The heart of a city lies in its old quarters. Amdavad is no different except that the old city is defined by what is left of the fort wall and a number of darwazas or gates that lets you into this vibrant chaotic world. A good way to get lost in the history is to take a guided Heritage walk. Ours was led by a local student of IIM who helped us find the city!
Though the walk was sprinkled with visit to mosque and tomb of Rani Sipri, Jumma Masjid, Sidi Saiyyed Mosque, Muni Suvrat Swamy Jain Temple, Bhadra Kali Temple the most fascinating discovery for me was the existence of pols. The old world version of modern day gated communities except that the entry into community houses was based on caste, profession , religion or family. The narrow serpentine streets flanked by tall aged buildings charmed me into its past. But why the dense urban space ? Why the narrow streets? Why the walls within the walled city? Maybe the walk will answer these questions.
A typical pol has an entrance arch announcing the name and giving one a glimpse of the old merchant families inside. Akasheth Kuvani Pol and many others have developed organically depending on need and space in a manner prevalent to villages of North Gujarat. The first pol , the Mahurat pol came into existence sometime in late 1700's making the pols 200-300 years old. The pols of varied sizes ranging from 6 houses to 3000 houses seem to have the happiest people around. The heart was beating loudly and clearly with the biggest smile ever! Here is a peek into their world.
The entrance to intrigue!
The Narrow streets with big hearts!
The beautiful spirited Lady!
Warm hearts and happy smiles!
No strangers here, Just one big family!
A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag , that's what he cried!
Given a choice , going for rich deep brilliant colors is second nature for the Gujaratis. Their homes are no different. Dhal Ni pol has a few restored homes and a good place to explore. But entry posed a problem! Dhal ni pol has gone to the cows.The personnel from the cattle nuisance control department ( yes, it does exist) evidently have good relationship with the cows here and hence their free passport to gore anyone they please. After two of my fellow walkers were the chosen one by the mighty Kankrej cows, we had a relatively easy walk. As I started taking in the sights through the narrow streets,the first adjective that came into my mind was eclectic. The traditional facade with a hint of colonialism and its distinct features like the balconies, intricately carved wooden brackets, doorways, complex fenestration displayed an exuberant riot of color and life.
Shade the green. Colonial and Traditional lime stucco facade
Wooden brackets supporting the riot of colors
Secure the pol ! We have the French police! The French Haveli
An Indo french collaboration has sparked a spout of restorations of Havelis or the more opulent homes of the affluent merchants in this area. We were allowed into the French Haveli which now operates as a Bed and breakfast. The geometrical distressed door beckons one into the chowk or the naturally lit central courtyard. The Jhula or the swing takes the prominent space here. Rain water harvesting was given importance in these havelis and the storage tanks are generally below the chowk. Steep wooden staircase will lead you to the private quarters of this haveli.The mozaic flooring which has been lovingly restored in some areas is an architectural marvel. The mazes of openings and spaces keeps the mystery of history alive and you are left with a longing to return here.
The other prominent stop over was at Mangaldas Ni Haveli which was being used as a cafe and craft center. The haveli which is about 250 years old is a showcase for what can be done with Burma wood . It is located in Lakha Patel ni pol and originally belonged to Sardar Bholabhai Sara Bhai. The detailed documentation of the restoration including the before and after images can be explored at the link below.
Other prominent features of the pols are the chabutra, uniquely designed to welcome birds and pigeons . More about it can be explored at the link below
The architecture aside , it was the vibrancy of the people , their incredible positive energy and colorful smiles that made the heart of city beat incredibly loud. Add to that the little tit bits and stories spiced with the local street food and you have one incredible walkathon!
Mosque and Tomb of Rani Sipri
Bhadra Kali Temple
Sidi Saiyyed Mosque
Date : August 2015
Place : Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Tip : For more reading
First : Pols of AmdavadThe Travel Connection: " My heritage has been my grounding, and it has brought me peace." Maureen O' Hara