The Historic City of Ahmadabad is a 15th-century city especially known for its multicultural character.
Islamic elements are mixed with Hindu and Jain heritage. The specific style can be seen in the city's religious buildings and domestic wooden architecture. Further notable are its clusters of gated streets (pol), which belong to families of a particular group, linked by caste, profession, or religion. The city is surrounded by a wall.
Community Perspective: Ahmedabad used to be a very dusty and very dirty city, but according to Carlo things have changed a lot for the better since 2022. Several reviewers used the Heritage Walk Ahmedabad to get a grip on the historic elements. Solivagant and Carlo highlight a few structures of interest to explore on your own, while Joel recommends the Gandhi Ashram across the river from the Old City.
Map of AhmadabadLoad map
Immediately after visiting the dusty cities that make up the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur), arriving in Ahmedabad seemed to be a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively. Yes, the classic mayhem and modern urban problems typical of Indian cities are all present in Ahmedabad. However, its RELATIVELY cleaner air, a well-maintained airport, gentrified riverfront, and less touristy feel made the city a rather nice place to travel to. Such observation is quite contrary to previous reviews, but a lot has happened since—according to a hotel staff I talked to, there has been a rapid development in Ahmedabad in the past several years, and he felt this beginning in 2022. The gentrification was of course limited to certain parts of the city, but somehow it worked. As mentioned by Solivagant, it’s notable that the current prime minister of India hails from the state of Gujarat.
Date of visit: after Christmas, Dec 2023.
We stayed for 3 nights in the excellent House of MG. The hotel is itself a beautiful, storied heritage building that was first built in 1904 and was once the home of the textile magnate Sheth Mangaldas Girdhardas. It was later converted into a hotel in 2014 and now enjoys a high reputation among locals, tourists, and travel websites. Objectively, the hotel deserves a visit for its history and architecture. Its location is also a plus—the hotel is built in Lal Darwaja, an area where the first settlements in the city were established. We took advantage of the hotel’s city rickshaw tour to get acquainted with the city. They also provide an updated tour map (click on the brochure) of the main sites of the city.
The basis of the city’s inscription to the UNESCO World Heritage convention revolves around its architectural heritage originating from the Sultanate of Gujarat period, spanning the 15th and 16th centuries. Proponents of this site pointed out that such architectural heritage demonstrates the multicultural character of Ahmedabad, which they deem as indicative of outstanding universal value. The architectural heritage includes religious buildings, gates and city walls, havelis, and settlement architecture. I made sure to visit the following monuments and structures under each of these categories to appreciate the site's OUV.
1. Religious buildings
- Hutheesing temple (Jainism) - if you only get to visit one Jain temple, this should be it. We have visited a few Jain temple prior to arriving in Ahmedabad, and this one tops our list. Note the Manastambha in the outer courtyard.
- Shree Swaminarayan temple complex (Hinduism) - Solivagant has given a good bit of information about this temple. The temple gate is gorgeous and the haveli with its intricate carved wood structures is admirable.
- Siddi Sayid and Ahmad Shah's mosques (Islam) - Siddi Sayid is located just across the hotel, and it is nicely lit up at night. It makes you wonder how devotees get to concentrate in praying as the mosque is surrounded by overwhelming traffic. Note the elaborate carved lattice screens (jali) in both mosques, as the artistry behind these works of art is just exceptional. I did not get to visit the Jama Masjid and Rani Sipri Ki Masjid, but they should also be part of your itinerary, especially to check out the minarets, domes, and buttresses.
I find it interesting that the site's description boasts of the presence of Christian and Jewish places of worship, but it failed to mention any notable churches or synagogues. If you're interested in visiting a church or a synagogue, Mount Carmel cathedral and Magen Abraham synagogue would be your best bet.
2. Gates and city walls - the site's description starts with the phrase "the walled-city of Ahmedabad..." You'd expect that the walls are visible and remarkable, but they are fragmented and seemingly poorly maintained. Many are in a dire state of repair, while others are intertwined with concrete and other modern construction materials. This can also be said with the gates, though for some reason the dusty, crumbling look of the gates gives off an authentic vibe.
- Lal Darwaja - pretty much now an integral part of a street market.
- Teen Darwaja (pictured) - it remains an imposing structure despite the overwhelming street market and traffic that penetrate the gate.
The more robust eastern gate of the Bhadra Fort and Delhi Darwaja are worth visiting as well (I did not get to visit them, unfortunately).
3. Settlement architecture - according to the nomination dossier, a unique aspect of the historic city is its settlement architecture, which include the pur (neighbourhoods), pol (residential streets; the name of a pol is signposted, typically spelled as 'pole'), and havelis (mansions or residential buildings with distinctive architecture and exquisite carvings). It is HARD to appreciate this however, as modern structures dominate some of the pols. However, once you get to visit various pols, you'd get to understand how the city's unique settlement architecture reflects its social fabric and community organisation. I got to visit the following neighbouring pols:
- Gangadhiya ni Pol - the beautiful Mangaldas ni Haveli II fronts the gate to the pol. To the right are some havelis of various state of deterioration, though their individual old charm persists.
- Rughnath Bamb ni Pol - the fading pastel colours of residential buildings in this pol are pretty to look at, though you can only wish that they could all undergo major renovation works.
- Sheth ni Pol
- Lakha Patel ni Pol - my favourite of all the pols I have visited, only because of the chabutro and Mangaldas ni Haveli I. A tv show (?) was filming there at the time of visit.
If we are going to talk about havelis, I dare say that the best examples in the region are not within Ahmedabad, but are found in the dusty town of Siddhpur. It is located north of Ahmedabad, near Patan. Yes, the wooden havelis in this town are likewise not well-maintained, but rows upon rows of colourful havelis with Mughal and European motifs are worth a visit. The variety of pastel colours--from lilac and pink to lemon and beige--is just amazing! Siddhpur can be part of a day trip to Modhera Sun temple and Rani-ki-vav.
In addition to the above, we have also visited the following sites:
- Ahmed Shah's tomb - this is located next to the Jama Masjid. This is a building that seems to receive poor level of maintenance but you can also be guaranteed of its upkeep as the friendly residents living around the tomb seem to take care of it. The information panel is quite hard to notice as it is obstructed by parked autos and motorbikes. The lattice work on the walls of the building is notable.
- Rani no Hajiro - the building that houses the tombs of Ahmed Shah's queens. Located on the other side of the street from Ahmed Shah's tomb, this building seems to have no buffer area that separates it from the surrounding market and residential area. The cloisters are in bad shape and occupied by vendors and motorbikes.
- Bai Harir ni Vav - while this is outside the boundaries of the nominated site, it is worth a visit.
A few points which arose from our visit in Mar 2019 in addition to those made by earlier reviewers
a. The “Heritage Walk”. Ahmadabad is rather proud of this initiative which goes back to 1997 and is being copied in other Indian cities. It receives many mentions in the Nomination File. Annex 17 is devoted entirely to it and contains a map - but here is the brochure version. These seemed to be as rare as hen’s teeth when we visited, so it might be worth printing it down in advance just in case you can’t get one “on location”! All (most?) of the 20 “pause points” have a large metal sign with a copy of this map, a description and an arrow to show where you are in the maze of alleyways (Photo). The link in Joel's previous review, as well as having its own map, will lead to more detailed descriptions of each of the “pause points” than are included with the above map and would be a useful complement to it (click through to "Heritage Walk packages"). There is fun of course in finding one’s own way along such a route, talking to the locals etc, but there are also advantages in having the significance of what you are seeing (or potentially “missing”) explained by a guide. Much of the “value” (such as it is) of the walk lies in understanding aspects which might otherwise go unnoticed. We met no other tourists (Indian or otherwise) during our walk and there would not seem to be enough to have generated any tourist-related businesses such as souvenir/craft sellers. The number of non SAARC visitors registered in Annex 17 for the year ending Mar 14 was a mere 1215 (presumably only those taking "official" tours).
b. Other “brands” of “heritage walk” are available! The success of the original "classic" walk has spawned numerous others. It, after all, only traverses a rather small part of the entire inscribed "Walled City" and misses out a number of significant locations. The “House of MG” hotel is the starting point for several. See this brochure for its offerings which include an “audio synchronized” walk covering a different area. There is also a "Craft Walk", a "Freedom Walk" and a "Jain Walk"!!! “The House of MG”, by the way, is a rather fine restored mansion built by a wealthy Indian textile industrialist (Mangaldas Girdhardas) in the early 20th C, situated within the inscribed area directly in front of the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque - its daily rates were a bit above what we normally pay for hotels in India and we stayed at a perfectly acceptable businessman’s hotel a bit further out. But I somewhat regret not having paid the extra!! If you don’t stay, a visit to the public areas is worthwhile.
c. The Swaminarayan Temple. This is where the classic “Mandir to Masjid” ("Temple" to "Mosque") Heritage Walk through the “pols” starts. It would be easy to dismiss it as just another Hindu temple with lots of multi-coloured statues like many across India. In fact it was the very first temple (built 1822) of the Swaminarayan Sampraday Hindu “revivalist” sect. Swaminarayan was a Hindu ascetic who died in 1830 and founded a phenomenon in India which is worth knowing about. The enormous Akshardham Complex (opened 2005) in Delhi demonstrates the contemporary wealth and influence of the sect through its charitable wing - BAPS. It has worldwide coverage and is also the largest Hindu group in USA. Sawaminarayan is believed to have been a reincarnation of Narayana, one of the "twin brother" avatars of Vishnu - Nara-Narayana. Thus the central objects of worship in the Ahmadabad Temple are the “twin brother” statues draped in the finest cloth - “Dresses for the central Narnarayan…..images are changed seven times a day and are never repeated”. I don’t know the exact timing of the rituals but it is worth being there at that time if you can - otherwise the statues are hidden by curtains and religious activity is limited. I found this article useful in describing what is involved in being a follower.
d. The “Chabutra” or “Bird feeders” are worth a particular mention. These are something of an Ahmadabad/Gujarati speciality. The departure lounge at AMD has one, as do some of the modern roundabouts. There is a particularly fine historic one at Ahmadabad's Le Corbusier-designed museum - Sanskar Kendra (Worth visiting for the building and for seeing its “poor” condition – but not for its “collection”!). Many of the pols have them – often not of any great architectural note but worth seeing and understanding as part of the social structure.which the design of the pols reflects. As you go into the "chowk" or closed square where they are situated, look for the gate which some pols still have but which is no longer closed at night. Note the seats for meetings and the cupboards – those going away for a few days store their “share” of the food for the birds in them for neighbours to dish out - thus not avoiding their communal responsibilities! See this article about one of them.
e. Jain temple. You will have started with a 19thC Hindu Temple and will finish with the fine 15th C Jami Majid – but Jain influences and culture are also of importance to the site and you can enter a 17th C Jain temple at “pause point” no 8 (“Sambhavnathji Derasar” a.k.a “Ajitnath” after the Jain spiritual teacher to whom it is dedicated and whose statue it contains) – but not with bags, camera, shoes, water … or if you are menstruating (not checked!). It has some nice painted wooden carvings (obviously you can’t take any photos, but there are some on Page 23 of the Nomination file!). Don't expect too much - this is only a neighbourhood place of worship not a world class piece of architecture but it resonated for us as "Jainism" had been a continuing theme during our Indian trip. The temple dome of this "Derasar" reminded us of a similar one from Gujarat which had been assembled in the National Museum of India in Delhi and it connected directly to the marble decoration of the domes at Ranakpur, Dilwara (Mt Abu) and Palitana which we had seen earlier. For some reason, active Jain temples are not well represented on India's inscribed or T List - Khajuraho has some but is still primarily an "archaeological site" and Dilwara was inexplicably removed from the T List in 1998 after only 4 years.
f. Vernacular Architecture - We usually enjoy this type of WHS but European and Latin American examples seem to possess a higher percentage of "worthwhile" buildings than does Ahmadabad - or at least their "dross" is less visible/striking! As mentioned by other reviewers, many of the buildings you will pass are simply cheap modern concrete/brick houses thrown up at minimum cost to fill the available space, with no concern for build quality or visual impact and possessing no "architectural" value whatsoever. Perhaps our expectations of "lived-in heritage" are just too "Eurocentric", requiring a large number of "pretty-pretty" buildings in tip-top condition set within a clean and tidy "chocolate box" environment? Many of those which do remain in Ahmadabad are rather neglected, with only a few examples of "gentrification" and investment. Perhaps it will come and the pols will turn into another Panama Casco Viejo where the original inhabitants just get kicked out? It is a shame that, despite the "Heritage Walk" initiative none of the traditional buildings are open for viewing from the inside but one aspect which it is worth looking out for from the outside, is the wood carving (see the site photo). This article contains some good background about the Gujarati craft known as "Naqsh" and some nice photos of buildings from the Ahmadabad pols.
g. "Mulitcultural Coexistence"? The Nomination file states that “The presence of institutions belonging to many religions (Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Christianity, etc.) makes the historic urban structure of the city an exceptional and even unique example of multicultural co-existence”. Fine words, and one hopes that the inscription is indeed pointing that way, but, as recently as 2002, Ahmadabad was a location for major inter-community conflict often characterised as an anti-Muslim Pogrom and c69 people died 3kms NE of the WHS boundary in the Gulbarg Society Massacre . This Indian article “Contentious Heritage: The Case of Ahmedabad” criticises the use of WHS inscription to hide what it believes to be the reality of Muslim exclusion both nationally and specifically in Ahmadabad, where it claims Muslim areas/sites are excluded and not preserved and that the “inclusive” WHS designation is something of a smokescreen.
h. WHC Inscription. Ahmadabad didn't gain its inscription easily and it took a strong rearguard action led by Turkey to persuade the WHC to inscribe (Our Web site records "ICOMOS suggested Deferral, overturned by WHC by amendment of Turkey"). This took place on July 8 2017. Was it entirely coincidental that President Erdogan paid a 2 day visit to India just a couple of months beforehand (Apr 30), and that signing of a Cultural Exchange Program was high on the agenda at the time?? Too small a matter for national leaders to worry about, or a simple action to please Prime Minister Modi whose political home ground is Ahmadabad (Chief Minister of Gujarat 2001-14 i.e during the 2002 riots) and demonstrate practical support for Indian Culture?
As other reviewers have noted, Ahmedabad is very much not a tourist city. It's hot, dusty and chaotic - even by Indian standards. We spent three days here in February 2019 as a base for visiting the three Gujarat WH sites (here, Rani-ki-Vav and Champaner-Pavagadh), and honestly it's difficult to really appreciate the World Heritage aspects of the city.
To try and fully understand the place, we opted for the Heritage Walk Ahmedabad, a semi-official endeavour supported by the local government and a bargain at only 125rs. The tour went for a couple of hours from the Swaminarayan Mandir, through various pol districts and ended at the Jama Masjid. It was a nice way to see the various aspects of what makes the city: Hindu culture, Muslim culture, along with the unique pol houses, and our young local guide was quite enthusiastic. That said, most of the pol houses are crumbling and poorly maintained - maybe that makes them more authentic? But at quite a few points it was hard to distinguish which were the historic houses and which were far more modern.
Overall neither of us were particularly impressed with the site. We've definitely seen worse, but have definitely seen better. Of the three sites in Gujarat, this was definitely the least impressive.
While in Ahmedabad I'd strongly recommend visiting the Gandhi Ashram across the river from the Old City. Gandhi lived here for about 12 years on and off, and large parts of it are a museum dedicated to his life and works - fascinating for someone like me who only knows the broad strokes.
Read more from Joel on the Road here.
Ahmadabad is not exactly a beautiful city, with the historical buildings intertwined with all kind of modern ramshackle buildings and the typical indian street chaos. It's dirty and dusty and very lively. I visited the old core with the heritage walk, which definitely leads you to places you would not have seen by your own, but was also a bit overcrowded (mostly indian students). The WHS description concentrates on the old building clusters (called pols) in the innercity. Other Ahmadabad sites like the stepwells, the sidi-saiyyed mosque and the jain temple are not mentioned. The old havelis have a very dusty charme - there are intricate carvings, beautiful decorations, but everything has a worn-out feeling. On the plus side, it definitely does not feel touristy. The proposal also seems to be the only indian WHS that concentrates not on palaces, ruins and temples, but on normal residential areas - I would therefore welcome its inscription (also as an incentive to preserve the buildings).
Visited: Nov 2015
Importance 3/5 Beauty 3/5 Uniqueness 4/5 Environment 1/5 Experience 3/5
Visited January 2011 and May 2015
The first impression: Ahmedabad is a very dusty and very dirty city. But if you have a chance to spend there more than 2 days you will discover lots of gems - not only the mosques (Sidi Sayid, and Friday mosque) and museums (Calico Textile and city museum are the must!), but also beautiful old houses, temples, Badra fort (possible to visit now) and at least two step wells in the eastern part of old city.
Hint: as Ahmedabad is not a tourist trap at all you should know that there's only ONE place where you can buy postcards and souvenirs: boutique heritage hotel House of MG, opposite Sisi Sayid Mosque.
- Travelure Amitlchoudhuryjbp :
- Stanislaw Warwas :
- Frank Britton Adiaro18 Martina Rúčková GerhardM Naim Y :
- Alexander Lehmann Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero Aspasia :
- Randi Thomsen Ralf Regele YAO WEI David Marton :
- Ivan Rucek Svein Elias Kevin McFarland Lichia Mikko Akhilpreeti Carlo Sarion :
- Zoë Sheng Philipp Peterer Kurt Lauer Shandos Cleaver Szucs Tamas :
- Nomad99 Solivagant Joel on the Road Thomas van der Walt Luke LOU :
- Lukasz Palczewski Sachin :
2017 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS suggested Deferral, overturned by WHC by amendment of Turkey
The site has 1 locations
The site has 11 connections
Religion and Belief
WHS on Other Lists
79 Community Members have visited.