will be on your toes for more than two hours. Keep a water bottle and snacks handy.
Gujarat Trails helped us plan the Ahmedabad heritage walk.