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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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 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.
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.
The main pillar at the entrance of the mosque is rich in carvings of Islamic motifs.
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.
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.
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.
We were tried to shoot at, but ended up being safe!
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.
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.
Champaner is another easy to do day trip from either Ahmedabad or Vadodara.
We saw him near Jami Masjid selling used spectacles. How’s this for recycle and reuse?
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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