Recognizing its unique heritage value, the walled city of Ahmedabad which is more than 600 years old was declared India’s first World Heritage City by UNESCO. This historic declaration was issued at the 41st session the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow, Poland on Saturday July 08, 2017.
Ahmedabad’s nomination was supported by 20 countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia, Portugal, Peru Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Finland, Azerbaijan, Jamaica, Croatia, Poland, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, South Korea, Angola and Cuba.
The 5.5 km walled city area with an approximate population of four lakhs living in century old wooden residences in around 600 pols or neighbourhoods, is regarded as living heritage and the UNESCO had preferred Ahmedabad’s entry over Delhi and Mumbai, the two main metro cities in the country.
There are 2600 heritage sites and over two dozen ASI (Archeological Survey of India) protected monuments in the walled city. In the walled city the dominant Hindu, Islamic and Jain communities peacefully coexists. Besides its architectural marvels, the city was the epic center of non-violent freedom struggle spear-headed by Mahatma Gandhi that led to the country’s independence in 1947.
Other cities from the subcontinent which hold the world heritage tag are Bhaktpur in Nepal and Galle in Sri Lanka.
You can read more about the city of Ahmedabad from the links below:
Lothal is located in the Bhal region of the Indian state of Gujarat. It is six kilometres south-east of the Lothal-Bhurkhi railway station on the Ahmedabad-Bhavnagar railway line. The nearest city is Bagodara. Lothal was one of the most prominent cities of the ancient Indus valley civilization dating from 3700 BCE. Discovered in 1954, Lothal was excavated from February 1955 to May 1960 by the Archaeological Survey of India. It was vital and thriving trade centre in ancient time with its trade of beads, gems and valuable ornaments reaching far corners of West Asia and Africa. The techniques and tools they pioneered for bead making and metallurgy have the test time for over 4000 years.
The meaning of Lothal (a combination of Loth and thal) in Gujarati to be “the mound of the dead” is not unusual as the name of the city of Mohenjo-daro in Sindhi means the same.
Archaeologists have unearthed trenches sunk on the northern, eastern and western flanks of the mound, bringing to light the inlet channels and nullah connecting the dock with the river. The findings consist of a mound a township, a marketplace and the dock.
The town was divided into blocks of 1 to 2 meter high platforms of sun dried bricks each serving 20-30 houses of thick mud and brick walls. The city was divided into a citadel or acropolis and a lower town. The rulers of the town lived in the acropolis which featured paved baths underground and surface drains and potable water well. The lower town was subdivided into two sectors. The residential area was located to either side of the marketplace.
The archaeological museum which stands next to the excavated area is holding some of the most prominent collections of Indus-era antiquities in India.
How to reach Lothal:
There are frequent buses from Ahmedabad to Saurashtra. Catch one of these buses and get down at Bagodara. There are rickshaws available from there to Lothal.
Sarkhej Roza is located 8 km southwest of the city of Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat. This mosque and tomb complex is known as “Acropolis of Ahmedabad”, due to 20th century architect Le Corbusier’s famous comparison of this mosque’s design to the Acropolis of Athens.
Sarkhej was once a prominent centre of Sufi culture in the country and is where the influential Sufi saint Shaikh Ahmed Khattu Ganj Baksh lived. The architecture of this complex is credited to the Persian brothers Azam and Muazzam Khan. The complex was originally spread over 72 acres, surrounded by elaborate gardens on all sides. Over time human settlements came around it, eating into the gardens and reducing the area to 34 acres.
Shaikh Ahmed Khattu Ganj Bakhsh the friend and advisor of Ahmed Shah I, retired to Sarkhej in his later life and died here in 1445. In his honour, a tomb was constructed by Ahmed Shah II. The construction of the tomb was begun in 1445 and was finished in 1451. The next sultan Mahmud Begada was fond of the place and expanded the complex greatly. He dug a large lake, surrounded it with cut stone steps and built a splendid palace on its south-west corner. He also raised a mausoleum for himself and his family opposite to Ganj Baksh’s tomb.
There is a sixteen pillared structure popularly known as Baradari is situated in the central portion of the open courtyard and is seen when we enter the main gate of the Roza. There is a folklore which says that the excavation of the lake and the building of the Jama masjid in its initial states were supervised by Shaikh Ahmed Khattu himself from the Baradari.
Beyond the Mausoleum of Ganj Bakhsh is a courtyard, covering more than an acre of ground, surrounded by cloisters, is a huge mosque. The other side of the lake on the south-west corner are Mahmud Begada’s palace and harem.
Like many of Ahmedabad’s structures the architecture of Sarkhej Roza is a combination of elements of Hindu and Islamic design. Most of the buildings do not have arches and depend on pierced stone trellises for stability.
Not far from the Rani-ki-Vav (queen’s stepwell) in the town of Patan (Gujarat State) is the Sahastralinga Talav, an excellent example of the ancient water management system of Gujarat. It was constructed by Raja Sidhraj Jai sing in 1084 AD. This artificial reservoir is spread over an area of about five kilometres with stone embankments. The tank was designed to receive water from the nearby Saraswati River through a canal. There were thousand Shiva Shrines on the edge of the tank of which some ruins are still exists. The tank derived its name from these shrines. The tank is empty now and in ruins.
As per legend, during the construction of the tank, Raja Sidhraj Jai Singh fell in love with the beautiful maiden Jasma Odan, who belongs to the tank digger’s community. She refused the request of the king and committed sati (a former practice in India, whereby a widow threw herself into the funeral pyre of her husband) in order to save her dignity. It is believed that due to her curse the tank dried up.
If you walk further one kilometre towards the river bank you will reach to a tomb complex, which is locally known as ‘Panch Pir ki Dargha’ (Tomb of five saints). This complex mostly in ruins, contain a Baradari(a pavilion with 12 doors, designed to allow free flow of air) and mausoleum of five saints. The tomb of one saint is inside a domed structure. The other four tombs are on the right side of this structure on a raised platform which is opened to sky.
Rani-ki-Vav is an intricately constructed stepwell situated in the town of Patan in the Indian state of Gujarat. Patan which lays about 130km northwest of Ahmedabad, was an ancient Hindu capital before being sacked by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1024 AD. Rani-ki-Vav is an excellent example of its former glory. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated on the banks of Saraswati River. This stepwell is the finest in Gujarat and remarkably well preserved after it was restored in the 1980s. It bagged the title of “Cleanest Iconic Place” in India at the Indian Sanitation Conference in October 2016.
This stepwell was constructed during the rule of the Chalukya dynasty. It is believed that it was built in memory of Bhima I (1022-1064AD) by his widowed queen Udayamati and probably completed by Udayamati and Karna after his death. The stepwell was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late 1980s.
Rani-ki-Vav was built in the Maru-Gurjara architectural style. This well measures approximately 64 m long, 20 m wide and 27 m deep. It consists of many pillared pavilions at seven different levels. Minute and exquisite carvings adorn the walls of the well. Most of the sculptures are in devotion to Vishnu depicted in his ten incarnations. It also depicts Nagkanya, Yogini and Apsaras. Apsaras are depicted in 16 different style of make-up to look more attractive which is called Solah-shringar.
This stepwell was not merely a site for collecting water and socialising, but also hold great spiritual significance. It explicit the ancient concept of the sanctity of water and they considered it as an inverted temple. There are around 800 elaborate sculptures among seven galleries. At the bottom level there is a carving of Vishnu reclines on the thousand-hooded serpent. There is also a small gate below the last step of the step well, with a 30km tunnel (currently blocked by stones and mud), which leads to the town of Sidhpur near Patan. It was used as an escape gateway for the king, in times of defeat.
Rani-ki-Vav is situated in an earthquake prone area and due to this Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has put it on high alert regarding the risk preparedness and disaster management. Only the top 2 levels of the well are accessible to the visitors and the rest of the areas are out of bound to the visitors.
A visit to Ahmedabad will be incomplete without a visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, one of the residences of Gandhiji (Mohandas Karamchand Ghandhi) on the banks of Sabarmati River. He stayed at the ashram from 1915 to 1933. The ashram is a witness to many important historical events connected with the Independence movement of India.
The Ashram was originally established at the Kocharab Bungalow of Jivanlal Desai, a barrister and friend of Gandhiji, on 25 May 1915. At that time the ashram was called the Satyagrah Ashram. But Gandhiji wanted to carry out various activities such as farming and animal husbandry in addition to other pursuits which called for the need for much larger area of useable land. So 2 years later, the ashram was relocated to an area of thirty six acres on the banks of the river Sabarmati, and came to be known as Sabarmati Ashram.
When you enter the ashram, the first thing, which attract your attention is the ‘three wise monkeys’. “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.
The ashram now has a museum, the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalya, built in 1963 and designed by the architect Charles Correa. The museum was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru on 10 May 1963. The museum contains a vast collection of manuscripts of Gandhiji’s writings during his stay here. It holds many photographs and other artefacts connected with the life and works of Gandhiji.
The main attraction of the ashram is Gandhiji’s own cottage which is known as “Hriday Kunj”. Here visitors can see the things which Gandhiji used – a writing desk, a khadi kurta, a yarn spun by him etc.
Another important structure in the ashram is Vinoba Kutir. This cottage is named after Acharya Vinoba Bhave who stayed here. It is also known as Mira Kutir after Miraben (Madeleine Slade, daughter of British Rear Admiral Sir Edmond Slade) who later lived there following Gandhiji’s principles.
On the right hand side of ‘Hridaya Kunj’ is ‘Nandini’, the Ashram guest house, where guests from India and abroad are put up. Many well known personalities like Reginald Reynolds, Deenbandhu Andrews, Henry Polak, Kallenbach, Dharmanand Kosambi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Badshah Khan and Rajaji stayed here.
It was from the Sabarmati ashram that on 12 March 1930, Gandhiji marched to Dandi, 241 miles from the ashram, with 78 companions to protest the British salt law, which increased the taxes on Indian salt in an effort to promote sales of British salt in India. This mass civil disobedience in turn led to the jailing of some 60,000 freedom fighters by the British Raj over the following weeks. Subsequently the ashram was seized by the government. Gandhiji later asked the government to give it back but they refused to do so. On 22nd July 1933, Gandhiji disbanded the ashram, which then became a deserted place after the detention of so many. On 12th March 1930 Gandhiji had vowed that he would not return to the ashram until India had gained independence. Although India was declared a free nation on 15th August 1947, Gandhiji was assassinated on 30th January 1948.
This much neglected but aesthetically built vav or stepwell is situated in Asarwa area of Ahmedabad city. When it was built in 1500 AD, Asarwa was a village by itself, which has now become an area of the city of Ahmedabad. The stepwell was built by Dhai Harir, a household lady of Sultan Mahmud Begada. She was believed to be the superintendent of the royal harem. Behind the stepwell is the mosque and a tomb built by Dhai Harir, where she was buried.
Built in sandstone this octagonal stepwell is five stories deep. Each floor is built on intricately carved large numbers of pillars and spacious enough for people to congregate. There are air and light vents in the roofs at various floors. From the first storey level, three staircases lead to the bottom level of the well. At the level of the ground, it is 190 feet long by forty feet wide. At the east end, from a domed canopy, a descent of few steps leads to a covered gallery. Built along a east west axis, the entrance is from the east and the two spiral staircases in the west. These spiral staircases are now closed.
The air and light vents in the roofs at various floors and at the landing level are in the form of large openings. From the first story level, three staircases lead to the bottom water level of the well, which is considered a unique feature. The top part of the well is vertical and opened to sky. The carvings of flowers and symbols of Islamic, Hindu and Jain gods are carved at various levels of the well.
The first gallery of the well bears two inscriptions, one in Sanskrit and one in Arabic. As per these inscriptions, the well was constructed in 1500 AD during the reign of Mahmud Shah by Dhai Harir Sultani. The name later corrupted into Dada Hari.
Behind the stepwell is the 16th century mosque built on a platform. The mosque is a 5 domed structure with 2 minarets (which collapsed long ago). The mausoleum contains the tomb of Dhai Harir Sultani. The tomb is beautiful structure with stone carved lattice windows.
Mata Bhavani’s well
This is another stepwell which is located about 200m north of Dada Hari’s. This well is several hundred years older and is used as a Hindu temple now.