A special feature of Ahmedabad is the plan of the old city, comprising numerous ‘pols’ or self- contained neighborhoods, sheltering a large number of people. A pol normally comprises of many families of a particular group, linked by caste, profession or religion. These typical urban centers or neighborhoods are an integral part of the old city of Ahmedabad. The old city of Ahmedabad is made up of around 360 pols within a fortified compound. In the recent past, families have started moving out to live in modern houses away from the city center, but many of them still feel a strong bond to the closely-knit communities of the pols where they have grown up. These pols are traversed by narrow lanes, usually terminating in squares called ‘chowks’, consisting of a community well and bird feeders called ‘Chabutro’. Some pols have intricately carved temples as well. Each pol has its own distinctive architectural style and motifs.
Each pol is protected by a gateway, closed at night as safeguard against thieves. Inside each pol is one main street, with crooked lanes branching on either side. Most vary in size from five or ten to fifty or sixty houses. Pols are almost entirely inhabited by Hindus, in some cases by a settlement of families belonging to one caste, and in others by families of several of the higher castes.
Pols were originally made as a protection measure when communal riots necessitated greater security, probably dating from 1738, during the Mughal-Maratha rule in Ahmedabad. A typical pol would have only one or two entrances and also some secret entrances known only to people residing in the respective pol. Each pol generally has its own watchman and its own sanitary arrangements. The affairs of the pol were managed by a group of people. The house property in the pol is to some extent held in common. Formerly no one could sell or mortgage a house to an outsider without first offering it to the people of the pol. Though this rule was not kept later, inmates of a pol sold their houses to same caste people. On weddings and other great family occasions, each house holder is expected to feast the whole pol, and in some cases, all the men of the pol.
Some pols contain old beautiful houses (havelis) with internal courts having intricate wooden carved facades with columns and fresco work done around court walls and ceilings. Today the owners of these havelis, being unable to bear the heavy maintenance costs have either sold their properties off or have let them fall to ruins, while they have settled in other places. The heritage cell of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is taking the initiative in restoring, some of these havelis.
The best way to explore the pols is to join for a ‘heritage walk’, an initiative of the Municipal Corporation, to unveil the heritage of the city to tourists and citizens. The walk commences from the Swaminarayan Temple, Kalupur and concludes at the Jama Masjid. Hence this walk is popularly known as the journey of ‘Mandir to Masjid’. The walk commences at 8.00am and concludes at around 10.30am, which also includes a slide show of 15 minutes. The details can be obtained from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation website.
Indian giant squirrel or Malabar giant squirrel (Ratufa Indica). The Indian giant squirrel is an upper-canopy dwelling species, which rarely leave the trees, and construct their nests on tall, profusely branched trees. It travels from tree to tree with jumps of up to 6 meters. When in danger it often freezes or flattens itself against the tree trunk, instead of fleeing. Its main predators are the birds of prey and the leopards. They are active in the early hours of the morning and in the evening and rest during midday. These pictures were taken at Nagarhole National Park, Karnataka.
Ahmedabad, also known as Amdavad in Gujarati, is the largest city and former capital of the Indian state of Gujarat. Perched on the banks of Sabarmati River, this remarkably cosmopolitan city is rich with Muslim history and many architectural monuments. The area around Ahmedabad has been inhabited since the 11th century when it was known as Ashaval or Ashapalli. The city was founded in 1411 by Ahmed Shah, at the spot where he saw a hare chasing a dog (he was impressed by its bravery). He established Ahmedabad as the new capital of his Sultanate and built Bhadra Fort on the east bank of Sabarmati River. Square in form, enclosing an area of about forty three acres and containing 162 houses, the Bhadra fort had eight gates. The second fortification was built later by Mahmud Begada, the grandson of Ahmed Shah, with an outer wall 10km in circumference and consisting of 12 gates, 189 bastions and over 6,000 battlements. Almost 60 governors ruled Gujarat during the Mughal period including the future Mughal emperors Jagangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb.
In 1732 the Maratha army under Umabaisaheb Khanderao Dabhade, the only female commander- in- chief in the history of Marathas captured the fort from Mughal Sardar Joravar Khan Babi. Ahmedabad was conquered by the British in 1817 and the fort complex was used as a jail by the British.
Bhadra fort housed the royal palaces and the beautiful Nagina Baugh and the royal Ahmed Shah’s Mosque on the west side and an open area known as Maidan-Shahi on the east side. The fort complex was used as a royal court during his reign. On the eastern side of the fort, there is a triple gateway known as Teen Darwaza which was formerly the entrance to the royal square. The road beyond this gate leads to Manek Chowk, a mercantile square.
The citadel’s architecture is Indo-Sarcenic with intricately carved arches and balconies. There are Islamic inscriptions on the arches of the Fort. The palace contains royal suites, the imperial court, halls and a prison. A palace was also built during the time of Mughal governor Azam Khan known as Azam Khan Sarai in 1637. It was used as resting place for travelers in the Mughal era and a jail during British rule. There was a gibbet on the roof of this building used for hanging during the Gujarat sultanate and the British era. It was here that Ahmed Shah hanged his son-in-law who was convicted of murder.
A room in the north wing of Azam Khan Sarai was turned into a temple of Bhadra Kali during Maratha rule. The legend is that years ago Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, came to the gate of Bhadra Fort to leave the city in the night. Watchman Siddique Kotwal stopped her and identified her. He asked her not to leave the fort until he obtained permission from the king. He beheaded himself in order to keep goddess Laxmi in the city. Another version is that he was beheaded by the Sultan in order to prevent the goddess from leaving the city. It resulted in the prosperity of the city. There is a tomb near Bhadra gate dedicated to Siddique Kotwal and a temple to Bhadra Kali, representing Laxmi. A lamp in one of the holes in Teen Darwaza is lit continuously for more than six hundred years by a Muslim family and is dedicated to Laxmi.
When Mahmud Begada expanded and fortified the city there were eighteen darwazas or gates to the city, fifteen large gates and three small ones. Of the fifteen gates, one was closed and three were added later. Each of these gates had beautiful carvings, calligraphy and some of them even balconies. Each of these entrances to the city has unique names like Delhi Gate, Sarangpur Gate, Raipur Gate etc. The area surrounding these gates has adopted the name of the gate as the name of the locality. There were two gates constructed during the British time, after opening of railways connecting Bombay in 1864 to facilitate the movement of public. They are known as Prem Darwaja and Panchkuva gate. Panchkuva gate was built in 1871 for easy access to the railway station. This gate consists three pointed arches, the central one 18 feet wide and 28 feet high and each side gateway measuring 7 feet wide and 19 feet high.