Ahmedabad – Part II : The Pols and Havelis

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Pols were originally made as a protection measure when communal riots necessitated greater security, probably dating from 1738, during the Mughal-Maratha rule in Ahmedabad.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.

An entrance to a pol house
An entrance to a pol house
The details of the motif on the door. This is a Maratha motif.
The details of the motif on the door. This is a Maratha motif.
Another entrance
Another entrance
See the details on the door
See the details on the door
A typical entrance to the pol. You can see the security window at the top
A typical entrance to the pol. You can see the security window at the top
Another pol entrance
Another pol entrance
Narrow streets inside the pols
Narrow streets inside the pols
Pol houses
Pol houses
Pol houses
Pol houses
The windows
The windows
A pol house entrance
A pol house entrance
Windows
Windows
Pol house entrance
Pol house entrance
An entry to the pol
An entry to the pol
The entrance to one of the temples
The entrance to one of the temples
Entrance to the temple
Entrance to the temple
Wooden carvings
Wooden carvings
The courtyard of the temple
The temple courtyard
The deity
The deity
A wood carved entrance to the pol house
A wood carved entrance to the pol house
More entrances
More entrances
More entrances
More entrances
More entrances
More entrances
More entrances
More entrances
A typical Chabutro or bird feeder in one of the pols
A typical Chabutro or bird feeder in one of the pols
Another bird feeder in a square
Another bird feeder in a square
One of the pol entrances
One of the pol entrances
See the details of the motif
See the details of the motif
A finely carved pillar - view from the pols
A finely carved pillar – view from the pols
A Jain Temple with toranas
A Jain Temple with the toranas
Detailed carvings from the temple
Detailed carvings from the temple
Detailed carvings from the temple
Detailed carvings from the temple
Detailed carvings from the temple
Detailed carvings from the temple
Exquisitely carved balconies
Exquisitely carved balconies
A temple entrance
A temple entrance

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 renovated haveli of renowned Gujarati poet Dalpatram
The renovated haveli of renowned Gujarati poet Dalpatram
A bronze statue of poet Dalpatram in front of the haveli
A bronze statue of poet Dalpatram in front of the haveli
Another haveli which is renovated to be a hotel
Another haveli which is renovated to be a hotel
More details from the renovated haveli
More details from the renovated haveli
More details from the renovated haveli
More details from the renovated haveli
More details from the renovated haveli
More details from the renovated haveli
More details from the renovated haveli
More details from the renovated haveli
Another renovated haveli
Another renovated haveli
See the steps from the side to the haveli
See the steps from the side to the haveli
This is the fine architecture of the old stock exchange building of Ahmedabad which is abandoned now.
This is the fine architecture of the old stock exchange building of Ahmedabad which is abandoned now.

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

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.

malabar-giat-squirrel-1

malabar-giat-squirrel-2

malabar-giat-squirrel-3

malabar-giat-squirrel-4

malabar-giat-squirrel-5

Ahmedabad – Part I : Bhadra Fort and Teen Darwaza

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.

Bhadra Fort
Bhadra Fort
Bhadra Fort - entrance
Bhadra Fort – entrance
The arches
The arches
Inscription in Arabic on the fort walls
Inscription in Arabic on the fort walls
The fort entrance from inside
The fort entrance from inside
Bhadra fort
Bhadra fort
Bhadra Fort - View from top of the western bastion
Bhadra Fort – View from top of the western bastion
At the top of the fort, where once the gibbet used to be
At the top of the fort, where once the gibbet used to be
At the top of the Bhadra fort
At the top of the Bhadra fort
View of the busy market from the tope of the fort
View of the busy market from the top of the fort
View of the busy market from the tope of the fort
View of the busy market from the top of the fort
The Teen Darwaza
The Teen Darwaza

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.

The façade of the Azam Khan Sarai
The façade of the Azam Khan Sarai
The façade of the Azam Khan Sarai - detail
The façade of the Azam Khan Sarai – detail
One of the balconies of Azam Khan Sarai
One of the balconies of Azam Khan Sarai
The Bhadra Kali Temple
The Bhadra Kali Temple
In front of the temple
In front of the temple
Around the temple
Around the temple
Around the temple
Around the temple
The tomb of Kotwal is inside this door. The locks which you see on the door are placed by the people who visited this place for the fulfilment of their wish
The tomb of Kotwal is inside this door. The locks which you see on the door are placed by the people who visited this place for the fulfilment of their wish

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.

Delhi Darwaza, one of the gates of the city
Delhi Darwaza, one of the gates of the city
The Panchkuva gate, built by the British
The Panchkuva gate, built by the British