GUJARAT’S LEADING CITY, Ahmedabad was the state capital until 1970. This bustling industrial and commercial centre also has a fascinating old quarter, redolent with Gujarat’s traditional culture and history. Legend has it that the city owes its foundation to Sultan Ahmed Shah (r.1411-42), who, while out hunting, encountered a warren of rabbits on the banks of the Sabarmati river. Astonishingly, the rabbits turned fiercely on his hounds and defended their territory. Viewing this as an auspicious sign, the sultan built his new capital at this site and named it after himself – Ahmedabad.
THE OLD CITY
A maze of crowded bazaars, pals (large gateways, leading to residential quarters), exquisitely carved facades, temples, mosques and subterranean stepwells (vavs) mark the 3-km (2-mile) square that makes up the Old City. This area is best explored on foot. and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation organizes a daily Heritage Walking Tour through the atmospheric hylanes . Visitors can climb to the roof of the handrail Fort, the site of the original city, for panoramic views of the surrounding streets. Southwest of the fort is Ahmed Shah’s Mosque, a simple place of worship, built in 1414 on the site of an early 13th-century Hindu temple. Perhaps Ahmedabad’s most photographed monument, Siddi Saiyad’s Mosque in the northeast corner of Bhaclra Fort, is renowned for its superb yellow stone latticework. Made by a slave of Ahmed Shah in 1572, the twin ails on the western wall depict the intertwining branches of a tree, carved with extraordinary delicacy.
Southeast of the fort, the Teen Darwaza (“Triple Gateway”) straddles the road, which is lined with shops selling blockprints, silverware and assorted brie -S-brae. Close by, along Mahatma Gandhi Road, is the Jami Masjid, which Sultan Ahmed Shah built in 1423, to enable the faithful to congregate for Friday prayers. The masons who constructed this yellow sandstone structure, ingeniously used pieces retrieved from demolished Hindu and Bain temples – the black slab close to the main arch is said to be the base of an inverted Bain idol. The mosque’s 15 domes are supported by 260 pillars covered with intricate carvings. The interior is illuminated by natural light filtered through latticework screens.
Outside the east entrance of the Jami Maujid , close to the jewellery bazaar in Manek Chowk, is the Tomb of Aland Shah, with elegant pillared verandahs, where the sultan, his son and grandson are buried. In the heart of the market, echoing the plan and layout of the sultan’s tomb, lies Rani-ka-Hazira , the mausoleum of his many queens. To the southeast of Manek Chowk is Rani Sipri’s Mosque, also known as Masjid-e-Nagina (“Jewell of a Mosque”) because of its elegant proportions and slender minarets. Northwest of Manek Chowk is Rani Rupmati’s Mosque, dedicated to the sultan’s Hindu wife. Built in the mid-15th century, it has elements of Hindu and Islamic design. with perforated stone screens to provide privacy for women. The city’s famous Shaking Minarets, next to the railway station, were partly damaged in the earthquake of 2001, and are now closed to visitors.
OUTSIDE THE OLD CITY
Situated outside the Delhi Gate, the Hatheesing Temple was built in 1850 by Kesarsinh Hatheesing Shah, a Jain merchant. This intricately carved marble temple is dedicated to Dharmanath, the 15th Jain tirihankara. A paved courtyard has 52 cubicles, housing shrines dedicated to different tirthankaras . A fine example of Gujarat’s stepwelis is the Dada Hark Vav lying to the northeast of the old city. Built in 1500 for Bain Harir Sultani, a lady from the sultan’s harem, its walls and pillars are beautifully decorated with elaborate carvings.
W of Sabarmati river. Across the Sabarmati river, modern Ahmedabad has some line examples of contemporary architecture designed by I.e Corbusier and the American architect, Louis Kahn. The Sanskar Kendra, designed by Le Corbusier, has a rare collection of miniature paintings. The Indian Institute of Management (IIM), India’s tup college for business studies, is in a campus designed by Louis Kahn. Close by, the LID Institute of Indology houses ancient manuscriptsand paintings, and the Calico Museum displays an outstanding collection of textiles. The prestigious National Institute of Design is on the south bank of the river.
A spartan colony of tiled houses, the Sabarmati Ashram was a second home to Mahatma Gandhi. It was from here that he orchestrated the final struggle for India’s freedom. His cottage, Hriday Kunj, has been maintained much as he left it, and contains some personal items such as his round eyeglasses, wooden slippers, books and letters.
ENVIRONS: About 4 km (2.5 miles) south of the city is the Vishala Complex with a museum displaying traditional utensils and everyday objects. It also has an excellent outdoor restaurant for Gujarati cuisine, set in an attractive rural ambience. A short distance to the southwest is the Sarkhej Roja, a beautiful complex of tombs and pavilions around an artificial lake, built as a retreat for Gujarat’s rulers between 1445 and 1461. Its tombs include that of Ahmed Shah’s spiritual advisor, Sheikh Ahmed Khattu. Finely carved brass latticework is a unique feature of this site. Built in the late 1960s. the state capital, Gandhinagar, is 25 km (16 miles) north of Ahmedabad. Spread over 60 sq km (23 sq miles), this planned township has the state’s administrative complex at its centre.