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Places to See in and around Ahmedabad - Part I
Ahmedabad is a thriving, modern, and yet conservative city that is going to be the 7th 'metro' city in India (population above 5,000,000). It has a number of places that are worth visiting; maybe as a tourist, or as a person interested in arts, architecture, history or nature. There are too many places and it would thus not be possible to list them all in one article and yet do justice to their beauty and appeal. So I have decided to break up this article in to small manageable parts. So, without much ado, let me know start with Part I, where-in the number 1 and number 2 place on my list are included. The list containing 10 places will run in five parts.
“God is Truth. The way to truth lies through Ahimsa (non violence)”
– M K Gandhi, Sabarmati, 13 Mar 1927
No visit to Ahmedabad can be complete without visiting the premises where Gandhiji – the ‘father of the nation’ once lived. Gandhiji lived at this ashram, variously called as Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi Ashram or Satyagraha Ashram, from 1917 to 1930. The Ashram is so called because of its location on River Sabarmati; the persona of Gandhiji; and the struggle undertaken which signified ‘insistence on truth’. It was from here that Gandhiji directed the country’s non violent struggle against British rule. This ashram now serves as a memorial to the life of the most inspiring leader of the 20th century; a leader who could inspire the mostly illiterate masses of India to a successful non violent struggle to achieve independence from British rule. Sabarmati Ashram has now turned into a pilgrimage centre, to pay homage to the Mahatma.
The Ashram was built in 1917, after Gandhiji was forced the leave the previous ashram at Kochrab due to the spread of plague in Ahmedabad that year. This ashram land was far from the city on the banks of river Sabarmati, where dwellings were gradually built to house the ashram residents. The ashram was run on spiritual and moral values, and Gandhiji hoped that it would serve as an example of peaceful co-existence to the Indian society. He learnt spinning the ‘Charkha’ (spinning wheel) and weaving the ‘khadi’ (coarse homespun cotton cloth). The aim was to orient the Indian people to a new way of thinking. “The main object of the ashram was to qualify for and make a constant endeavour towards national service. Prayer formed an important part of the ashram life and other conditions for the inmates included self-help, belief in humanity, respect for all religions, and eradication of practice of harassment of people on caste basis and treating them as untouchables”.
The charkha, and the untouchability campaign started by Gandhiji helped bring the majority of the deprived masses of India into the national mainstream; a pre-requisite to continue with the mass non violent struggle for independence. Gandhiji published his famous autobiography, “Story of My Experiments with Truth” in 1927.
The Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi
The ashram now houses the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya (Gandhi Memorial Museum); a small museum that includes “excellent pictorial and written documentation, a library of Gandhian literature and paintings, and an immense archive of letters written by Gandhiji, every single one on the back of used paper”. The ashram grounds also include Hriday kunj, which was Gandhiji’s sparse residential/ living quarters during his stay at the ashram. Hriday kunj has been left untouched to serve as an exhibit. It contains Gandhiji's eye glasses, the charkha, and other articles of personal use, including his very basic kitchen utensils. The ashram also has the prayer ground, an area where prayers were conducted during Gandhiji’s stay at the ashram. The peace is palpable in the ashram and the ashram is home to a number of birds, chameleons, and squirrels. There is another small building on the ashram premises that houses the two room quarters known as Vinoba/ Mira kutir (kutir is hut), named after the two great souls that stayed in them, during their time at the ashram. Vinoba Bhave was a disciple of Gandhiji, and a social reformer. Mirabahen, was also Gandhiji's disciple, and was the daughter of a British Admiral.
Gandhiji left the ashram on 12 Mar 1930 on a ‘padyatra’ (literally - walking journey; actually a protest march in this case), along with 79 of his selected followers, vowing that he would not return to Sabarmati, until India achieved independence. This yatra was in protest against the ‘salt tax’ levied by the British government, which symbolized British exploitation of even the poorest people of India. Salt was used in everyday cooking, even by the poorest in India. The British government had made it illegal to own salt not sold or produced by the British government, in order to make a profit on all salt sold in India. This march was the famous ‘Dandi march’, which united the country against the unfair government. Gandhi was no longer referred to as Mohandas, but as Mahatma, or ‘Great Soul.’ Gandhiji could never return to the ashram after India’s independence on 15 Aug 1947 as Gandhiji was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on 30 Jan 1948.
The Sabarmati ashram stands as a reminder of Gandhiji; the man, the mahatma, the father of the nation; of his life; of his thoughts; his message; and of his unselfish service to the nation and to mankind as a whole.
Adalaj ni Vav (Adalaj Stepwell)
In case one is interested in heritage sites then another place worth seeing around Ahmedabad is Adalaj ni vav. It is located about 18 kms from Ahmedabad; 5 kms from Gandhinagar, in village Adalaj of Gandhinagar district. This ‘vav’ or stepwell is an architectural delight that was built in the year 1499 AD by Mohammed Begda for Rani Rudabai, the wife of Veer Singh, the Vaghela chieftain. Legend has it that Veer Singh had commenced construction of this stepwell in 1498 AD, and was killed in a battle with Mohammed Begda, the Muslim king of the nearby state. The well was not yet complete. Mohammed Begda was besotten by the queen’s beauty and wanted to marry her. Rani Rudabai agreed to consider his proposal to marry him on the condition that he would complete the construction of the stepwell that her late husband had initiated. Mohammed Begda agreed to the condition and completed the well in 1499. The Rani instead of marrying him thereafter, jumped into the well and committed ‘sati’.
This intricately carved stepwell is five stories deep; built in sandstone and is in the Indo-Islamic architectural style. The Islamic floral patterns are seen side by side with the Hindu and Jain symbols, clearly embodying the culture and ethos of those times. The stepwell is octagonal (8-sided polygon), built on a large number of intricately carved pillars. A look at the photographs would be able to convince any one of the intricacy of these hand crafted pillars. This well, like the other stepwells, were also venues for daily social interactions, colourful festivals and sacred rituals. Each floor is thus constructed to be spacious enough so as to provide for people to congregate. It was dug deep to access ground water at that level, accounting for seasonal fluctuations in water level due to rainfall over the year. Such step wells were once integral to the semi arid regions of Gujarat as they provided basic water needs for drinking, washing and bathing. While many such structures are utilitarian in construction, Adalaj ni vav includes significant architectural patterns that are a delight for the tourists. In the past, these stepwells are known to have been frequented by travelers and caravans as stopovers along trade routes.
This step well structure is laid out in the north-south direction with the well in the north and the entrance in the south. The intention probably was to prevent the sun’s rays from directly entering the steps and the well, in this semi arid region, in those days when air conditioning was not available. The Adalaj ni vav has three entrance stairs leading to the stepped corridor. These three entrances meet in the first storey below ground, in a huge square platform. As you step down each storey you will see some of the most beautifully crafted flower motifs, elephants, peacocks and fishes adorning the walls reminding one of the carved temples of ancient India. There are large openings in the roof at various floors that serve as air and light vents such that the sun falls on the stairs only briefly at around noon. This ensures that the temperature in the stepwell is well below the surface temperature. Some researchers say that the temperature inside the well is about six degrees cooler than the outside. Enjoy the architecture in the photographs below.
There's More in Ahmedabad
Part II of the article on "Places to See in and around Ahmedabad" is continued at http://jatinderjoshi.hubpages.com/hub/Places-to-See-in-and-around-Ahmedabad-Part-II