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A Heritage Walk in the Old City of Ahmedabad- Mandir to Masjid walk

 

A heritage walk that starts from Kalupur Swaminarayan Temple and ends at Jami Masjid, the two icons of Ahmedabad, channels our soul to the epoch drenched with culture, the life that they relished and marvellous architecture.

India is a realm of culture, tradition and festivals well known worldwide. However, not many cities have a rich cultural heritage that is a concord of tradition from overseas as well. Modernization balances somewhere with globalization. Where people have stimulated out of their area of life to explore the unknown spaces on the Orb. But that is where I went wrong. It is not now that we have started globalization. It ensued well before our understandings. Learning this wasn’t easy until I came across the HERITAGE WALK OF AHMEDABAD.

I always wanted to be part of the Heritage walk in Ahmedabad unknown of the treasure it was going bestow upon. As always, the proverb “Ghar ki murghi dal barabar’, we never tend to admire the places where we live. That’s a fact and I am sure you all will agree. We would die to learn about the Leaning Tower of Pisa but would never notice the Shaking Minarets of Ahmedabad. That’s the case with every soul and I am not spare.

So, given the fact, we opted for the heritage walk tour in the old city that starts early dawn. Many other tours are organized too but, early morning tour was more preferable for us. The tour commences from the Kalupur based Swaminarayan Temple at 8: 00 AM. However, it is required to reach well before time to not miss the video they show. We missed that video though. The walk is almost two hours and I relived every moment I stepped into the monument. The monument ushered with the iotas of the past era.

Magnificient Kalupur Swaminarayan temple

 

Besides the fact that I visited Kalupur Temple on regular basis, I was oblivious of the datum that I cultured from this Heritage Tour. Colours in landscaping the artefacts were entirely made from the natural extracts of fruits and vegetables. Kalupur is the area of the old city that has congested lanes with unavoidable traffic, so an early morning walk is best. Besides, this is the world’s first temple of Swaminarayan built in 1822 AD built by Anandanad Swami under the direction of Lord Swaminarayan himself. The temple consists of three sanctums and the complex is intricately crafted with wood. The temple premises besides consists of Haveli for Monks consists of the temple for women too. Temple is carved and adorned with floral motifs, sculptures of animals and human figurines. Owing to such a glorious history of the temple, it is clear that thousands of devotees visit on regular basis to offer prayers, early mornings buzzed too. Chiming bells of the temple with the chirping of the birds and chants of the devotee filled the ether with piousness which literary transformed me to another realm. What a beautiful start to the tour!

Chabutro ( Bird Feeder)
Chabutro ( Bird Feeder)

Starting our trip, we were greeted by the Chabutaro in the pole of the old city.  In the era where high rise buildings are emerging day in and out, visiting the old city with artefacts that stunned us to the core was nothing less than re-living the history. Chabutaro was one such artefact that was built in such a manner to feed birds at a height. Mark the steps that are carved in a manner to avoid any animal climb but just humans to refill the feed for birds. People were quite kind-hearted and construction was created on every pole. Pole is nothing but a residential area where people lived in a close community. While we emerged in the history of the architecture that the guide was narrating, I noticed that each pole had few things in common. Every pole consisted of one religious shrine as per the community that lived, one chabutaro ( bird feeder) in the courtyard, one gate element that consists of security. Yes, security was nothing that only the privileged could afford as of nowadays. It was a necessity with a special construction rooted at a height for a better view of any intruder. Pole is the word derived from Patoli meaning a community.

After reliving the era of patoli and the elements architected by the community living in it, we marched for the Jain Derasar. Gujarati community is peace-loving and hardly involved in wars, owing to same there hardly has been any war in Gujarat comparatively.

Do you know why are Gujarati people so sweet? You would find sweetness in food too? Gujarati community consist of businessman and business runs in their chromosomes. A businessman needs to be sweet if he wants to be successful! Isn’t it? Now, you learnt the secret to sweetness everywhere. Besides, I found one major element in the old structure. There was always a secret passage that led from one community built to the other. One secret passage from one pole to other was for some reason and that augmented my curiosity. Out of my curiosity, one question led to the other and finally, I came to know. I came to know that the other way was too long to go from one pole to other and it was difficult to ask for help in times of crisis. So, a secret passage was created for speedy help from other communities residing in another pole. Wow, what thinking! Some of these pols are virtually small villages, navigated by thin streets, usually axing in squares with community wells and chabutras for feeding birds. These pols were protected by gates, cul-de-sacs and secret passages.

Secret passage from one pole to the other
A secret passage from one pole to the other

 

Kings and queens led an amazing lifestyle and it can be seen from the architects of the Havelis that we gobbled on. Indo Chinese structure that had dragon carved was nothing less than graphic arts that my eyes munched on. Haveli had Indo Islamic built which reflected from the carvings, artefacts, colours and the statuettes that reflected the era. I wanted to experience the glory of the place that I spent a major part of my existence. So, a heritage walk was the best option.

Everyone would be aware of the major Earthquake that affected Gujarat in 2001. When I write this, the experience I had during the shaking of the Earth just flashes in front of my eyes. It was the major Earthquake world had ever seen. Several lives were lost and dignified buildings were down on Earth. Owing to the datum, the old city was hardly affected and there was scarcely any loss. Reason? Do you know the reason?

Unique name of the pole- Khara Kuva
Unique name of the pole- Khara Kuva

 

A combination of bricks and wood, which is best considered from the Engineering point of view and elegance both, is used in making the buildings. Edifices are not sky-high but well erected that are proficient enough to tolerate the shock of the Quake. Burmese teak wood is the main element used for the construction of the stunning edifice that lasts longer than imagination. Also, the same Burmese teak wood is used in the construction of the famous Kalupur Swaminarayan Mandir.

A drainage system that existed was mind-boggling. Since there were no sky-high buildings in that era, we saw a massive pole-like structure that had an opening at the top! Do you know why? To relieve the gas of the gutters! I was just stunned to see that structure. Besides, it also had an arrow facing in one direction. That arrow showed the direction of the flow! When we had such a well-planned city structure, rising high and skyscrapers where lifts are the only option seemed clueless to me!

Unique drainage gas relief system. Arrow shows the direction of the flow.

 

Kala Mandir is what we came across while we started our walks for pole. Rooted in the pole of ‘Khara Kuva’ of Kalupur this temple is one of a kind. The idol of Lord Rama is never found black, it is always in a standing position and never without Lord Hanuman. However, despite the fact, we found a temple that had idols that had swayambhu idols of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshman but not Hanuman. On asking the reason, we came to know that the idols depicted the Vanvas period of Lord Rama and he met his devotee Hanuman on later part. Also, the idol here is in a sitting position. The temple was tranquil, peaceful which oozed harmony from every corner of the wall. Marvellously grounded in a massive haveli of more than 20 rooms this exceptional temple is not to be missed. There are two idols of Lord Rama in black. One in Ahmedabad and the other in Nasik.

 

While the feelings associated with the Kala Ramji Mandir was still vibrant in our hearts, our steps moved towards Ashtapad Derasar. Photography was not allowed on the premises, however, what we came across in the derasar just took our breath away. When the Ro system of today markets their product in the name of copper particles, what we found was copper pipes that harvested rainwater into the underground. Underground storage was massive with steps to get in it. It was plastered with calcium hydroxide. Not forgetting the fact that calcium hydroxide is the best purifier of water. As we dig into the history and heritage, my mind skips understanding the fact that, ‘Are we really progressing on the name of educated society and advanced beings”, or simply re-learning the facts that got vanished somewhere in the sand of the Earth! That is why I love heritage!

Ashtdpad derasar
Ashtdpad derasar

We crossed narrow lanes of the old city of Ahmedabad, but never knew the small narrow structured lanes housed massive haveli that consisted of several rooms.  One such haveli was the Dodhia haveli and Harkuvar Shethani ni haveli. The latter had a structure of the building that is unexpected at one point. But, it exists!  It is structured in such a manner that the edifice had three floors on one end and four floors on the other. The outer part was of Indo- Chinese artefacts of Dragon. Harkuvar Shethani was the wife of Hutheesinh  Sheth. She was an influential woman in Gujarat. Her haveli is an exceptional example of wood carvings on main entrance doors, pillars, brackets.

Harkuver Shethani ni haveli
Harkuver Shethani ni haveli

We were yet to come out of haveli and the Queens lifestyle, and we bashed into ols. Yes, it is ol and not pole. Ols were the basic structure that is a combination of residential and commercial together. Pole consisted of residential part whereas ols were that part of the city that had a commercial on the ground floor and residential on the top floor. We can consider it work from home was way back invented. Mesmerized by the lifestyle, which still existed in the old city, we could see a bundle of joyous faces of women keeping an eye on the husbands working on the ground floors.

Ahmedabad Stock Exchange (AEC)
Ahmedabad Stock Exchange (AEC)

We were bullheaded by the second-largest stock exchange of India. Yes, ASE ( Ahmedabad Stock Exchange). However, the building seemed to lie in ruins but, we could feel the heart rate and the blood pressure droppings and rising that would have kept that building run on its toes once upon a time.

Yes, there we were. When in Ahmedabad, it is a sin, if you do not visit Manek Chowk.  Manek Chowk is a place that is must visit place when you visit Ahmedabad. It is the place that has the largest money exchange throughout day and night. It is the market that works 24 x 7. Bazaar stays open in the morning and when the shops close, eateries take over the closed places, to give a completely new look to the place that acquired the day. Manek chowk has the main samadhi of Manek Nath who helped Ahmed Shah Badshah to lay the stone of the city Ahmedabad. This place though has the maximum amount of turnover is considered to be the safest place in Ahmedabad. Once we were out of the hustle and know-hows of Manekchowk, we admired the grand entry of Raja no Hajiro and Rani no hajiro that laid amidst the chaos of the Manek Chowk. The tomb of King Ahmed lied in their peacefully along with other tombs. This is the mosque that had Diya burning inside, compared to other mosques where diyas are not allowed. This depicted that Ahmed Shah wanted each being of each religion to visit this place and pray the way they want. We felt the calmness and the peace on the faces of the devotees that prayed there.

Houses with unique figurines that depicted different cultures
Houses with unique figurines that depicted different cultures

Our last destination was no far and we reached there in few steps. Jami Masjid it was.  The biggest mosque in the country was found by King Ahmed Shah in 1424 AD. It has a beautiful pond with a massive courtyard and a fort. It had a Rajputana influence. Females are not allowed to pray in the mosque, but King Ahmed Shah built a separate floor for queens where they could offer their prayers. This mosque had Indo Islamic architecture. It has very beautiful carvings. Make sure, not to get carried away and take your photos. Photos are allowed, but better concentrate on the architecture, structure and magnificence.

Jami Masjid
Jami Masjid

When we were guided about the mosque, we noticed one devotee approaching and asking the guide not to allow the females in the place that used to be a praying place for the Queens. I felt something odd. On asking out of my curiosity I was answered optimistically. Ruler’s change. That showed, how Ahmed Shah Badshah worked upon equality of men and women. However, our guide calmly answered about the permission granted by the government to avoid the harsh Sun in open. While we enjoyed the marvel structure of the mosque from the place where the queen offered her prayers, this place depicted the calmness, serenity and piousness the king Ahmed carried without any prejudice.

This was the end of our tour, but the major grand meal awaited. We ended our tour with a mouth-watering breakfast at the Chandra Vilas restaurant. It is one of the oldest restaurants and this is the place where the tradition of Fafda Jalebi started, which the entire world relishes on the name of Gujarati food.

It was an end of heritage tour.

You can check  on the best places to visit in kutch here

My take

If you want to tell stories to your coming generation, if you want to imagine the history and the life people lived on the sand particles that you enjoy today, take this tour. I never knew the place we went to buy our books regularly was once a river. A river named Manek flew down the Gandhi pool of Ahmedabad that houses the biggest book market of Ahmedabad. So, if available always take a heritage tour of the place you live in. Ahmedabad has this eccentric tour package which is a combination of cultures. Cultural combination of Hindi, Jain, Islam. We visited all of them and learnt about the basics.

Heritage aids me to sense the life of the kings and queens that survived there once upon a time. Another point to be noted is, we are not advanced beings, we had our ancestors that were way more advanced than we are today. So, let’s not brag about ourselves being well educated and globalized.

Things to keep in mind

  • Start early from Home
  • If you are not from the place, learn about the routes a day before and the way to reach there
  • Tour can be booked online too and from their office in Kalupur temple as well
  • You are given a small bottle of water, which I think is not enough, so carry a bottle of water
  • Wear comfortable clothing because it is a heritage tour
  • Put on shoes because it is a walk
  • Lanes are narrow and you would bump into residential areas, so watch yourself
  • Live and feel the history
  • Question the guide as much as you can
  • Take pictures of the place where permission is granted

 

Charges:

  • INR 200 – simple package
  • INR 350 – luxury package

Tour commences at 8: AM from Kalupur Swaminaraya Mandir Temple and end at 11: 00 to Jami Masjid. If you have your vehicle, you must have parked at Kalupur Temple, so you will have to make your way back to the temple from Masjid on your own. If you are from Ahmedabad, well and good, if not, make sure to check on that with the guide on the way to reach back where you started. This tour is conducted by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. You can book online here

If you loved this post and have any questions related to the tour, shoot in the comment section. I would love to answer them.

 

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