A walk in historical Ahmedabad

Glimpse of heritage

A walk in historical Ahmedabad

A few weeks ago, I went for a walk. One that was devoid of a Fitbit Tracker, music or energy drinks. It was illuminating, educative and enjoyable at the same time. I was in Ahmedabad during Navratri and was trying to cram as many activities as possible during my short stay. And as it is said, well begun is half done.

There are few better ways to begin your day than with a Heritage Walk in a new city. Organised by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, this is a tourism initiative that began in 1997. It entails a 2.5-hour-long tour of the important historical monuments in the city. This walk happens every day of the week, even on festivals and holidays.

Our journey began at 8 am (sharp, mind you) at the Swaminarayan Mandir in Kalupur. We assembled for a 15-minute presentation on the history of Ahmedabad by one Bhupendra Oza, who would be our guide for the walk. Built by Dhansya Maharaj in 1822 AD, the Swaminarayan Mandir stands tall and strong, despite having seen extensive restoration work. A classic chabutra or pigeon-feeding tower loaded with grains serves its purpose well by attracting hundreds of these birds, who, while picking grains of dal, also bear witness to the devotees that come in droves. The temple has a huge complex, comprising a monastery for men and a separate sub-temple of sorts for the womenfolk.

After offering obeisance at the temple, we moved along, past a 200-year-old clock tower, and made our way through narrow roads to learn more about pols, a Sanskrit term that means entrance. Most pols were decorated with colourful baskets, lanterns, flowers and colours for Navaratri. Passing by some rather stark Victorian-era structures, we next came to the Kavi Dalpatram Chowk, a memorial for one of Gujarat’s renowned poets. Some micro lessons about Gujarati literature later, we traversed through narrower lanes belonging to the Lambeshwar Pod (meaning cluster of houses). Trying to shield ourselves from the horde of langurs above us, we finally stood at the Khara Kuva ni Pol (translates to salty well). What stands as a striking contrast to the crumbling and fading buildings here is a bright and colourful painting on a wall by a German artist.

Finding it hard to draw our eyes away from the quirky artwork, we made our way through a narrow flight of stairs, entranced by the smell of burning frankincense wafting from one of the houses. We had arrived at the Haja Patel ni Pol, where we had the opportunity to meet the head priest, whose family has been running the Kala Ramji Mandir for three decades now. What is unique about this temple is that it houses the statue of Lord Rama, which is black in colour and in a seated position, a rarity in Indian temples. If we thought this was interesting enough, we then chanced upon the Santhinathini Pol, named after one of the Jain Tirthankaras. This one had survived numerous natural calamities over the year, including earthquakes, and was standing quite intact. Blackboards on walls is how the residents of the pol are informed about any activity or intimation they need to receive. As our guide Mr Oza said in jest, “This is Twitter for the locals.” Soon, we were navigating narrower and dark passageways to visit the various pols in the city.

My favourite part of the Walk was the visit to the Kuvavala Khancha Doshivada ni Pol, where there were four houses cluttered, all built in different styles. One made of bricks has been built in the British architectural style. A wooden house has been constructed the Mughal way, while one home has been built the Maratha style. And the home built along the Persian architecture style can easily be identified due to its wooden brackets. Somehow, the simplistic essence of unity in diversity will pass through your mind at the most unexpected of times, I thought to myself.

Perhaps this philosophy applies to the pols of the city too — the harmony that prevails, even with the different kinds of people who reside and the distinguishing features in themselves. That said, some odd, yet vivid memories still remain with me — like the old man who was contently tinkering away with copper in his shop, the old stock exchange building, the book market under Fernandez Bridge.

Our final destination was the Jama Masjid — a sprawling mosque built of sandstone. We were fortunate enough to walk through the prayer rooms, silently admiring the intricacies of architecture our minds could barely comprehend. And as we walked back, dazed and amazed by the morning’s turn of events, it slowly dawned upon us that our enlightening Walk had been aptly described as mandir se masjid tak.

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