Places to Visit in Ahmedabad
Dating back the early 15th Century, Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad was in its heyday, one of the largest mosques in the Indian sub-continent. Built by Sultan Ahmed Shah I, the mosque was part of a major expansion plan and was strategically located to lie on the path from the Teen Darwaza, the main entry/exit gate for the Bhadra Fort, the imperial residence of the Gujarat Sultanate.
Today, the Jama Masjid Ahmedabad is an integral part of the old city with the city’s sizable Muslim population heading to the mosque for their prayers.
In addition to its historic and religious significance, the Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad is an architectural delight and an ode to Hindu-Muslim relations, with features such as lotus-shaped domes (similar to Jain temples) and intricate carvings of bells on the pillars. Originally meant only for the use of the royal family, the Jama Masjid is now open for the public and for tourists as well.
Note: Women are not permitted to enter the Main Prayer Hall. All visitors are required to cover their head, upper arms and legs – so guests are requested to dress appropriately and carry a scarf to avoid hurting religious sentiments. Shoes need to be left outside the mosque.
Tip: A visit to the Jama Masjid can be clubbed with a visit to the Teen Darwaza, Bhadra Fort, Manek Chowk, Shaking Minarets and Sidi Saiyad Masjid.
Shaking Minarets / Sidi Bashir Mosque
The only remnants of the Sidi Bashir Mosque, the Shaking Minarets or the Jhulta Minar have intrigued architectural masters, historians and the public for centuries now. Dating back to the 15th or 16th Century (exact date and maker is disputed), these intriguing Shaking Minarets in Ahmedabad are designed to shake. Even if only one minaret vibrates, the other vibrates automatically (albeit after a few seconds). However, the passage connecting both minarets remains free of all vibrations.
The three-storied, 70-ft high Shaking Minarets of the Sidi Bashir Mosque are located near the present Ahmedabad Railway Station and vibrate even when trains pass by the area in high speed. While the rest of the mosque was destroyed in the 18th Century war between the Marathas and the Khans of the Gujarat Sultanate, the exquisitely carved minarets stand tall and proud to-date.
Tip: A visit to the Shaking Minarets can be clubbed with a visit to the Teen Darwaza, Bhadra Fort, Manek Chowk, Jama Masjid and Sidi Saiyad Masjid.
Sidi Saiyad Mosque
Architecture buffs and those interested in stone carvings, will find a visit to the Sidi Saiyad Mosque, a highlight of their visit to Ahmedabad. A 16th Century mosque, the Sidi Saiyad Mosque is one of the last architectural landmarks attributed to the Gujarat Sultanate and is renowned for its exquisitely carved and latticed windows. Designs portrayed include intertwined trees, foliage and leaves, and abstract patterns.
Tip: A visit to the Sidi Saiyad Masjid can be clubbed with a visit to the Teen Darwaza, Bhadra Fort, Manek Chowk, Jama Masjid and Shaking Minarets.
The nerve centre of India’s freedom movement that eventually got India its independence, the Sabarmati Ashram or the Satyagraha Ashram was the residence and Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi for a little more than a decade from 1917 and 1930.
Mahatma Gandhi decided to base his ashram on this particular location – on the banks of the River Sabarmati and in-between a jail and a crematorium – as he realized that a follower of Satyagraha has to go to either one of these in his life. Gandhi ji also wanted barren land to conduct experiments in farming, agriculture and weaving.
The Sabarmati Ashram became Gandhi ji’s point of origin for several marches including the famous Dandi March. The Ashram is now a place, a home and a museum for Gandhi Ji’s beliefs and a source of inspiration and guidance for all those who wish to follow the path of non-violence. Gandhi ji’s writing desk, his spinning wheel and other personal artefacts are preserved here in a museum.
Much before industrialization and expansion took its toll, Gujaratis families from the same caste, religion or craft stayed together in close-knit communities or pols for security and community purposes. Their lives were simple and self-contained in the pols, with each pol being self-sufficient and self-contained. Several Pols came together to be known as a pur such as Kalupur, Vastrapur, Mirzapur and Juhapur. Secret passages connecting two pols kept the women and children safe when the pol was attacked or raided.
Centuries have passed, but these pols, though marked by signs of modernism, continue to exist in the old city. What set these pols apart from other community-based dwellings are their exquisite wooden architectural features on their exteriors. The Gujaratis of ancient times considered their dwelling places an extension of the places of worship hence, their homes and pols had the same architectural features on the exteriors as their temples.
The level of architectural ornamentation on a pol and a dwelling door reflected the opulence and status of the pol’s dwellers. Each pol had a place of worship within it, narrow streets to get around to the houses on foot or cycle, and a courtyard with bird feeders, where residents could get together. Overhanging windows and balconies, water storage tanks, which collected water through ancient rainwater harvesting techniques, and thick walls with latticed windows kept the pol cool.
The ancient pols also have crevices and tall poles built into and around the pol structure for birds and squirrels to nest in, in order to compensate for the trees cut down while building the pols. These unique aspects of these Ahmedabad pols have earned them a place in the UNESCO tentative list of world heritage sites.
Teen Darwaza and Bhadra Fort
Built in the early years of the 15th Century by the founder of Ahmedabad, the Bhadra Fort and Teen Darwaza are one of the first constructions of the Gujarat Sultanate and reveal the magnificence of the early days of Ahmedabad. Bhadra Fort was the imperial residence for the royal family and the initial 43-acre complex enclosed 162 houses, royal palaces, the royal Ahmed Shah Mosque and beautiful gardens.
Towering fort walls with as many as 14 towers and 8 gates guarded the fortified city. The gates on the eastern side can still be seen today, standing tall and proud, and renowned as the Teen Darwaza or the three gates, a triple gateway that connected the Bhadra Fort to the Maidan-Shah and Manek Chowk beyond.
The Maidan Shah, i.e. King’s Market, even today is a leafy promenade with shops on either side of the roads. Recent renovation efforts have returned it to a semblance of its original grandeur. Other features of Bhadra Fort include the Azam Khan Serai, originally a resting place for travellers and visitors to the Fort; Clock Tower, an ancient clock installed by the British, currently not in operation; and the Bhadra Kali Temple.
According to legend, Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, sought to exit the city via one of the gates. The watchman Siddique Kotwal stopped her and upon identifying her, requested her to wait, while he sought permission from the Sultan to let her go. However, Siddique Kotwal beheaded himself upon reaching the Sultan, and the Goddess hence, could not leave the city.
Thereon, the city continued to prosper under the auspicious presence of the Goddess Lakshmi. A lamp in one of the holes of the Teen Darwaza is still lit, so many centuries later, by a Muslim family in dedication to Goddess Lakshmi and this legend.
The Teen Darwaza also has a Maratha inscription dedicated to the farman declaring equal right to women in inheritance of ancestral property. This copper plaque engraved in Devnagari script and dated 10 October 1812 reads: Let the daughter get her due share of her father’s property without any hitch. So is Lord Vishwanath’s command. If you defy, the Hindu will have to answer Mahadev and the Mussalman will have to explain to Allah or Rasool.
Hatheesing Jain Temple
The best known of Ahmedabad’s many ornate Jain temples, the Hutheesing Jain Temple is a magnificent place of worship commissioned by the Hutheesing Business Family, in reverence of Dharmanatha, the fifteenth Jain Tirthankar. Originally planned by Seth Hutheesing Kesarising, a wealthy trader of Ahmedabad, the Hutheesing Jain Temple was eventually completed under the guidance of his youngest wife, Sethani Harkunwar Bai after his premature death.
Built entirely of stone, in the traditional way, without steel, mortar or cement, the temple is pure poetry in action with exquisite carvings throughout the white marble structure. The 52-Jinalaya Hutheesing Jain Temple houses 238 stone images, 83 metal images and 21 yantras. The main temple in itself houses the idols of 11 deities and 52 secondary shrines, each dedicated to a Tirankhara, form a long gallery on three sides of the temple. A unique Manastambha takes a place of honour.
A Jain monastery or Derasar was also built near the Hutheesing Jain Temple to accommodate the large number of people arriving to participate in the consecration of the temple. The monastery later became a centre of Jain faith, as intended.
Calico Museum of Textiles
The Calico Museum of Textiles is an institution in itself. Dedicated to the display of Indian handicraft textiles from across the ages, the Calico Museum of Textiles brings alive the history and magnificence of the Indian textile industry in its entirety. Its location in an old haweli in Ahmedabad, which is renowned as the Manchester of the East for its thriving textile industry, further enhances its value.
On a guided tour of the museum, visitors can enjoy an insight into the religious textiles, scriptures and sculptures in the Old Haweli, and large tents, carpets, costumes and textiles dating as far back as the 15th Century in the galleries of the Chowk.
Ancient weaving machines and block printing blocks can also be viewed.
Note: Entry to the museum is only by prior appointment. No personal belongings, mobiles or shoes are allowed inside the museum. No lockers are provided either. Children under the age of 10 are not allowed.
The most revered of all rauzas in Gujarat, the Sarkhej Roza is an embodiment of the divine spirit of its patron saint Ganj Baksh, a sufi saint who advised Sultan Ahmed Shah to establish his capital Ahmedabad in its present position on the banks of the River Sabarmati.
Sultan Ahmed Shah’s descendants, Sultan Qutubuddin Ahmed Shah II and Mahmud Begada commissioned the Rauza in honour of the sufi saint. Marking the place where the Sufi saint lived during his lifetime, the Sarkhej Roza is now a remarkable place, where every building seems to come alive with the divinity of the saint’s soul.
Set around a large tank, the roza comprises of mosques, tombs and palaces, where the royal family found a cool, tranquil retreat. Centuries later, the roza is a serene point for relaxation and rejuvenation in tranquil surroundings for locals and visitors alike. Like most architectural landmarks from the Gujarat Sultanate era in this area, the roza buildings too feature an architectural style of blends, with Hindu, Jain, Persian and Islamic elements.
The rauza houses the tombs of the Saint Ganj Baksh as well as Mahmud Begada.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Memorial
Housed in a grand architectural landmark, the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Memorial Museum offers a remarkable insight into the life and times of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a great freedom fighter, who went on to become the first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of India. It was under his guidance that India unified from several princely states into one united nation.
Set up in the year 1978, the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Memorial Museum was modernized in 2013 and is now one of the most modern museums in India with interactive and experiential exhibits and a 3D light and sound show that brings alive the history of India and its transformation from a colonial state to an Independent India.
Other exhibits at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Museum include Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s personal artefacts, sculptures and busts, photographs and portraits, and mentions in the press. A separate exhibit is dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi and his friendship with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Visitors can also find an exhibit on Rabindra Nath Tagore, who penned his only ghost story and first poem while staying in this building as a guest.
The building in which the museum is housed, is incidentally, an architectural landmark renowned as the Moti Shahi Mahal, an imperial palace built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th Century. Complete with a Mughal Garden, this building in itself is a major attraction. However, it has been defaced and renovated to replace the traditional Mughal jharokas with modern facets.
The Mughal Gardens have been retained and it is a pleasure to walk the steps taken by Shah Jahan in his heyday.
Note: The 3D show is operational only on Saturday and Sunday from 1900 to 1945 hrs.
Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum
A museum of Indian Sculptures, Miniature Paintings, wood works, bead artwork, ancient manuscripts and coins, the Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum celebrates the richness of Indian artistic culture.
Visitors to the museum enjoy a visual treat of artefacts from various ages as they browse through the exhibits. Notable pieces from the Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum collection include the 6th Century A.D. cult image of Lord Rama (earliest known sandstone image) and the largest Buddha head in stucco dating back to the 5th Century A.D.
The Sculpture Collection exhibits almost all major regional sculpture styles of the Indian sub-continent and includes a rare figure of Matrika Indrani (6th century A.D.) from Shamlaji (Gujarat); some of the finest examples of Buddha images from Mathura, Nalanda and Nepal/ Tibet and 13th Century portrait statues of distinguished personalities from Gujarat.
Pre-Mughal era paintings, rare wooden book covers for palm-leaf manuscripts, ancient paintings and manuscripts including the earliest painted paper manuscript of the Shantinath Charitra, which is recognized by UNESCO as a global treasure and rare cosmological diagrams called Adhidvipa can also be viewed.
Note: The Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum is open on 6 weekdays (Monday Closed) from 1030 hrs to 1730 hrs. Photography is prohibited.
A step well with a stunning architecture, the Adalaj Stepwell is well worth the effort it requires to reach it. Set in the village of Adalaj on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, the Adalaj Stepwell is surrounded by a rural landscape but within, it is simply magnificent. The contrast in itself adds to its ambience.
Dating back to the late end of 15th Century A.D., the Adalaj Stepwell owes its creation to not just one but two kings from two different dynasties and one enterprising queen. According to the legend associated with the Adalaj Step well, the step well was initially commissioned by Veer Singh, the 15th Century king of the Vaghela Dynasty. However, he died in battle with Mohammed Begda, the grandson of Sultan Ahmed Shah, the founder of Ahmedabad.
Mohammed Begda was enamoured with Queen Rani Roopba, the wife of King Veer Singh and wished to marry her. However, Queen Rani Roopba enterprisingly set the condition that she would agree to marry Mohammed Begda only if he completed the construction of the Adalaj Stepwell.
Mohammed Begda kept his promise and completed the construction of Adalaj Stepwell in record time. However, when it was time for Queen Rani Roopba to keep her end of the agreement, she preferred to take her own life rather than dishonour her Husband’s memory and plunged to her death in the depths of the very step well Mohammed Begda created.
Centuries have passed but the Adalaj Stepwell still has water in it and continues to offer a cool shade from the blazing sun for travellers and traders passing through the route. However, the water has gotten stale and stinks a bit for lack of cleaning, the architecture of the step well and the wonderful carvings on its walls continue to awe visitors.
The Adalaj Stepwell is one of the best-known secrets of Ahmedabad and not many tourists visit it, making it a truly wonderful getaway for all those seeking an escape from the crowds.
Auto World Vintage Car Museum
The Auto World Vintage Car Museum is a must-visit for car lovers and vintage car buffs. Located on the Sardar Patel Ring Road, the Vintage Car Museum in Ahmedabad offers car buffs a visual treat with rows and rows of vintage cars from all ages lined up gracefully across a sprawling complex.
Visitors can see cars, carriages, horse-drawn carriages, buggies, limousines, ceremonial limousines and carriages, vintage convertibles and sports cars belonging to the rich and the famous, maharajas and nawabs of pre- and post-Independent India.
There are over 100 vintage cars from the top carmakers from across the world on display. Visitors can even enjoy a chauffeured drive on one of the vintage cars for a small fee. Other facilities include a cafeteria serving Gujarati food, a souvenir shop and an auditorium.
Shreyas Folk Museum
The Shreyas Folk Museum is little known amongst the locals, but it is a real treasure and a wonderful experience for visitors to Gujarat – both Indians and foreigners, for it gives a valuable insight into the life and culture of traditional Gujarati families. Handicrafts from other states are also displayed.
There are two museum buildings, both located within metres of each other in the Shreyas Foundation Complex.
While the Lokayatan Folk Museum is dedicated to displaying the rich culture of Gujaratis with exhibits on embroidery, beadwork, woodcarving, metalwork and leather work, the Kalpana Mangaldas Balayatan Museum displays artefacts such as colourful masks, costumes, puppets, coins and toys from other states.
An adjoining Science Centre within the complex displays rare animal skulls and a complete elephant skeleton.
Note: Shoes and cameras are prohibited.
Tips: Check beforehand to see if the museum is open. It is closed during most public holidays; for ten days for Diwali; and for 15 days during the Summers.
If visiting the museum on your own, ensure that you book return transfers as you might face difficulty in getting transport from the museum centre due to its location away from the city centre.