Have you ever experienced time-travel? Is it possible to go back to the past?
We did, and so can you too.
It was a journey through the glorious history of the city of Ahmedabad, known as Heritage Walk.
Heritage walk is a two and a half-hour guided tour through the streets of the city which has a history of nearly a millennium.
Fortunately, we arrived in good time. When we alighted from the rickshaw outside the vividly painted grand entrance of the temple premises, we just stood there looking at it with awe. Then I realized that we had to get registered as well in the office of Akshar Travels, who are the organizers of this guided tour. We registered, made the payment, and joined other group members who were waiting in the temple premises.
It was an auspicious time after the Mangala Arati, so the temple was busy with the devotees who had come for darshan, and prayer. The early morning environment was full of vibrations of faith, and devotion. We also took that chance to surrender our ego to God and did the darshan of the deities.
Organized by Akshar Travels for tourists from all over India, and abroad, the guided tour runs daily, starting at the vividly painted grand entrance of the historic Kalupur Swaminarayan Mandir. It is guided by experienced guides with their commentary in English.
The tour starts with a brief history of the temple itself. Then it proceeds through the streets of the old city, it pauses at the places of historical / archeological / cultural / religious / artistic / social & political importance, where the guide tells the story and answers the tourists’ questions. We learn about the city those facts, which are so far unheard, and not mentioned in popular books. We get amazed at the far-sight of the ancient planners of the city who demonstrated their competence through excellence in designing and building it. We learn about those aspects which have been neglected by almost all of us and get filled with regret of having overlooked it for years, in spite of its marvelous importance. We come across the majesty of those buildings which are standing there for centuries telling the story of their wealthy owners, competent architects, and excellent artisens in the past. We walk through monuments that witnessed the rise and fall of regimes. We get to touch some feats of classical technology that are still not failing to amaze the viewer and make us wonder how they would have done it. We pass through the houses of those historic figures who made a great lasting impact of the life of not only their surroundings but on the entire Gujarati literature/culture / religious belief system / and life. We can feel the pain the artisens might have taken to assure perfection in their work; be it carving timber, or stones. To achieve the intricate detailing on those master-pieces is difficult even in modern times with a sophisticated CNC machine, which they managed manually without any automation. We walk to the resting places of some historic figures who shaped the history themselves, who ruled on this land, who made their name immortal by naming towns and cities in their commemoration.
With more than 50 great places with historic and monumental importance, UNESCO has declared the entire city of Ahmedabad built in the pre-modern era as a world heritage. Two guided tours are organized daily. One in the morning, and one in the evening to take the tourists to different locations (Jama Mosque and Manek Chawk are two common places in both the tours). The morning tour begins at the Swaminarayan Mandir and ends at Jama Masjid, and the evening tour starts at Siddi Sayyed Masjid and ends at Manek Chowk.
Enchanted with what we went through during the morning tour, we took the evening tour the same day. The duration of the morning tour is about two and a half hours, while the evening tour lasts about one and a half-hour. These are the aspects of the city highlighted according to our taste and choice.
Historic religious places
The tour starts at a Hindu religious place the Swaminarayan Mandir. Built over 200 years ago it is famous for being painted in vivid colours. An amazing fact about the paint is, that it is not oil paint made in modern plants with modern technology, but derived from natural ingredients, and made using natural material.
One of the other religious places is ‘Kala Ramji Mandir.’ Here the deity is Lord Rama. Usually, in the temples devoted to him, his idol is found in white marble, and a figure in standing posture with a bow and an arrow in hands. But here Lord Rama is seated, who doesn’t have bow and arrow with him, and the idol is carved out of black stone.
There are a number of Jain temples on the route. All are adorned with intricately carved white marble sculptures inside and outside. They are just synonymous with absolute perfection. When we personally look at them, only then we can imagine just how many families would have flourished for several generations in their construction.
The city was ruled by Muslim sultans since the 14th century. There is a great number of Islamic monuments too. The grand mosque – Jama Masjid was the largest mosque in entire India until Shahjahan built one in Bhopal.
There are resting places of the sultan Ahmedshah, his son, and his grandson known as Hajira, and also one for the chief consort of the Sultan. These places are also revered as religious places.
Siddi Sayyed Mosque is overlooked by hundreds of thousands of people just because it is situated on a busy road-side. It is internationally famous for its stone carved veils. The central veil has become a symbol and an identity of Ahmedabad as ‘Siddi Sayyed Jali.’ A truly humbling monument.
The Bhadra Castle
This magnificent castle was built on the bank of the river Sabarmati. Its walls were also part of the fort. It was also the resident of the sultan. The first-ever mechanical clock in Gujarat was installed on a tower of this castle. One of the gates of this castle was converted into a temple of Mata Bhadrakali by the Peshwa rulers after the Islamic rule was over. It is perhaps the busiest temple in terms of the number of visitors.
Teen Darwaja (The Three Gates)
The city was originally a walled city within a fort with 10 km peripheral length and had a total of 12 gates. The main and ceremonial entrance to the fort was consisting of three magnificent gates, hence it is called Teen Darwaza.
Associated with the gates, there is a beautiful story of sacrificing one’s life by the chief gatekeeper Khwaja Siddiq Kotwal, to prevent Mata Lakshmi – the Goddess of wealth walking away from the city. His descendants are still keeping a lamp devoted to the Goddess alight and maintain it uninterrupted as possible.
Town planning aimed at safety and security
Every house was a part of a neighborhood known as a pol. A pol is an enclosed street with two or three-storied houses on both sides, and only one route for entry and egress. The opening could be on the main road, from which different pols would branch out, or it could as well be in another pol.
Each pol would have a large gate just wide enough for a bullock cart, which would normally remain closed, and guarded by an armed watchman. The watchman’s accommodation used to be a part of the gate architecture, which used to be designed to provide him various positions if he had to engage in a defensive action.
People would enter into, or exit the pol through a small door carved out in one of the shutters of the gate. The number of houses in pols would vary from 20 to 200.
However, these pols were interconnected with the neighboring pol with a kind of secret passage. Only the locals would know where the door of passage was, and it was masked from outside as a normal door of a house to mislead the outsiders. These secret passages are still in use for the locals to transit from one to another pol.
This way of planning used to develop and nurture the sense of a close-knit community and strong belongingness to the neighborhood. It was also great for their protection from hostile outsiders, as all the neighbors would know who was, and who wasn’t a resident of that pol.
Some of those pols were market streets, in which instead of houses on both sides there were shops. However, the shop owners used to live on the upper floors of the shop. These streets were known as Ōle.
A state-of-the-art civil engineering of the city
Only an expert on classic town-planning can tell which technology they might have used to build the streets. All the streets are evenly paved. However they have calculated and maintained such a fine gradient, that no matter how heavy a storm is, these streets never get flooded, even after centuries since they were built. Isn’t this an achievement by them worth a salute!
They also built sewers which were covered by stone-tiles which makes it easy to clean in an unlikely event of clogging up even in modern times. They also erected outlets for fumes from those sewers. Once again I’d like to remember the finely calculated gradient, and their minute attention to details affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants.
Construction and the art in construction
The houses were built using brick and mortar. The use of steel in construction was prohibited in those days. Therefore, timber was generously used in pillars and beams. This limited the size of the buildings. Most of the timber in construction came from Burma – modern-day Myanmar. The construction industry of those days, therefore, played a pivotal role in establishing trading links between the countries of the far east, and India.
The internationally trading merchants brought back with the art and architecture from the countries they had visited. The artisans from those countries created some extraordinarily beautiful artwork on the timber components of the houses the wealthy built for them.
The local artisans were no less competent. They too created some amazingly fine examples of artistry on wood. Just anywhere we may look inside those houses, or from outside; their doors, windows, stairs, pillars, beams, ventilators, steps, door-frames, parapets, ceilings, rooves, you come across a practical demonstration of painstakingly perfect artistry. I’d like to insist, that no words, no photography, or no videography would give the slightest justice to its beauty combined with their functional efficiency. You have to see it real to feel it.
Houses of significant and prominent citizens in the city’s history
Ahmedabad has been a trading center for centuries. Therefore, it has always been the home of some of the most prominent industrialists of the nation. Some of the large ancestral houses of those wealthy industrialists known as havelies are still standing and serving their purpose.
Some of the exemplary houses are the haveli of Sheth Mangaldas Giridhardas, the haveli of Shethani Harkunvarba, and the haveli of Dodia family. These houses are great examples of the craftmanship on wood. Sheth Shree Lalbhai Dalpatbhai, and the Sarabhai family were also among the esteemed residents of the city.
Not only the financially rich lived here. Ahmedabad was also home to a great mystic Akshaydas Soni – popularly known as Akha Bhagat. He greatly influenced the Bhakti movement through his sheer rational views. His descendants are still living in a house where Akha Bhagat once lived in the 16th century.
Another great poet who had made Ahmedabad his home was Kavi Dalpatram. A devout Satsangi Vaishnav, he was privileged to have interacted with great spiritual leader Shree Sahajanand Swami, the founder of Swaminarayan Sampraday in Gujarat. His house is within yards of the Swaminarayan Mandir.
Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has installed life-size statues of both the doyens of Gujarati literature outside the houses where they lived. It’s an amazingly elevating experience to sit next to those statues for those who are familiar with their place in history.
Life in modern times in the historic city
The entire city is declared a heritage. It is a living and thriving monument in itself. People are living there, and proud of their ancestral home.
Some historic houses do display their age with time and need renovation and sometimes restructuring. But it’s not always possible. In that case those buildings need to get raised to the ground.
These people are famous for their love for the kite flying festival. It’s great fun to participate in a festival that typically comes in mid-January.
The tour ends at the famous Manek Chawk. A large courtyard surrounded by over a hundred shops. This can be called the gold exchange of Gujarat as hundreds of kilograms of gold passes through these shops every day. Ahmedabad stock exchange also operated from this place for many decades.
When we are at Manek Chawk, we are actually at a place from where the first foundation stone was laid beginning the construction of the city. The street is still called Muhurta Pol means the street of an auspicious beginning.
Manek Chawk is named after a saint Maneknath who lived here at the time of the construction of the city begun. It is named after him. A small temple was later built at the place where his earthly body was cremated.
What is called the gold exchange of Gujarat is transformed into a lively food-street with the sunset. For the food lovers this is the place to taste the essence of the street food. It’s a different world altogether at night.
Another historic eating place is the famous Chandravilas Restaurant which has completed 120 years in 2020. There was a time when it used to serve tea to 18,000 customers in a day. It was a popular eating place for the visiting celebrities such as mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Indulal Yagnik, Raj Kapoor, Kishor Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, and the leaders of modern India such as Narendra Modi, and Amit Shah.
The purpose of the tours is just to give a glimpse of the glorious history of the city. Not all the monuments are included. Other than the above mentioned, there are a great number of historic religious monuments such as Hutheesinh Jain Mandir, Siddi Basheer Mosque, Sarkhej Roja, and many more. Frankly, a quick visit will never give justice to their majesty, and intricacy. Some of them such as Sheth Hutheesinh Jain Mandir, the Sarkhej Roja, and the haveli of Sheth Mangaldas would take days, if we wish to study them thoroughly.
It’s unlikely that after having gone through both the heritage walks you won’t fall in love with the city’s originality. It’s simply impossible to put that experience here. Therefore, we highly recommend anybody to take the Heritage Walk tour. Please do take the tour. The city is waiting for you to fall in love with it.
The heritage walk tour on feet takes you through only a few monuments of the city. However, the impressive number of an ancient monuments in the city is higher than 50. One among them is a large lake the city adored for over a millennium – the famous Kankaria lake.
When you are visiting Ahmedabad, Kankaria is one of the must-visit destinations. with a great variety of experiences to offer to all age groups.
We recommend you to watch the video to experience Kankaria Lake.
To learn more about interesting attractions for your next vacation or “holistay”, please visit www.mericity.com today.