Vatsal is a techie and a coffee junkie. Most often he’s caught watching a film with Guinness for company. Preeti loves everything about the mountains. She always has her head buried in a book sipping tea.
We both love traveling and watching films so we decided to document some of it. Hope you enjoy reading as much as we’ve enjoyed traveling and writing about them 🙂
Ahmedabad in Western India is an unassuming city home to Muslims, Gujaratis, and the Jain community, all richly contributing to the culture and rich history of the city,the Gujrati cuisine and the famous street food. It’s a vibrant city with many festivals throughout the year, the most famous being the Uttarayan, the kite flying festival when the city skies are lit with thousand of lanterns, the other being the Navratri festival, a celebration lasting nine nights with the men and women performing the folk dance, Garba. The locals are warm with a smile on their faces and always ‘majja ma’, which means they are always having a jolly good time. It’s the right place to imbibe the cultural nuances, savour the local flavour and soak in the warmth.
Ahmedabad is not part of the usual tourists trail in India or even within the state of Gujrat with Gir forest, Kutch Desert, and the various religious sites are the sure winners. Since Gandhi lived here for a few years, we were expecting many international tourists but to our surprise, there were few. But as expected it does attract hordes of domestic tourists, all eager to see the cottage where their Father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi lived.We didn’t hknow what to expect from the city, especially after a few friends told us, ‘Who goes to Ahmedabad for a holiday?’. In retrospect low expectation is always a good thing. The city surprised us and how.
We were very perturbed by how Ahmedabad as a city has not tapped into its tourism potential. Other than the fact that Gandhi lived here, there are many beautiful and interesting historical monuments, mosques, temples and unique museums. We had no knowledge of their existence, some of the locals we met too had never visited them. We sensed a general lack of interest in the locals about their own city. However, on the positive side, you don’t feel exploited as a tourist, get harassed by taxi/auto drivers, can get a clear picture of the monument without hordes of tourist photobombing it and have most of the museums all to yourself 🙂
There is so much to do and see in the city that four or five days would just slip by. Since we were there for the weekend, we could only explore half of this wonderful place. Some of our favourites and must see/do are listed below.
Visit the Sabarmati Ashram
A modest complex with open space, the Ashram sits on the banks of River Sabarmati, hence the name. Gandhiji lived here for 12 years but what gives the building an iconic status is the Dandi March, Gandhiji marched from the Ashram protesting the salt tax against the British Empire. The bent walking stick that Gandhiji used especially during the Dandi March is displayed in his cottage, Hridya Kunj. The calm and tranquility of the place totally engulfed us and we spent hours sitting under the tree watching tourists come from distant lands to see Gandhiji’s abode.
The complex has a museum with original photographs from his lifetime, newspaper articles written by him and his colleagues. It’s an interesting walk through the history of the freedom movement of the country. At the end of the museum is a small library/bookshop with interesting books and souvenirs to take back. A fascinating part of the Ashram, however, is the house of Gandhi, Hridya Kunj. It’s a humbling experience to see the modest house he lived in with his wife, Kasturba. On display is the chakra which was used to spin cotton cloth protesting against the British, his walking stick, an urn among few other things. A few steps from Hridya Kunj, are two standalone cottages, one is called Vinoba-Mira Kutir, an equally modest rectangular hut where once Vinobha Bhave and Magdalene Slade lived there, both were his disciples and lived in the hut in succession. The other cottage is Magan Niwas named after his nephew.
Opening time and entrance fee: The Ashram is open from 8:30 am to 6:30pm. The entrance is free.
Hutheesing Jain temple
The temple was built by a rich trader, Sheth Hutheesing who unfortunately died soon after the construction began, which was then taken over by his wife and completed under her supervision. Both their portraits decorate the entrance of the Temple. The intricate carvings on the pillar are remarkable and the corridors look magnificent especially when viewed from each corner. The temple is dedicated to the 15th Tirthankaras, Dharamnath of the Jain religion. There are small shrines dedicated to many of the Tirthankaras which outline the three sides of the main temple.
The other temples worth exploring are the wood carved Swaminarayan Temple.
Opening time and entrance fee: The temple is open from 8:00am to 8:00pm. Entrance is free and photography is stricly prohibited.
Sidi Saiyyed Mosque
The Sidi Saiyyed Mosque is an architectural masterpiece and is famous for its beautifully engraved ten stone latticework jalis on the sides. However, it is situated in the middle of a busy traffic signal and one could walk past it without noticing it. The intricately carved jali is the unofficial symbol of city of Ahmedabad and the inspiration for the design of the logo of the Indian Institute of Management.
The other mosques worth visiting are the Jama Masjid which was built in the 15th Century by Ahmed Sultan Shah in yellow sandstone where the Muslims come to pray. The other ones are Rani Sipri Mosque and Rani Rupmati Mosque, named after the Hindu wife of the Sultan. Jhoolta Minara or Shaking Minarets are an architectural mystery when one minaret is shaken, the other starts to shake automatically. It still remains a mystery even after an attempt to dismantle them for the purpose of studying the architectural marvel.
Opening time and entrance fee: The mosque is open from 6:00 am to 6:00pm. The entrance is free.
Adalaj Step Well
The Adalaj Step Well was built in 1499 by Queen Rudabai as a resting place for travelers, villagers, and pilgrims visiting the area. These wells are called vav in native Gujarati and were mainly used to store rainwater during the monsoons which could be used in other dry seasons. The five-storey step well was built to serve not only as a cultural and a utilitarian space but also as a spiritual refuge for the villagers who came every morning at the well to fill water, offer prayers to the deities carved on the walls and to interact with each other under the cool shade of the step well. The temperature at the step wall is a few degree cooler hence the perfect place to catch up on all the village news 🙂
Opening time and entrance fee: The step well is open from 6:00 am to 11:00pm. The entrance is free.
The Museums of the city
The city of Ahmedabad is popular for the Kite Festival so it doesn’t come as a surprise if you find an entire museum dedicated to kites. The Kite Museum, a first of its kind in India houses some rare collection of kites depicting scenes from Gujarati dance form, Garba. Kites made of cotton and paper in block prints. A few Japanese kites along with the history of kites, the evolution of kites and their role in the development of aeroplanes. Built in 1985, it is one of a unique museum and definitely worthy of your time. The museum if located on the ground floor of Sanskar Kendra, the first floor of which is dedicated to the City Museum Ahmedabad.
Opening time and entrance fee: The museum is open from 10:00 am to 6:00pm. The entrance is free, one needs to put in their signature in the register at the entrance.
Within the same complex is The Vechaar Utensils Museum, a personal favourite of mine. It is a private collection of Mr. Surendra Patel. The museum has a huge variety of utensils which are hundred years old from various households of the region. It’s housed in a hut like structure and transports you to many years back. The caretaker of the museum, Mr. Vinod showed us around, some very interesting utensils, like a foldable brass glass which was used for travel in the earlier days, a glass case with a set of 6 glasses each of different sizes for the family members, boxes for dowry, nut cracker, baby feeding bottles, humungous locks and many such interesting things. It talks of the era when the ingredients used to cook a meal was as important as the utensil used to cook it in. It was an absolute delight, I could write a whole post just about the Museum collection.
Opening time and entrance fee: Since the museum is part of the restaurant, it is open during lunch and dinner hours- 1:00- 3:00 pm and 5:00-10:30 pm. The entrance fee is Rs.20 and Rs.100 if you’d like to take photographs.
Calico Museum is one of the finest textile museums in the world, built in 1949 and houses rare collection of textile from the 17th century. It is the private collection of the Sarabhai Family ranging from textiles of the Mughal rulers from the 15th to the 19th century and the regional and religious textiles. The museum also houses furniture, miniature paintings, sculptures and bronze statues and religious arts.
Opening time and entrance fee: There are only guided tours available and must be booked in advance, the tours are restricted to only 20 people. Do make sure to book the tour online or via phone at least a few days in advance, we were unable to get a booking for two days in a row. Not being able to visit this museum still remains a sore point for me but this is reason enough to revisit the city. The timings are 10:30am -1:00pm. The entrance is free. Photography is strictly prohibited.
The Tribal Museum is located on the campus of Tribal Research and Training Institute. Established in 1962, the museum gives a detailed picture of the tribal life of the region. The museum has some rare photographic and artifact collection which details the life, culture and art of the tribals. The collection consists of clothes, jewellery, utensils, weapons, musical instruments and agricultural tools. It also houses a film library with a collection of films about the different tribes from across the country.
Opening time and entrance fee: The museum is open from 11:00am to 5:30pm. It is closed on weekends and public holidays. The entrance is free.
All the museum enthusiast can look into this link and explore rest of the museum the city has including AutoWorld Vintage Car, Philatelic Museum of Indian Stamps and many equally interesting ones.
Visiting the premier institutions in the city
The city is an important education hub with some of the best educational institutions in the country like Indian Institute of Management, National Institute of Design and Centre for Environment Planning and Technology. These institutions attract the cream of the country and the best corporates hire them off the campus.
We were travelling with two close friends, one of them was an alumni of the premier IIM-A and he was excited to show us his Alma Mater. We were equally looking forward to visiting the best management institution in the country. A cousin of his was studying at CEPT and he showed us around as well. We spent half a day chilling at the campus cafes and lawns, pretending to be students.
Opening time and entrance fee: The institutions are not tourist attractions and cannot be visited unless you know a student who could show you around.
Where to eat?
Vaishall a traditionally designed restaurant with wooden cots and tree barks used as serving tables, serves simple Gujarati food. It’s a natural environment and a perfect place for a short nap post lunch. We woke up rejuvenated to a unique cup of milk tea in mint and lemongrass leaves.
Across the road from the Sidi Sayed Mosque is the House of MG, a heritage property, the private bungalow of a textile businessman, Mangaldas Girdhardas now converted into a boutique hotel. They have a restaurant, Agashe where they serve traditional Gujarati thali, which is a sit down spread served in brass plates and bowls. The spread is very elaborate and eat all you can. I am a big fan of thali’s and this is one of the best thali’s I’ve had. The other popular thali places are Toran Dining Hall, Gordhan Thal Restaurant, and Mariott.
Swati Snacks is a well know restaurant for authentic Gujarati food. They have a chain in Mumbai as well. The ground floor of the restaurant serves snacks and drinks and the first floor is where dinner is served. The food is incredible, I am salivating thinking of the food there. The service is exceptional. Be prepared to wait for a table for at least 20 minutes especially in the evenings. Don’t forget to try the sugarcane juice here.
Maneck Chowk is a local market which comes alive at night. It is a vegetable market in the morning, silver jewelry market in the day and food market at night. It is an open market with various food stalls, hop from one to the other trying out the wide variety or sit in one of those plastic chairs and tables laid out on the road. Indulge yourself in the finger licking pav bhaji, dosa, and the specialty pineapple sandwich. End it with the famous kulfi. Not a fan of Indian food? Try out the Chinese or the Italian here, but don’t tell me I didn’t warn you 🙂
Stop by Natrani Cafe for some coffee in the evening. It is run by Sarabhai family and is right next to the Darpan Academy.
Where and what to shop?
The Law Garden is a night market where they sell traditional clothing like ghagra cholis, embroidered jackets, kurtas, bedsheets and junk jewelry. It’s is not an upscale market so one would really need to walk down the entire length of the market to pick what you like. Remember, haggling is your most important word when you visit this market. And if you are visibly a tourist, then be prepared to be quoted three times the actual price. Go to Maneck Chowk for silver jewelry shopping the next day, and there you have a complete Indian outfit with accessories ready 🙂
Local stores like the National Handloom and Shilpagya should be visited as well. FabIndia is another of my favorites. These stores have clothing made from Indian textiles which are typically suited for warm weather. Other than clothes and jewelry, the local dry snacks are great to take back with you. The choice of snacks is endless and they could be stored for weeks, giving you company every day with tea.
The list in Ahmedabad doesn’t end here if you still have the time and energy then walk down the lovely Riverfront, go for a picnic to Kankaria Lake, visit the Akshardham Temple, or take the Heritage walk in the old part of the city to get a closer look at the places and events that have shaped the city.
When to visit : Uttarayan, a festival celebrated in the second week of January is an excellent time to visit since the sky would be full of kites and the weather cool. December -March is the best time to visit, summers can be excruciatingly hot.
How to get here: Ahmedabad is connected with an international airport and is very well connected to most of the airports in the domestic sector. The city is very well connected to Delhi in the north and Mumbai in the south by excellent rail service. There are frequent intercity/state buses connecting Ahmedabad to different cities.
Day trips from the city: If you have more time in the city, some of these gems can be visited.
Patan– situated 135 kms from the city, would take about 3 hours in a local bus which plies every hour costing less than Rs.100 for the journey. Known for Rani ka Vav, another famous step well.
Lothal– Lothal is an Indus Valley civilization city,an archaeological site that dates back to 3700 BCE.
Modhera– This magnificent temple complex dedicated to the Sun God is situated 61 miles from Ahmedabad. It has a central stepped pond with hundreds of small shrines scattered around.
Sometimes, my favourite place ends up being the one I had planned the least for. Ahmedabad is one such place. Being a concoction of rural towns and the swanky cities, if you only scratch the surface you’ll find a boring and an uninspiring layer. However if you allow yourself to immerse in the sounds and the smells of the city, get lost in the warmth of its people you will unearth its hidden flavours and will be licking your fingers till you are satiated.
Cannot wait to go back! And you?