Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Old City, Ahmedabad

Ahmedabad's old city is pitching for a World Heritage City status has been in the news for a while, so while in Ahmedabad (my home town too!), i thought of going to one of these Heritage Night Walks that are organised by Mangaldas ni haveli, situated at the Lakha Patel ni Pol (Pol: a residential community in the old city of Ahmedabad) (for more details).

route map of the heritage night walk

The walk as an after dinner affair which starts from the haveli, a heritage complex that belongs to the Mangaldas Family. Ahmedabad has an approximate three organised/guided tours/walks of the old (then Walled) city. It is a great tour specially the one in the early morning which starts at the First Swaminarayan Temple of the country, a beautiful example of Indian Vernacular Architecture.

These walks i feel are/should be more for the citizens of Ahmedabad (specially the ones who have not known the glory of the old city), than for the visitors. It reflects a culture, a living one that too. The lanes, bylanes, understanding the Architecture, the reason for sewage/drainage as it were planned, become important nodes of understanding ones city. More than a need for the citizens of Ahmedabad to know about their past culture, its the kids/young who show more interest in conserving this living heritage (600 years, since Ahmedabad's foundation). 

For me personally these walks just give a glimpse of a treasure that is still hidden in these immense narrow lane of a city that is always awake! Also what is very strange is that none of these cultures in any format travelled across the bridge when the new city got developed. The new city came to be a complete new settlement where cultures traversed through, without the built form, to make a new culture without its old distinct character . This serves as a case study for me to understand how living cultures are conserved across cities. Starting with Ahmedabad as it did justice to the idea that i belong here!

Comparing the same with Mumbai, we see same nodes of urban development while expanding the city limits. One can say that this holds true to any city developing further, but there is a difference. In Ahmedabad, old city is not known as the down town, its FSI is high just owing to the heritage aspect. But as a living a migrant does not prefer to shift there. It has just become this model old town where the young/old/kids just like to visit to get a flavor of how things were, but after that they would want to get back to the comforts of their houses in the new town. While for Mumbai everything is the old town/down town. Thats the starting node of the city! Well, one can surely argue at this point though and it can formulate in an other post altogether.

Coming to Heritage walks and a culture that is starting and grabbing Ahmedabad, specially today when it is pitching for a World Heritage Status. The sad point is that the AMC has given the walled city (which  is huge) a heritage precinct status, but there has been no identification (atleast to my knowledge) of individual heritage complexes around this vicinity. Hence it gets difficult to perceive the entire old city as heritage because there are no reference points to compare to. Also owing to the urban development out there, it is difficult to mark these territories.

the start point of the walk at the Mangaldas ni Haveli

while walking!

the guided tour in progress

The guided tour starts post dinner from this beautifully carved haveli, and moves on to the various pols,
community squares, temples (no entrance allowed in the night), small lanes and secret passageways used by the army in the past to escape an invasion, intricately carved havelis, the first flyover of the city, old stock exchange, ending at the Badshah no hajiro (tomb of King Ahmedshah, after which the city has been named). It indeed is exciting, but what is missed is the details. 
The Walk has been designed post dinner, and that needs to be considered. Also the aim should have been to take people around with the concept of a after dinner stroll, coming across the native streets. 
Details like the Architecture, town planning etc, went completely missing. It just felt as it was one of the commercial/tourist oriented walk, which i felt seldom spoke of a living heritage except for a comment here and there. The only relevant aspect considering its a night walk was manek chowk (a square which lives in the night and a major street food zone) and the naubat vadak/nagarsi (drum beaters) right across the tomb who have been playing drums since 600 years at the time when the 12 gates of the old city used to close. Only one family plays that now, they are right across the tomb of the King, and they play at sharp 11 PM, as a salute to the King.
These interesting stories make this place a living heritage

the naubat vadak playing the ngadas

the view of the Kings tomb from their house

It has been a very interesting case to study and iterate on, while even i think of planning a walk through Ranwar. More of such iterations and case studies shall come up soon!

some other images from the walk:

Cya soon again!


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