We could scarcely believe it had been less than a day since we were in Ahmedabad with all that we had seen, heard and experienced. But after a short nap, we were on our feet again for the Night heritage walk. There is a lot to glean from these walks as we had learned from our delightful experience in Pune. Specifically, old Ahmedabad has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage city because of its various characteristics. And while one could read it off a book, what better way to stroll through the past on a cool evening in the old city.
- Sidi Saiyyed Mosque: The not-so-large 16th century mosque presents quite a sight even when nearing it with the lights piercing through the intricately carved tree-like design atop its arches.
It feels surreal in comparison to its surroundings considering it’s at a very busy traffic junction in the city.
The jaali (latticework) has become pretty much the symbol of Ahmedabad and would be familiar to CAT aspirants as the logo of the IIM Ahmedabad. Built by an Abyssinian – Sidi Saiyeed it is said that people from his community – the Sidi community still reside in Gujarat.
Note :The auto drivers and locals refer to this place as Sidi Saiyyed ni Jaali, so you may want to use that to call an auto to reach the place. Again, avoid cars in old Ahmedabad.
Our guide provided more details to the story narrated by the auto-driver earlier that day.
History/Legend: King Ahmed Shah from the Patan region was out hunting in the ancient sites of Ashaval and Karnavati. As is turned out his hunting dogs came across rabbits, but the rabbits seemed to be bravely defending themselves almost scaring the dogs away. Mystified, the King narrated the story to his advisor Sufi Saint Ahmed Ganj Baksh Khattu who opined that the land and water of the place seemed to make the inhabitants especially brave and he decided to build his capital there- naming it Ahmedabad (Ahmed- with his name and Abad- standing for prosperity).
- GTS standard Benchmark: A short walk ahead and we stopped at an inconspicous block of stone jutting off the ground with rubble on it. Brushing it away the guide enlightens us to the stone being the point that marked the center of the walled ciry of Ahmedabad when determining the height of the city above sea-level during what was called the “Great trigonometrical survey of India”. It was as part of this survey that Mt.Everest’s height was also determined making it officially the tallest mountain above ground.
- Bhadra fort: was built by the King Ahmed Shah and while it’s said it’s named after the presiding deity Bhadrakali but a plaque there states that it was named after an ancient Rajput citadel the Sultans held before taking over Ahmedabad.
- Bhadrakali Mandir : we were right in time to just walk in and get out of the Bhadrakali temple during the evening prayers. The chanting of the Godess’ praises by the crowd truly fills the temple with a pulsating energy.
- Statue of Chinubhai Baronet: is one of the forward thinkers of the time and the adopted grandson of the owner of the first textile mill in Ahmedabad- a city which is still known for its trade in fabrics. He was extremely generous with his financial donations to educational institutions and even built the very first maternity hospital of the times which is still functional today. He even expanded on the first maternity hospital in Ahmedabad that was initially constructed by his grandfather. Due to his active participation in civic affairs he was knighted and then deemed a Baronet by the British crown too.
- Teen Darwaza: is said to be the gate the king used to come to the Jama Masjid for his Namaz and therefore is large enough to fit an elephant that he rode. It also has a white plaque that bears an inscription that was radical for it’s time where the Governor Chimnaji Raghunath in the 1800s decreed that daughters were to be given equal share of the property failing which he appealed to their religious beliefs by stating the Hindus would be answerable to Lord Shiva and the Muslims who fail to do so would be answerable to Allah.
History/Legend: has it that the Goddess Lakshmi( The Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity) was headed out of the kingdom of Ahmedabad while a Muslim soldier, Khwaja Siddique Kotwal ,manning the gates, stopped her to ask her of why she was leaving. She refused to stay on but he managed to elicit a promise from her that she’d wait until his return after speaking to the King before leaving on her way. In order to save the kingdom from ruin due to her departure, he instead kills himself so that the condition of his return is never met. It is believed that his sacrifice led to the continued prosperity of the land, that has even to this day the richest people in India hail from.
In dedication to the story, it is said that his descendants even to this day light a lamp for the Goddess, like they have been doing every day for centuries- thereby giving the lamp the name “Akhand jyot” (perpetual light) providing a touching view into what continues to keeps the country united across communities and religions.
- A short walk away houses the Oldest commercial Market in Ahmedabad within a pol (gated community of sorts), such that stores were on the ground floor and the storeowners resided with their families in the floor above. This allowed all family members irrespective of age/gender/ability to contribute in different ways to the business.
- Jama Masjid : built in sandstone in 1424 by Ahmed Shah was original intended for the private use of the King and continues to be used for prayers even today. Stepping in to the space from the frantic bustle just outside its doors it feels like a cool oasis of calm and serenity with just a step inside. There are several carvings that are typical to the Hindu and Jain symbolism perhaps the contribution of the local artists who worked on the structure. A large rectangular basin for ablutions houses several pretty fishes too. The main prayer area with 260 columns and 15 domes make it quite a lovely sight even from afar. The largest pillars were also supposed to be the jhulta minar (swinging towers) like 3 more in the walled city- however an earthquake in 1819 impacted its structure so it sadly doesn’t have that ability any more.
- Rani no Haziro: houses the tombs of the queens and female members of the court of Ahmed Shah. It is very easy to miss amidst the bustle of the market around it selling jewelry and clothes in every possible shape and color. It’s sad that the locals even have their clotheslines on the pillars of this very historically relevant monument. We weren’t sure if it is always locked – so all we could get is a peep through the lattice work on its walls into the courtyards that housed the tombs.
- Badhsah no Haziro : walking by a narrow passage passing kids playing their version of cricket and goats bleating, one reaches the Badshah no Haziro that houses the tombs of the king Ahmed Shah, his son and grandson- in a structure that looks both out-of-place and like it fits right in at the same time. The tombs of the era were often built by the individuals themselves well before their passing to ensure the structure is just as per their own tastes and so could also be made as grand as they wished them to be. We however missed the traditional orchestra that plays every evening at sunset-so it may be worthwhile timing your visit to experience that too.
- Old Stock Exchange Building : we also pass by an easy-to-miss heritage building that housed the 2nd oldest stock exchange in India – the Ahmedabad stock exchange where it’s said that shares were bought and sold in a trust-worthy manner with prices agreed on with just verbal agreements that were met without question.
- Mahurat Ni Pole : The pols were and continue to be gated communities often with families belonging to one religion/belief/occupation living in a space that catered to their religious and social needs. This was the first pol in Ahmedabad thereby lending the name mahurat(auspicious start) to it. We were even taken entered to see the exterior of an extremely beautiful house with intricate carvings all over it.
Note : While curiosity and interest while being a traveler is understandable, it is also important to be respectful of these spaces that continue to be private residences. So it’s important to ensure one does all one can to not cause them any disturbance- by being noisy or intrusive.
- Manek Chowk : is named after the saint Manek Nath who supposedly interrupted King Ahmed Shah’s fort construction near the Sabarmati and insisted the fort be constructed here instead. Today however it’s a market for precious gold and diamond jewelry during the day and an extremely crowded street food market at night starting at 8pm and going all the way till 3 am. This supposedly works as an effective deterrent to any thieves attempting to steal from the stores since there was an abundance of people all night around the shops.
After bidding the guide goodbye we decided on an extremely unhealthy but delicious dinner of pani puri, followed by a sandwich made with a mountain of cheese. For dessert we were spoilt for choice but settled on a delicious rose coconut kulfi for myself and a rabdi with kulfi for Anand.
Just as we were making our way to find an auto, we stopped at a soda stall and decided to pick a glass of kala khatta soda from a gentleman with a small cart in a relatively darker and less crowded part of the area. For a moment, he thought I looked familiar and so started a conversation – apparently he had been working at Aggarwal park in Ahmedabad for 17 years and had a stream of regular clientele visiting his stall every day. However he was uprooted along with other street food vendors as part of the local governments attempts to “Clean” the city and is now working in unfamiliar territory in a lesser prominent spot which is all that’s available for now. While there was only so much we could do, just telling him that we enjoyed the drink brought a smile to his kind face. He seemed quite sad at losing his clientele – so please treat yourself to a lovely soda from him on your way out and stop to say a hello. Meanwhile, let’s hope we as a society learn, instead of leaving them behind, to take our people along as we head towards progress and development.