Intriguing places in and around Ahmedabad, Gujarat

We were peering through an ancient looking window, when we heard a voice, “What are you doing here?”. Clearly, we had trespassed someone’s private property and obviously, irked the man. We started mumbling an apology, only to be told, “This is a heritage house. You will find more interesting things inside”. Stunned and delighted, we stepped into what was his home.

The markets of Ahmedabad geared up for the kite flying festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan

It was the day of Makar Sankranti, one of Gujarat’s biggest festivals. His wife welcomed us with festive sweets made of sesame and peanuts (perfect for the dry winter days of Ahmedabad) and his sons showed us around the house. Before leaving, we had already received an invitation to visit them again in the evening for some kite flying.

makar_sankranti_kite_festival

It was all that simple – traveling in Ahmedabad, talking to the people, even celebrating a festival with a family!

The new year might mean heading back to work or detoxing from the just finished season of festivities for the rest of the world. Not so in Gujarat, the westernmost state in India which leads the Uttarayan (Makar Sankranti) celebrations. We were in Ahmedabad to experience the kite festival. While the festival enthralled us, the city itself has stayed close to our hearts. A couple of extra days that we had allotted to visit Ahmedabad was time well spent.

The heart of Ahmedabad, its pols

Pols are the narrow lanes that make up old Ahmedabad. Each pol is a world in itself, laden with stories which go down generations.

The tiny lanes and pols of old Ahmedabad around the Khadia area

Our hotel was in the Khadia area of old Ahmedabad, to the east of the river Sabarmati. The people living here, everyone flashing the latest mobile phone, some driving their Mercs around are a stark contrast to the houses; and indeed the world they live in. Navigating these tiny lanes, we couldn’t help wonder where these big cars were parked!

The street vendors in the tiny lanes and pols of old Ahmedabad around the Khadia area

How to find the little gems that are hidden away in the Ahmedabad pols?

Of course, be guided by a local. The day we arrived in Khadia, we went strolling around in the pols. There was just too much to see in every corner, and we had soon lost our way.

Seeing our confused, and slightly overwhelmed looks, a guy watching us took it upon himself to show us around. Like a Math teacher simplifying a theorem, he took us through the complex network of lanes and bylanes.

Most houses here, though old, were beautiful; their entire facades filled with intricate carvings.

The old parts of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India are full of beautiful old houses with intricate carvings on them.

The most striking house we saw was the Jethabhai haveli. It was home to Raheel Patel and had been the family’s home for five generations. He was an expert in the restoration of old structures.

Passionately and painstakingly, he had restored his own home. It is studded with old artifacts and equipment. The best part was how the family had integrated all the heritage creation in their modern day to day life.

Beautiful interiors of the Jethabhai haveli in Ahmedabad which have been restored by its owner Rahil Patel, keeping its heritage value intact in the old Khadia area of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India.

Raheel also has a toy museum, housed within the haveli. We saw his collection of old toys, some hundreds of years old and miniature kites. He also runs an organisation called Vaarso, dedicated to preserving the heritage of Ahmedabad.

Beautiful interiors of the Jethabhai haveli in Ahmedabad which have been restored by its owner Raheel Patel, keeping its heritage value intact in the old Khadia area of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India.

The shops too are in sync with the neighbouring houses, as far as their old world charm goes.

A metal works shop in the old parts of Ahmedabad looks like it belongs to  a bygone era. We saw this and several other shops like this one on the heritage tour of Ahmedabad.

Heritage walk by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation

This heritage walk is another easy and informative way of traversing the maze of pols. It starts at 7 AM at the Swaminarayan Temple and ends around 3 hours later at Jami Masjid.

Devotees at the Swaminarayan temple offer their morning prayers. The heritage walk of the Ahmedabad municipal corporation starts at this temple.

The Swaminarayan temple has a sprawling campus. The temple walls filled with carvings of Hindu symbols.

The Swaminarayan temple in Ahmedabad, Gujarat has a sprawling campus and the structure has walls filled with delicate carvings of Hindu symbols. The heritage walk of Ahmedabad starts early morning at this temple.

A packed temple even that early on a winter morning, made it clear that the people here were devout worshipers. We didn’t have to wait long to have this ascertained.

The Swaminarayan temple in Ahmedabad, Gujarat has a sprawling campus and the structure has walls filled with delicate carvings of Hindu symbols. The heritage walk of Ahmedabad starts early morning at this temple.

And soon, we would meet the ghaswala!

In India, many “walas” are a part of your daily life. There is the doodhwala, the milk delivery guy, paperwala – the guy who drops the newspaper home or the subziwala – the vegetable vendor. But this is the first time, we saw a “ghaswala” – a grass delivery guy!

He delivers fodder for the cows to the households that have subscribed to his services! Cows are considered pious in the Hindu religion. Across India, they are worshipped by many. This is especially seen in Gujarat.

Most people here feed the cow first thing in the morning. They do not eat until they have fed the cow. So this grass delivery guy makes life easier, by delivering the cow’s fodder at your doorstep! Just like the news paper, the grass is tucked in the gaps of the grill on the front door.

Quite obviously, we saw the maximum number of cows on the streets here in Ahmedabad!

We walked through some really complicated maze of lanes; some intended to be hidden passages. Our group had an interesting mix of participants. While there were some curious travelers like us, for some it was an homecoming.

They had grown up in these pols, but were now returning back after decades. Some were visiting with their children, now living abroad. “Just like it was then” was a phrase we heard often during this heritage walk.

This is the statue of the famous Gujarati poet named Dalpatram who stayed in the old Khadia area of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. A visit to his house is part of the heritage walk organised by the Ahmedabad municipal corporation.

We visited the house of a famous poet from Gujarat, Dalpatram. It was a nostalgic moment for many in the group; they had learnt poems by Dalpatram in school. Thanks to them, we could hear some of his poems right there, in front of where they were all created.

This walk of Ahmedabad introduced us to the various aspects of Hindu, Jain and Islamic architecture. These communities are all part of the old city of Ahmedabad. Brackets of houses and pillars heavily decorated with designs depicting motifs of these religions were an integral part of the old architecture.

The heritage walk of Ahmedabad introduces us to the various aspects of Hindu, Jain and Islamic architecture. These communities are all part of the old city of Ahmedabad. Intricate designs depicting motifs of these religions were an integral part of the old architecture.

This is a bird feeder seen during the heritage walk of the old city of Ahmedabad

In the old days, bird feeders were constructed every few meters. Each bird feeder has a ladder, to refill the bird feeder.

The walk ended at Jami Masjid, the main mosque of Ahmedabad. The morning rush was nearing its peak, with the office going traffic choking the narrow “main” roads (They were broad central roads when this part of Ahmedabad was originally designed!). Markets, people, the hustle and bustle – it was all there.

But inside the mosque, it was an entirely different story. The morning prayers were done, so the mosque was empty. It suddenly felt eerily quiet.

Jami Masjid at the end of the heritage walk of Ahmedabad, Gujarat

We took our time to take in the beauty of the mosque. On one of the pillars, we saw this carving of the “Tree of Life”.

Intricate carvings are an integral part of the old architecture of Ahmedabad. This is the symbol of the tree of life seen at Jami Masjid.

Siddi Sayyed ki Jali or Lace on Stone

This “Tree of Life” is infact often used as the logo for the city of Ahmedabad. It is seen most conspicuously in the latticed patterns of Siddi Sayyed ki Jali, another must see monument of Ahmedabad. It is in the centre circle, a couple of blocks down the Khadia area.

Sidi Saiyyed Jaali, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Lace on stone is the only way to describe the masterpiece of Siddi Sayyed ki Jaali. On the backside of the mosque are four sets of delicate carvings on the wall.

Sidi Saiyyed Jaali, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Sidi Saiyyed Jaali, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Taking good pictures of these works is a challenge for a photographer; they are high up on a wall with a fenced lawn around them. The front instead, provided some interesting silhouettes for this “lacework”.

The main pillar at the entrance of the mosque is rich in carvings of Islamic motifs.

The Sidi Saiyyed mosque is in the centre circle of the old city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. This is the main pillar at the entrance of the mosque which is rich in carvings of Islamic motifs.

After a couple of days of walking around the pols, we realised we could spend months here and yet not understand them completely. We decided to leave the rest unexplored for a traveler’s favourite, “the next time!” The rest of Ahmedabad also had a lot to offer.

The Stepwells of Adalaj

Adalaj ni Wav or Stepwell of Adalaj was built to provide not just water but also some power nap space for the travelers crossing the area.

It is 5 floors deep both horizontally and vertically.

This is a 5 storeyed step well in the village of Adalaj, just outside of Ahmedabad.

The landing space of the well is especially beautiful with minutely detailed carving everywhere possible. Even the underneath of the benches has detailing on it.

This is a 5 storeyed step well in the village of Adalaj, just outside of Ahmedabad.

It gets darker as you go deeper. We wondered how the artisans would have managed to see their work down there back then.

This is a 5 storeyed step well in the village of Adalaj, just outside of Ahmedabad.

The well water is now fenced off for protection. But we could sit on the steps and enjoy the cool by the water. Just like the travelers would have centuries ago!

Sarkhej Roza

Sarkhej Roza in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

Le Corbusier called it the “Acropolis of the East”. Another historic structure of Ahmedabad, the Sarkhej Roza is a mosque with a grand open space. This open space is believed to have been a lake, which is now dried out. It is a good place to spend a quiet afternoon or watch the sun go down and the sound of the azaan from the mosque fills the air.

Another interesting place to visit in Ahmedabad, especially if traveling with kids in the Kankaria lake. A butterfly garden (with no real butterflies!), a train and the activities around the lake itself are enough entertainment for a couple of hours.

Tourist bus at Kankaria lake in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

The Ahmedabad city museum, Sanskar Kendra, on Paldi Road is housed in a building designed by Le Corbusier himself. It is also worth a quick visit. Especially for the collection of kites including some ancient Chinese kites. They have a documentary about the art of making kites. If you are genuinely interested, the staff will be happy to play it for you.

Public transport in Ahmedabad

Every place we visited in Ahmedabad, we used the public transport buses. Khadia is well connected by buses with the rest of Ahmedabad. Even while using the auto rickshaws, within the city limit, everyone charged the metered fare. We never encountered the special “tourist price”.

The best part about navigating the city? Google Maps gives accurate transit routes using the city buses.

Traveling through Ahmedabad by buses, we caught glimpses of some street art. It was very different than the kinds of graffiti seen in Brazil, but did serve the purpose of beautification.

Mosaic of Sardar Patel in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

That’s the mosaic of Sardar Patel, commonly known as the Iron Man of India!

We were tried to shoot at, but ended up being safe!

Kids play on the streets of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India

Vadodara, a beautiful day trip from Ahmedabad

A couple of hours to the south of Ahmedabad, connected by a beautiful expressway is another city, Vadodara. We recommend atleast a full day’s visit to Vadodara. If kids are part of the travel gang, then a visit to the Sayaji garden (locally called Kamathi Baug) is an absolute must. The train journey in this park is something they will remember for ever.

The museum here as well as the Fatehsingh museum are also worth the time. The Fatehsingh musuem displays the collection of arts and sculptures which belong to the Gaekwads, the erstwhile royal family of Vadodara. Originals by artists like Raja Ravi Verma are the prized possession among this rich collection.

If however, there is just one place to be visited in Vadodara, it is the Lukshmi Vilas Palace, still home to the present generation of the Gaekwad family. The family has opened up the ground floor of the palace for public viewing. At the entrance, after paying the entry fees you are given an audio guide to take you through the palace.

Lukshmi Vilas Palace wall, Vadodara, India

The Lukshmi Vilas Palace is built in four different styles of architecture, representing a mosque, a church, a temple and a gurudwara (from the left to the right).

Tastefully lavish is how we would describe our experience of the Lukhmi Vilas Palace. It reflects the patronage the various forms of arts received from the king, Maharaja Sayajirao.

Lukshmi Vilas Palace wall, Vadodara, India

It did not feel like a showcase of the royal riches. We could comprehend Sayajirao’s role in making Vadodara a culturally rich city that it prides itself on today. It was a great experience being in the midst of some beautiful paintings and sculptures. We could almost hear the music that would have once resonated within.

Champaner is another easy to do day trip from either Ahmedabad or Vadodara.

chamapner_day_trip

Lasting impressions

We saw him near Jami Masjid selling used spectacles. How’s this for recycle and reuse?

Street vendor selling glasses in Ahmedabad, India

Yes, it is exactly what it looks like. A roadside dentist to give you the pearly whites! Spotted outside the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Vadodara. Barbers, palm readers, tarot card readers even astrologers are very common on the road but dental care service was a first!

Street Dentist, Vadodara, Gujarat, India

These two men we met on the streets of Ahmedabad and Vadodara were the quirky gems of our trip. And a classic example of “It Happens Only in India”! They are going to be tough sights to beat.

More than any “places to visit”, the people as always, were the lasting impressions of our trip, the fond memories that we brought back.

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Sandeepa and Chetan. Married. Indians. Exploring Travel as Lifestyle. Featured by National Geographic, Yahoo. We hope that through our travel stories we inspire others to make their dream into a reality.

46 thoughts on “Intriguing places in and around Ahmedabad, Gujarat

  1. Neha Jain

    Ahmadabad is an amazing city. I love this city. It is a very informative article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It enriched my knowledge about the beautiful place. Knowledge about infrastructure of buildings really amazed me.I also love people of Ahmadabad. They are very helpful.

  2. Chitra

    Hey nice and detailed post !
    I happened to read your post while googling about champaner. I didn’t find places to visit much anywhere else but a detail blog of you ! After that I read few more blogs of destinations you both wrote!
    We are planning to visit Ahmedabad, vadodara and also a day to champaner pavgadh with family.
    I have few doubts.. I thought I would ask you.
    Which all places can be covered in Ahmedabad in half a day…. are ladies allowed in jama masjid of ahmedabad?
    Is it possible to see both champaner and pavgadh in a single day ? If so what time should we start morning from vadodara…

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Chitra, thank you for writing to us. Glad you found our travel stories helpful in planning your trip.
      Champaner and Pavagadh can be covered in a day. Try to reach Champaner by 8 AM since that is when the gates to the monuments open. You will need to hire a local vehicle to get to the Pavagadh hilltop (autos are easily available). Park your car at a safe place in Champaner. Carry your food from Vadodara to save time looking for a place to eat – not many options in Champaner anyways.
      Women are allowed inside Jami Masjid. In half a day, we would recommend doing the early morning heritage walk, roam around in the pols, stopover at Sayed ki jaali and then head to Adalaj stepwell. Are you sure you have only half a day to spare for Ahmedabad? Too much to do! πŸ™‚

      1. Chitra

        Thank you so much for your valuable suggestions.
        Yes, we have half a day as we will be reaching by 12.30pm and the same night we should reach Vadodara . So we will leave by 7 or 8pm from Ahmedabad.
        Now I wish we could have booked in earlier flight …
        so that we would get enough time to spare in Ahmedabad!

  3. Renuka Walter

    Beautiful architecture! I got to spend just one day in Ahmedabad while I was going to Kutch a couple of years ago. You guys have intrigued me to visit this city again! πŸ™‚ Nice photographs!

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hey Renuka! We are yet to explore Gujarat beyond Ahmedabad πŸ™‚ It is definitely a city we fell in love with. Highly recommend spending a few days in Ahmedabad – we can assure you won’t regret it!

  4. MyFashionVilla

    Awww you guys were in Ahmedabad?? Such a beautiful post. Being Amdavadi, I loved the pics and story of my city; you portrayed so well.
    We should surely meet next time you come again..

    Awaiting… n I love this post in every manner.
    Hugs!

  5. Kalpit Gajera

    I am from Ahmedabad and your blog is presenting a true ahmedabad, The Pics you have collected are also awesome
    Thanks I love Ahmedabad and Proud to be A resident of Ahmedabad

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Thank you so much, Kalpit. It is an honour to receive such feedback from a Amdavadi! We loved Ahmedabad and the people of Ahmedabad. We will definitely be visiting your city again, someday.

  6. shwetadave09

    Gujrat my native state πŸ™‚ you have captured amdavaad so well, the pictures are so natural πŸ™‚ and utraan is best enjoyed in Surat and Amdavaad πŸ™‚

  7. corneliaweberphotography

    That is amazing your post, and I am going to be in Ahmedabad in about 3 weeks, on my trip Delhi, Haridwar and Rajastan, my first time in India, travelling on my own, though I am a bit nervous. I booked 2 nights at the French Haveli, are you familiar with it???

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Hello Cornelia, we wish you a great time in India. It is the perfect weather for all the places you mention. India can be a sensory overload initially, but once you look beyond the inherent chaos, we hope you will enjoy yourself. We haven’t been to the French haveli. But its location seems perfect for exploring the culture of Ahmedabad. Have a good trip!

  8. Alok Singhal

    Seems like there is simply too much to cover in Ahmedabad. I loved the intricate work you showcased…the details are pretty noteworthy.
    The lanes remind me of one place we covered here in the US East Coast…the warmth it provided was amazing.

    1. Sandeepa Chetan Post author

      Thank you, Alok! You are right, Ahmedabad was loaded with everything; things to see, eat, shop and do! Could have easily stayed another week! Surprised to know Ahmedabad reminded you of a place in the US! That’s the best thing about travel, always teaches something new!