The Old City of Ahmedabad, recipient of the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage City status in 2017 has a wealth of monument, interesting sites and sights, and shopping!
The Old City area of Ahmedabad is regarded as one of the most interesting heritage precincts in the country. From monuments going back to the early 15th century, pols – old tightly knit neighbourhoods that were built by groups of families, food, shopping and more, the sites, sights and experiences of the Old City make it like a treasure box that residents say is best enjoyed by an organised or informal walk through it.
While there are several possibilities for setting off on one’s explorations, one easy option is to have a meal and view of the textile museum and store at The House of MG and then set out. The House of MG is a charming boutique hotel that offers an interesting glimpse of craft, art and textile heritage of Gujarat in its design.
For a start, one can cross Relief Road to its left, enjoy an ice-cream to build energy reserves, hail an auto-rickshaw, say the magic words Rani no Hajiro to reach the heart of the Old City. Within a few minutes, the auto enters the Old City marked by narrow streets edged with rows of shops and filled with pedestrians, two and three wheelers, and handcarts. After some seemingly close encounters with carts and scooters, the auto reaches the heart of Manek Chowk…a place that transforms into a buzzing food space at night with stalls selling pizzas, sandwich, rabdi, ice-cream and more.
Standing at the end of lane to the left of the street is Rani no Hajiro, the famed tomb complex of the queens and women of the families of Sultan Ahmed Shah-I and of his successors. A short walk through the narrow street that has shops with colourful textiles and garments leads one to the monument set on a high plinth. Up a short flight of steps is a colonnade where the sheer intricacy of its fretted stone screens edging the complex takes the breath away. Walking through the square band of colonnaded corridors, one takes in the beauty of one arched panel after the other, each bearing different geometrical and floral motifs and patterns as if wrought with clay way back in the 1440s.
Soaking in History
After visiting the inner courtyard of the complex, one can shop at the stores around specially Vishva Darshan Handicrafts that has a variety of block-printed dress materials. Back on the outer street, it is time to pause at the carts of Rani Mukhwaas Centre selling a range of mukhwaas (digestive aid cum tasty bite cum mouth fresheners) made with seemingly hundred different ingredients from seeds to dates to slivered mango seeds. Buy some to take home.
Crossing the road and walking through the facing street, the trail leads to Badshah no Hajiro (built 1414), the tomb of Ahmad Shah-I and his successors, graced with a fantastic expression of jali work. Though women are not allowed in the inner room where the cenotaphs are, they can walk the enclosing passageway, admire the beautiful latticed stone work and the structure of the dome composed of rings in receding sizes. From the tomb is seen the naubat khana where the centuries-old practice of drums that once used to announce the important and special occasions (like the arrival and departure of the Sultan, the arrival of dignitaries, royal births) still continues.
A Final Touch
Near the tomb is the Jama Masjid (built in 1424) with vast colonnade and open to sky courtyard with a covered central water body. The entrance to the prayer hall with mihrab (to the far side) is marked by impressive intricately carved stones set within a mesmerising matrix of columns. After spending time taking in the beauty and size of the mosque, one can walk towards the Teen Darwaza area passing tightly packed shops, spotting a façade of curved brackets someplace, newer construction elsewhere, with streets full of people and two-wheelers, and hundreds of fascinating details of architecture, design and human activity. Shree Gopal, at Mandavi’s Pol Corner, is the spot to shop for an amazing variety of pickles, before pausing to enjoy local snacks or even some Bengali sweets from Kolkata Sweets.
Passing through Teen Darwaza, a historic portal of three arches, one is at Karanj Baag— home to scores of sellers, selling almost every imaginable product. The highlight of the area is the beautifully carved wooden Karanj chabutaro or bird feeder (next to the police chowky), said to be about 150 years old, now carefully restored. Walking through the thoroughfare packed with shops, informal stalls and buyers, one reaches a lofty entrance at the far end identified as the kacheri (court), the Bhadrakali temple and then the walls of Bhadra Fort originally built in the early 15th century.
Turning onto the street, running parallel to the fort wall to the left, is Mansuri Halwa, a sweet shop with a variety of delicious halwas from pumpkin to pineapple and dry fruit that tempt one to have some packed. At the end of a side street, Mustaq bhai has a stall where he prepares delicious hot chai with masala he makes himself.
And now it is time for the grand finale as the trail takes one back to the crossing near Sidi Saiyyed Mosque (built in 1572). It is best to walk on the pavement edging the monument to pause at western side and take in the ethereal lace-like beauty of its jali panels. Stepping into the mosque, the details of the jalis come alive as sunlight flows through them into the hallowed hall. To the side of the mosque is the small simple tomb of Sidi Saiyyed, the man who commissioned one of the most fabulous stone carvings in the world, leaving one with much thought of his humility and the wonderful treasures of the Old City of Ahmedabad.