An impromptu plan with Gujarat Tourism took us to Ahmedabad and Vadodara this Navratri season. While you’ve seen through the glimpses of the festivities on our social media, we discovered the popular Ahmedabad Heritage Walk this time – aptly known as Mandir se Masjid Tak (Temple to Mosque.) Before we take you through an experience that teleported us to as many as 500 years back, read on some interesting tales around the city that we learned on this trip.
Ahmedabad is a city named after its founder, Sultan Ahmed Shah. While the first half picks his name, Bad refers to prosperity, and this former capital of Gujarat has done just that since its inception. In the 19th Century, this city was regarded as the ‘Manchester of India’ for its prosperously growing textile market. Back in the day, Indigo was homegrown in Gujarat especially in Ahmedabad and Champaner, a historical city in Gujarat, located over 2 hours from Vadodara.
Amongst the other remarkable things, Ahmedabad achieved its status as India’s first heritage city by UNESCO on 8th July, 2017. So without further ado, read on and join us on this walk that definitely peeks into the past…
The 22-stop walk starts with Swaminarayan Temple in Kalupur (Mandir) and concludes at Jama (Masjid) thus widely known as Mandir se Masjid tak. This is an initiative by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation inviting tourists and locals to discover the story behind Old Ahmedabad. Starting at 7.45 am at the Temple as the meeting point, it ends at 10.30 am. However, we experienced this with our trip guide Mr.Bherunath who patiently took us through these hidden gems and encouraged all our questions with insightful tales.
Hopping off the bus outside of the Ahmedabad Clock Tower lane the aromatic waft of warm Fafdas in the making greeted us. These Besan (Bengal gram) cylindrical strips of joy created a stirring sound as they encountered the warm oil ready to create magic. The clock had struck 7.50 am, and enterprising citizens of this business hub had already set off to work, ready to stop by for their staple breakfast – Fafda and Jalebis.
After a quick chat, and bite of the fafdas, we made our way to the first top- Swaminarayan Temple which was on the receiving end of devotees in quick succession. The grandeur and optimism echoed in the temple’s architecture and softly playing Bhajans in the backdrop. The open Chabutara- a bird feeding spot inviting pigeons and many feeders for whom this an everyday routine. As we moved further along on our walk, we learned that there are as many as 700 Chabutras(Bird feeders) in Ahmedabad, however, they’re designed keeping in mind the lack of space.
Our next stop was the Kavi Dalpatram Chowk, a reformist poet who is known for his significant contribution to the promotion of Gujarati language. It was his camaraderie with Alexander Kinloch Forbes, a British civil officer in the 18th Century that helped Forbes become fluent in Gujarati with Gujarati Vernacular Society. The chowk today stands as a memorial to Kavi Dalpatram and his house which was destroyed in 1948.
We continued our trail by then heading to what became the most memorable and intriguing aspect of this walk – Pols.
Pols are traditional gated housing communities which are often divided by professions i.e- people practising the same profession are a part of the same housing community. Some of the examples we witnessed were Zaveri Vad- Home to the jewellery community, Kharak Va Ni Pol- Home to Jain merchants.
In this vintage, and fascinating setting of rustic doors, shared walls, and courtyards lived and continue to live families for whom despite the modernization this simpleton lifestyle was a way of life. We were lucky to have a chat with an elderly female resident who shared that she was the fourth-generation member of the Pol. She smiled and shared stories as she continued with her chore of ironing her clothes using a traditional kohl-infused iron.
In times when even grocery shopping is slowly beginning a resultant of a few taps on the phone screen, it was amusing to a witness a middle-aged woman hawking across these lanes with a basket of vegetables.
Alongside the people, it’s architecture too that makes these pols enchanting. The homes here are known to have stood the test of time and weather (The homes remained unaffected even after the torrential 2001 flood, courtesy of the wooden base along with the stone in its pillars and walls.) Another noteworthy thing about the architecture has to be the secret passage exclusive to each pol, usually hidden behind doors only known to its members to help them escape in times of trouble.
The foundation and structure of these pols are such that they share a common courtyard, a sitting area bringing them together in the evenings, especially the senior members. Long before technology took over, they’ve had a common notice board keeping all the residents in loop about anything important.
We also made sure to stop by the Kala Ramji Mandir located in the corner of Haja Patel Pol. Built within the residential premises by a member family, the mandir is known for Lord Ram’s unique idol in a sitting posture carved in Black stone. What made our visit even more interesting was meeting the man who designs the clothes for Gods’ idols which are changed seven times a day!
The moment where we learned that this Old City was a land of beautiful paradoxes when we witnessed the Calico Dome site of the Calico Mills where India’s first-ever fashion show took place! It is also said that the celebrated actress, Parveen Babi also participated in the shows in the 1970s when she was a student.
After an extremely insightful morning of being on the receiving end of surprise, curiosity and mostly memories, we made it to the final stop- Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest mosques built in the 14th Century marking a blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture.
This wondrous morning came to end with a cup of chai at Lucky Tea Stall, the Ahmedabad special chai and bun maska at a place built over and around the graveyard housing an M.F Hussain original. Read more on Gujarat Food.
P.S: Our heritage walk in Ahmedabad – Temple to Mosque helped us explore a new world in an old-fashioned way, and we highly recommend you to add it to your bucket list, and comfortable walking shoes to your bag. Until next time, #StayCurious 😊