India’s Only UNESCO World Heritage City: Totally deserves that name tag! - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

India’s Only UNESCO World Heritage City: Totally deserves that name tag!

The tree of life (date palm) depicted at Siddi Syed Mosque, Ahmedabad

We all know about UNESCO World Heritage sites and we know that they hold a special place in the world. But, what about UNESCO world heritage cities? What kind of importance do they hold in our history?

An Ahmedabad Heritage City walk moment

Well, the way I see it, there is a whole lot of charm associated with UNESCO world heritage cities. It is a series of sights, monuments, history and experiences that keep you in awe all throughout. It offers us the opportunity to experience the glory of our past and the near perfect destination a tourist looks for.

Teen Darwaza as seen from the top of Bhadra Fort, Ahmedabad

Some immediate examples that come to my mind are Colombia’s Quito, Laos’s Luang Prabang, Vietnam’s Hoi An, Italy’s Rome, Iran’s Isfahan, Belgium’s Bruges, Austria’s Salzburg and Israel’s Jerusalem. While all of these are fabulous cities in their own right, I was always saddened that there was no Indian world heritage city in this list. But, that changed when the walled city of Ahmedabad moved into that list last year.

Colorful Swaminarayan Temple, Ahmedabad

I had to wait for 18 months before I got the opportunity to experience India’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage City. I am talking about Gujarat’s Ahmedabad or Amdavad as locals call it. Founded by Sultan Ahmed Shah in the 15th century, this walled city located on the eastern banks of the Sabarmati river is full of architectural and technological brilliance.

Intricate carvings on Jama Masjid walls, Ahmedabad

Right from Siddi Syed Mosque’s iconic jaali work to its majestic Bhadra citadel and from its gated communities to its well entrenched systems of water harvesting and sewerage treatment, this historic city of Ahmedabad is a sight to behold. The best way to experience this walled city is to go on a Ahmedabad heritage walk either early in the morning or late in the evening when the colorful bazaars can be seen in full glory.

This heritage walk will take you from mandir (temple) to masjid (mosque) and in between, you will weave in and out of densely packed traditional houses (pols) located in traditional gated communities (puras). These gated communities have their own security systems, religious institutions, business centers, secret passages in case of attack, bird feeding systems, public wells, merchant’s havelis, oles (a building where the ground floor is the shop and the rest of the floors make the home), bullion markets and even a stock exchange.

The ancient haveli that has been converted into a homestay for tourists - Heritage city of Ahmedabad

The key points of interest on this walk are:

1) Swaminarayan Temple

2) Kavi Dalpatram Chowk

3) Calico Dome

Kala Ramji Mandir in Ahmedabad old city

4) Kala Ramji Mandir

5) Shantinathji Mandir

6) Kuvavala Khancho

7) Zaveri Vad

Colorful temple door seen during Ahmedabad Heritage Walk

8) Sambhavnath Ni Khidki

9) Chaumukhji Ni Pol

10) Doshivada Ni Pol

11) Astapadji Derasar

Elephant and Dragon in Indo Chinese architecture - A merchant house in Ahmedabad's heritage city

12) Harkunvar Shethani Ni Haveli

13) Fernandez Bridge

14) Chandla Ol

The Colorful door with the Peshwa turban man in Amdavad heritage city

15) Muhart Pol

16) Muharat Pol

17) Manek Chowk

Colorful door at the tomb of Ahmed Shah, Ahmedabad Old City

18) Rani No-Haziro

19) Badshah-No-Haziro

20) Jami Masjid

21) Teen Darwaza

22) Bhadrakali Mandir

Bhadra Fort, Ahmedabad

23) Bhadra Fort

24) Siddi Syed Mosque

A moment from Ahmedabad's heritage walk

Everything about this heritage city will be thrilling to see, experience and learn. Be it the Indo-Chinese or the Indo-European designs, the Jain architecture in Muslim monuments, the engineering advancements in terms of ventilation, earthquake proofing, flood protection, sewerage treatment, water harvesting and so on and so forth.

The ancient stock exchange of Ahmedabad

One of the most happening places in this walled city is Manek Chowk. This bullion market market during the day is actually a vegetable market in the early hours of the morning followed by an animal feeding farm before becoming a bullion bazaar. And once the bullion shops close, Manek chowk turns into a food street and then the entire cycle begins yet again. This is part of an ancient technique to ensure safety of people and goods. Manek chowk is also a great place to go for a bite after 8 pm in the night. It is also a fantastic place for photography.

The intricately carved Jama Masjid of Ahmedabad

Jama Masjid is another place where you should spend significant amount of time, especially during the prayer hours so that you can experience the routine while you soak in the divine ambience. Its pillars and main arch showcases rich Hindu and Jain designs and the tree of life is what captures immediate attention. Siddi Syed Mosque is another location that should not be missed. It is famous for its jaali or lattice work, especially the date palm or tree of life that was built from a single piece of stone. This tree of life is also part of the logo of IIM Ahmedabad and one of modern Ahmedabad’s iconic location.

Tree of life sculpted on the walls of Jama Masjid, Ahmedabad

Another must do activity is to climb the Bhadra citadel in the morning hours and see the entire hustle and bustle of the bazaars in front of Teen Darwaza from above. Do note that they do not allow you to climb to the top after noon.

Tree of Life at Siddi Syed Mosque, Ahmedabad Heritage City

Be its mosques, Hindu temples, Jain temples, bazaars, forts, gated communities, tombs, traditional homes or bird feeding sites, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Amdavad’s walled city is a must experience! It takes on a different flavor at different times of the day. And then you have the lip smacking Gujarati food and desserts to energize you during the whole experience. I certainly had a ball of time exploring and experiencing this 15th century historic city and I am pretty sure that you will be blown away too!

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