Old Ahmedabad, Gujarat

by Ilona Kauremszky

Aug 1, 2017
August 2017

ROOTED IN HISTORY, WITH a Gujarati culture that spans millennia, Ahmedabad, or “Amdavad,” is situated in India’s westernmost state of Gujarat at the crossroads of Persian and Indian influences.

Wanderlusters and those who crave a quieter experience over frenzied Mumbai or Delhi arrive at the dusty doorstep of the former capital to discover a dynamic compact city where family life provides the foundation.

People who pass through this part of vegetarian-dominant India discover cultural traditions are the norm, so besides encountering many meatless dishes, good luck finding liquor in Gujarat. Residents here abstain from drinking spirits or alcohol of any kind. The dry state, however, recently loosened this strict liquor law for its foreign visitors. The Hindustan Times reports 52 hotels now have liquor licenses for guests, who need to present a valid photo ID and arrival ticket for boozy purchases.

Nicknamed “Manchester of the East” for its booming textile business located along the Sabarmati River, this city also claims fame as the birthplace of its favorite son, the Gujarati-born Mahatma Gandhi, and the Indian Independence Movement. In 1930 Gandhi staged the spectacular nonviolent Salt March from his ashram in Ahmedabad to the coastal village of Dandi.

For sightseeing, enroll in a guided city tour and use the services of a professional tour operator. Rhumit Meta, founder of New York-headquartered Immersion Journeys, develops custom tours of Gujarat for luxury and academic clients. “Ahmedabad, and Gujarat in general, is not on your regular tourist track, so you need someone who can do a deep dive into textiles and heritage,” he says.

The House of MG © ILONA KAUREMSZKY

The House of MG © ILONA KAUREMSZKY

A good neighborhood sampler starts at a restored historic property, once the home of a wealthy textile merchant, called The House of MG. As in the sleeper film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, find endearing customer service with an Old World charm. Located in the old town, the property marks the start of most heritage walks. You’ll make a mental note of the fabulous dinner options at the boutique hotel’s rooftop resto, Agashiye, featuring fine Gujarati Thali cuisine. Guests dine beneath the stars at this lofty perch served by attentive dhoti- and kurta-clad waiters.

The first stop: Sidi Saiyyed Mosque, built in 1573. Tourists visit the landmark to view the city’s unofficial symbol, the beautifully carved Tree of Life jali (latticework). Afterward, take a short walk south along Bhadra Road to the Bhadra Fort. Inside the walled city of Old Ahmedabad looms this 600-year-old fort, showing vestiges of the early Mughal period. Next door see the Bhadrakali Mandir, a colorful Hindu temple devoted to the goddess Bhadrakali Mata. Now walk a few blocks east to the Jama Masjid, revered as the city’s finest mosque, built in 1423 by Sultan Ahmed Shah, the city’s founder.

Meanwhile, around the Old City, life teems with the energy of commerce as waves of humanity funnel through the narrow pols (streets) into blazing bazaars bursting in color while beasts of burden slumber in traffic, oblivious to the mayhem. Time stands still.

For the last leg in this neighborhood odyssey, cross the river and visit Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, where the spiritual and political leader stayed and preached his nonviolent ideology. Located on the banks of the Sabarmati River, inspired by the man himself, the ashram, now a museum, is a peaceful enclave.

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