Finally I reached The House of MG, the starting point of my heritage walk. The House turns out to be a heritage property converted into a contemporary hotel. MG is Mangaldas Girdhardas, a 20th century leading businessman and philanthropist who started his career as a storekeeper in a textile mill and from there built an empire mills and other related businesses. I collected my walkman/audio-guide and headphones from the front desk and set forth with all the confidence of Amelia Earhart.
The first location was very easy to find, since it was right across the road.It is said that the Nawab of Junagad once went to Africa and there he fell in love with a woman. He married her and brought her back, along with thousands of slaves.Eventually a number of them rose to positions of power and influence in the 16th century. One of them, Shaik Said al-Habshi Sultani built this mosque, which is now known by his name. The Sidi Saiyad Mosque is famous for its magnificent, delicate stone carving of the ‘tree of life’ motif jali, or lattice-work.
I walked round this lovely building and finally spot the pink facade of the The Ahmedabad Electricity Company – or AEC Tower Art Deco building. I followed the audio instructions and started walking towards Bhadra Fort. A few wrong turns later I found myself at the street market that has sprawled along the external wall of the fort. It is believed the fort adopted the name Bhadra after a temple dedicated to Bhadra Kali housed inside.It is also said that the place called the Bhadra after an ancient Rajput citadel of that name at Anhilwada-Patan (Baroda State), which the first three kings of Sultans of Gujarat had held before Ahmedabad became the capital. Sarsenapati Umabaisaheb Khanderao Dabhade the only woman Commander-in-Chief of the Marathas fought a war and defeated Mughal Sardar Joravar Khan Babi at this very fort! The audio instructions were confusing and there are no big boards or prominent plaques to indicate historical structures. I walked out of another exit, somehow made a circle and found myself back at the fort.
I had started getting a bit of unwanted attention. A tiny girl, with a big camera and a walkman, looking around confusedly , walking in circles – what else could I expect! I made another brave attempt to find my way. Soon I realized that I was not seeing things in the order listed on the audio, but there were all there. I was not lost, I was just finding a different way.The day is hot and the ice cold nimbu sherbet I had from a street cart only made me thirstier. I finally spotted the statue of Sri Chinubhai M. Ranchodlal, the first Baronet of city, the man who introduced pipes to carry water to each home and also laid gutter lines in the city, only that the green oasis supposed to be surrounding it is now a mass of broken concrete pavement, cordoned off for safety. After this, I was back on track with the audio guide. We walked to Teen Darvaja.During the reign of Badshah Ahmad Shah, these gates would close at sunset and open only at the next day at sunrise. The story here is that once, Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth, entered the city and by the time she wanted to leave, the sun had set and the gates had closed. The *kotwal at the gate, Khwaja Siddique begged her not to leave fort until he obtained permission from the king. The Goddess obliged. He then went to the king and beheaded himself. People say that from then till now Goddess is waiting for the kotwal and his sacrifice has ensured that prosperity would never leave the city of Ahmadabad. Adding to the lore, there is a lamp at Teen Darwaza that has been kept burning continuously for more than six hundred years (by a Muslim family).
I made my way through the market at reached the Jami Masjid just in time for evening prayers. I took my shoes off at the entrance and went in. It is only when I stepped in that I had never been inside a functional mosque at prayer time before. The last time I went inside a functional mosque was last year in Srinagar, but there was no one else there except us and our guides. For a few seconds I was intimidated, but no one said a thing. I don’t think anyone even noticed me and my camera. They just went about their ablutions and prayers in the most routine fashion and slowly my confidence returned. When I switched my audio guide back on, it said I was to leave from a different exit. Problem – shoes? I simply picked them up in my hand and walked across the courtyard like I saw some others do. When I got out, I put them back on. At the back were goats, and little boys playing cricket, and also the tombs of Badshah Ahmed Shah and his queens. I somehow spotted the Old Stock Exchange. The audio-guide took me inside Mangaldas Market. Colourful traditional outfits and dry fruits and spices galore, this bustling market seemed to be the perfect place to do some gift shopping,except I had no time for that. I still had a few more points to cover on my walk and the day was rapidly coming to an end.
I followed my audio guide into muhurat pol or the first pol. A pol is a housing cluster which comprises many families. A typical pol has one main street, with crooked lanes branching on either side, and only one or two entrances( with sometimes secret entrances known only to residents). These entrances are closed at night to safeguard against thieves. The facades and brackets of the wood and brick havelis are decorated with richly carved wood ornaments. I walked through the first pol and reached a Jain temple.This meant I was close to the second pol, and sure enough, a few steps later I was at its gate. I backtracked, vainly looking for Harkunvar Shethani’s haveli. Unable to find it, I decided to explore the Jain temple instead. By now my throat was parched, so I entered a shop and requested the shopkeeper for some water and gulped it down in great big swallows. From the Jain temple, I followed the audio guide down some stairs and up some stairs and found myself totally lost. Just as I was about to give up and skip the rest of the walk, I miraculously found myself back in the pols.
As I went up and down the pol now looking for Bholanath Divetia’s haveli, I saw a small plaque by a richly carved house that I must have walked past twice. This turned out to be Harkunvar Shethani’s haveli – the house I was looking for earlier. Harkunvar Shethani was the wife of a noted wealthy merchant, Seth Hatheesing Kesarisingh. She was a religious lady, and a philanthropist and social reformer in her own right. Way back in 1850 AD when talks of women’s education still raised eyebrows, she built Maganlal Karamchand Girl’s School, the first institution of its kind in Ahmedabad. Her house is an outstanding example of architecture and wood carving. Bholanath Sarabhai Divetia, on the other hand was Gujarati poet and religious reformer.He was born in orthodox Hindu family and believed in idol worship but adopted belief in formless god. He founded Prarthnasamaj and Dharmasabha for religious reform.
I continued down the narrow path dotted with old havelis and possibly past Bholanath Divetia’s haveli and reached a cul-de-sac of small modern buildings. The old women, enjoying their evening gossip were quite surprised to suddenly find a stranger in their midst. A young girl however correctly informed them that I was probably on the heritage walk. I confirmed this.
I chatted a bit, said my goodbyes and hurried on. Not having the time or the inclination to walk back, I took an autorickshaw back to The House of MG.