Recently, on 2nd October- Gandhi Jayanti I got an opportunity to explore the magnificent architectural heritage of Ahmedabad city. In July 2017, UNESCO declared the old historic city of Ahmedabad as India’s first World Heritage City.
In the east of the Sabarmati river lays the walled city of Old Ahmedabad. Sultan Ahmed Shah found the city of Ahmedabad which is popularly known as “the Walled City”. A walk through the old city gives you a glimpse of the completely different aspects of architecture and heritage from the modern city of Ahmedabad.
Let’s take a deep dive into the rich architectural heritage of Ahmedabad and know everything about the places I visited during this 2.5hr long Ahmedabad Heritage Walk. We all assembled for a15 minute brief introduction on the history of Ahmedabad by my friend and tourist guide Kavi Raval.
The heritage walk started from Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Kalupur and navigated through 20 historic sites and ended at the popular Jami Masjid.
Entry gate to Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Kalupur
We started the walk at 8:30 am in the morning from Shri Swaminarayan Temple, Kalupur. Lord Swaminarayan built this first temple of the Swaminarayan Sampraday in the year 1822. The beautiful temple has intricate carving in pure Burma-teak wood and constructed with sculpting art by depicting deities’ episodes, auspicious symbols and religious icons that represent our Indian culture. Vibrant colors and opulent carvings profusely embellish every wooden bracket, column and arch.
The huge wonderful gateway represents a combination of Gujarati, Rajasthani, Marathi and British style designs. The main temple complex houses the idols of Nar-Narayan, Radha-Krishna, Dharmadev, Bhakti Mata and Harikrishna Maharaj. A classic chabutara or pigeon-feeding tower loaded with grains in the premises attracts hundreds of birds every day.
A richly carved bird feeder in one of the pols (Chabutara)
A tall pole-like structure is a sewage pipe of the olden times
From the temple, we moved past a 200 year-old-clock tower and walked through narrow roads to learn more about pols. Over 300 pols with several interlocking pols within actually seem like an interesting maze to anyone.
Old house structure
Passing by some Victorian-era structures, we arrived at the Kavi Dalpatram Chowk, a memorial for one of Gujarat’s renowned poets. The platform behind the poet’s statue displays the plan of the original house. The yellow stone on the floor indicates the walls, grey stone indicates the rooms and black stone represents the open courtyard.
Kavi Dalpatram and his house
The main highlight of the walk is the tour of pols. ‘Pol’ word originates from the Sanskrit word ‘Pratoli’. It literally means the point of entry or gate. A pol is a cluster of houses where several families of a particular caste, profession or religion live together. Every neighborhood has a gate, security guard, secret passages, well, chabutara and a notice board.
Haja Patel Ni Pol
Notice board in a pol
Many pols include small khancha and khadki; bigger pols have several smaller pols known as ‘Sheri’.
We walked through narrower lanes and clustered houses and stood at the Khara Kuva Ni Pol (salty well) took a flight of stairs and reached Haja Patel Ni Pol. We came across the famous Calico Dome that housed the showroom and shops for Calico mills. During the earthquake in 2001, the center of the Dome collapsed and heavy rains damaged its interiors and it collapsed completely.
Khara Kuva Ni Pol
Notice, there’s a room above at the entry in every pol for security guards to watch over.
On the route ahead, we visited a 400-year-old unique temple known as Kala Ramji Mandir. Surprisingly, the idol of Lord Rama is in the seated position which is rare. All the three idols are made out of black stone called Kasoti, which is used to test the purity of gold.
Entry towards Shri Kala Ramji Mandir
Further, we came across Sambhavnath Ni Khadki and visited the Sambhavnath Jain Derasar, the oldest Jain temple in Ahmedabad which is built in 1662 A.D. The Derasar was originally constructed in wood and later restored using marble. It is built underground, only the dome and shikhara can be seen while entering the Sambhavnath Ni Khadki.
Heritage signboard at Ashtapadji Derasar
Next, we proceeded towards Chaumukhji Ni Pol; the name is derived from the Jain Derasar of Chaumukhji. The pol also has a Jain temple built in the Hindu-Jain architectural style.
Variety of house
It’s awesome to walk past the variety of houses in these pols. Every owner has decorated their house in a particular style. The Havelis are embellished with artistic wooden facades, carved brackets, fenestrated windows and symmetrically designed balconies. Each pol has its religious and regional identity. At Kuvawalo Khancho, we saw an amalgamation of Maratha, Persian, colonial and Gujarati influenced architecture.
Rich architectural house
Shantinath Ni Pol has a beautiful Jain Derasar to visit. The Zaveri Vad, a jeweler community settlement has a strong room for the security personnel. In Chaumukhji Ni Pol, one can see beautiful sandstone carvings, few of which are recreated in marble. A combination of Jain and Hindu architectural influences can be seen in the Ashtapadji Derasar. Dodhia Haveli has a stunning architecture in these pols. A 180-year-old Harkunvar Shethani Ni Haveli holds exquisite examples of carved brackets and wooden motifs that are well-maintained.
Biggest carved bracket in the area at Harkunvar Shethani Ni Haveli
The walk takes you along the Fernandez Bridge where booksellers display their books and the old building of the Ahmedabad Stock Exchange. Just opposite the Old Stock Exchange is the Mahurat Pol. Mahurat means an auspicious time to start something new. This name is given because it is the first pol being established in the city of Ahmedabad. We even visited the Chandla Ol (Ol translates to the shops and residences both in the same area). It is renowned as one of the biggest and oldest markets for brass pooja items in Ahmedabad. However, the shops had not yet opened as it was early morning.
Towards the end of the walk at Manek Chowk, we visited Badshah No Haziro. Here lies the tomb of Sultan Ahmed Shah who found the city of Ahmedabad. The mausoleum is designed in Islamic style and has a central hall and four small chambers at the corners. It houses the graves of the Badshah, his son and his grandson. The walk also took us towards Rani No Haziro where the queens of Ahmed Shah are buried.
The entry point to Badshah No Haziro
Inside Badshah No Haziro
Rani No Haziro
This heritage tour is popularly known as the Mandir Se Masjid tak tour because it ends at the Jami Masjid also known as Jama Masjid or Jumma Mosque. The moment you step into the gates into the massive courtyard, you experience a calm and serene atmosphere. The mosque is built of yellow sandstone and the courtyard is surrounded by an arcade of columns decorated with Arabic calligraphy. In the center is a water tank for cleaning or washing hands and legs known as wazoo. The main prayer hall has 260 carved pillars and 15 domes. The mosque is inspired by the Indo-Saracenic architectural style all over.
Entry at the Jami Masjid
The 2.5hr heritage walk showcased a splendid life and culture of people living in the pols of Ahmedabad. Interesting, isn’t it?