Heritage walk in Ahmedabad with AMC: all you need to know
This Heritage Walk Ahmedabad (organized by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation) takes you on a walking tour of the old walled city (from this wall, only the nine Darwaaja, or gates, still stand).
It teaches you about customs, construction techniques, architecture styles that mingle but don’t clash, taking you (respectfully) inside the private lives in the pols, and showing you some of the most important historical places in Ahmedabad.
The purpose of this heritage walk is not to show you around all the top places to visit in Ahmedabad. The goal is to show you a part of Ahmedabad that UNESCO declared worthy of the World Heritage Site title in 2017, making it the first Heritage City in India.
Make sure you’re at the starting point a little before 8.00 am – they are very keen on punctuality. The tour fee is 120 INR per person for foreigners (USD 1.90) and 60 INR for Indian citizens.
Unfortunately (or so it seemed), they don’t set a maximum limit for the group. Ours was about 20 people, making it hard to navigate the narrow lanes (especially when you have to dodge bikes and cow droppings).
The walking tour will take you around some temples (Hindu, Jain, and Muslim, including one of the most famous tourist places in Ahmedabad, the Jama Masjid); therefore, respect the dress code. This means no clothes above knee length for both women and men. Women may be asked to cover their head and shoulders (in our case, it was not requested). I suggest women “go local” and wear a kurta over leggings. I can state from my own experience that it’s surprisingly comfortable in the heat.
Respect the local’s faith and religion because when the tour takes place (from 8 am to 10.30am), it’s time for most people’s prayer. Step aside to give them space to enter the temple, respect their silence, ask yourself if you really need that great shot.
I always feel it’s a time where people are vulnerable. I feel awkward interrupting their prayers just for the sake of admiring a temple’s architecture on my own time (whatever the religion); usually, I step aside and observe from a distance.
The old city is organized in pols, a term derived from the Sanskrit word pratoli, which means gate or entry. It’s also used to name these micro-neighborhoods in the old city of Ahmedabad of house clusters formed by families that share the same caste, religion, or profession.
Each pol has only one narrow street that leads to houses built closely together, always around a shared open space, called chowk, or square.
Some of these squares have a bird feeder in the middle (chabutro in Gujarati) where birds nest and are fed by the residents. It’s mostly parrots and pigeons, but occasionally an Indian palm squirrel will also try to make a run for the seeds.
As you’ll see while walking around, these bird feeders are very common in this part of the city and are built at different heights. The higher the feeder, the more challenging it is for rodents to climb up and steal the birds’ seeds.
Although private and secluded (usually the pol will be gated), there are still some old secret passages between pols, meant to make escaping easier and faster if the time came.
When the door to these secret passages is closed, no one can tell it apart from any back entry to someone’s house; therefore, no one dares to open it and intrude.
At Lambeshwar ni pol, you’ll see the bronze statue of the poet Dalpatram in the chowk outside what used to be his house — this square is called Kavi Dalpatram Chowk.
Born in the 19th century, the poet and Sanskrit scholar became famous for promoting the Gujarati language.
In the pol of Doshivada, one common area with four architectural styles is a sign of the cultural diversity of Ahmedabad.
Those styles are British Colonial (with its exposed brick), Persian (with its carved wood brackets depicting grapes and vines), Mughal (mixing Islamic, Persian, and Indian architecture and even some European details judging by the images of angels decorating the brackets), and Muratha (with its distinctive decoration of a man with a black mustache wearing a turban, just above the door).
Doshivada ni pol shows us in great detail the uniqueness (and fragility) of the old wooden buildings. The carved brackets that hold up the structure of the story above and the carved wood decorations between the floors.
Interestingly the old city was the only part of Ahmedabad that survived significant damage from the 2001 great earthquake due to an original building structure. Small blocks of wood are placed between the bricks preventing the buildings from vibrating and swaying much.
The Fernandes Bridge under Gandhi Road is a very familiar place for students. It’s a market for used books where you can pay a much lower price for the textbook you need or even exchange it with the one you have and no longer need.
Street shopping is at its fullest power and glory in Manekchowk (a market opened from morning until 2 am). It’s also a vivid example of the resourcefulness and adaptation skills of Gujarati businessmen and women.
The confined space transforms into three different markets throughout the day, reaching out to three different targets. In the morning, miscellaneous religious articles (including food for the gods and grass to feed the cows in the Temples), jewelry in the afternoon, and street food in the evening. Each vendor has its space and time, and no one steps on anybody’s feet.
In the afternoon, there isn’t much (if any) running water in this area, so in the morning, vendors will collect water in buckets, leaving them out for the next shift.
The same happens with electricity when the night market workers use the power of the surrounding stores at Chandala Ol to keep their business running.
Swaminarayan Mandir Kalupur
Our tour started at 8.00 am sharp with a short slideshow telling us about the History of Ahmedabad and the architectural styles and curiosities we would see during our walk.
The starting place was near the 19th century Swaminarayan temple (Swaminarayan Mandir Kalupur), with its sculpted and colorful gateway entrance to a majestic temple and a beautiful three-story high mansion, now a monstery. The detailed wood carving of its arches and brackets was a prelude to the buildings we were about to visit.
Kala Ramji Mandir
A walk through the wood gate (with its blue painted security watch on top) in the pol of Haja Patel took us through a narrow lane and up a few steep steps to the 400-year-old temple of Lord Ram (Kala Ramji Mandir), represented in a black marble statue in a sitting posture, inside a building surrounded by the community’s houses.
The detailed and ancient wood carving of the arches and brackets of this building is stunning.
Those who follow Jainism are very keen on the privacy of their home, their customs, and their temples. Therefore you aren’t allowed to take pictures of Astapadji Mandir. Unlike the Hindu temples that are usually set in a central platform, open from all sides, the Jain temples are inside a closed space.
As in any other temple, visitors are requested to remove their shoes before entering. Also, because they believe in and profess spiritual development through self-control, any water or food must be left outside.
This temple is about 100 years old and is another marvel of intricate stone carving. Different gods decorate the top of each column that sustains the dome, decorated with lotus flowers (which are a common decorative element in Jain architecture).
Jama Masjid (Ahmedabad)
The queen’s Muslim tomb (rani-no-haziro), where she and the royal women of the family of Ahmed Shah are buried, is very easy to miss, especially because you haven’t yet left the hustle and bustle of Manekchowk when you pass it.
Outside the eastern gate of the Mosque, you’ll see the mausoleum of the founder of Ahmedabad (Badshah-no-haziro), Ahmed Shah, and the men of the royal family, built in 1446. Jama Masjid, built in 1424, is considered to be the largest Mosque to be made in India around that time. It is also the final stop of the Heritage Walk.