Jali window at Sidi Sayid Mosque
My first QuickTrip is actually pretty far afield: Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat. We headed to Ahmedabad last weekend not because it was a logical destination for a QuickTrip (rather, I think it’s better as part of an extended Gujarat trip, since any travel in Gujarat likely passes through Ahmedabad), but because a friend of ours from New York happened to be in town visiting family during a festival, and we wanted to take the trip down to see her and to experience the festival. Uttarayan, a holiday also known as Mahar Sakranti and celebrated in Ahmedabad as a kite festival, takes place from January 13-15 or so, and is an excellent time to visit Ahmedabad. However, the city has more than enough to merit a visit even outside of those dates: beautiful, impressive and distinct architecture; a lively old city that is a mix of different religious/cultural groups; and of course the distinct and tasty cuisine, available at a good selection of restaurants. Oh, by the way, you should know that Ahmedabad is not pronounced Ahmed-a-bad, but rather Ahm’dabad (three syllables).
To get from Delhi to Ahmedabad we took an overnight train, the Rajdhani, which departs New Delhi Railway Station at 7:55 PM and arrives at Ahmedabad Junction at 9:35 AM. As those of you familiar with Indian trains may be aware, the Rajdhani is the fanciest big category of overnight trains, and the timeliness and maintenance of the cars is kept to a fairly high standard. Meals are also included in the slightly premium fares. In order to be well-rested for work on Monday, I flew back, on an Indigo flight departing Ahmedabad at 7:50 PM and arriving in Delhi at 9:20 PM. In Ahmedabad we stayed at the Hotel Volga, which cost around 1000 rupees. Those looking for fancier digs should consider the House of MG, a heritage property located in an old mansion, that is upward of $100 or so and also in a prime downtown location. Memorable meals included Agashiye, the Gujarati thali restaurant on the roof of the House of MG, and Gopi Dining Hall, a more affordable restaurant that also did a very good Gujarati thali.
Gujarati thali at House of MG
We spent our first day seeing the major historical sites of the town. Our first stop was the “shaking minarets” of Sidi Bashir Mosque, which is just south of the railway station (a 5-10 minute walk). The mosque is not impressive in size, but it is quite old (built 1452) and represents an unusual style of mosque. Then, before we even checked into our hotel, we went to the Dada Hari Vav, an amazing stepwell not too far from the railway station. This is a pretty astonishing example of a Gujarati stepwell, though I understand that there are a few that are even more amazing in the state. We also saw a second stepwell nearby–while the walk was interesting, the well itself was nowhere near the Dada Hari.
After checking into our hotel, we walked from the Sidi Sayid Mosque to the Friday Mosque, which takes in much of the historical core of the city. Sidi Sayid’s Mosque, known in town simply as “jali” for its famous jail windows, and located just across the street from House of MG and also near the Hotel Volga. A walk from there toward the Friday Mosque takes you through the most colorful parts of the city, which also happens to be a largely Muslim area. We strongly recommend seeing this area during both the day and the night, as nighttime brings a different atmosphere, especially around the market areas. Near the central Teen Darwaja is the Bahdra Fort, which is somewhat ruined but the roof of which provides interesting exploration for a good half hour.
The Friday Mosque, dating from 1423, is easily one of the most beautiful in India, and interestingly different from the red Mughal creations further north (though the carved pillars are similar to the also reused Jain pillars at the Qutb Minar). The area just south of the mosque is an interesting market area. For a quirky and interesting view of the mosque, take the (scary/decrepit) cast iron spiral staircase in the back of the fruit market up to the roof.
On the second day, following the recommendation of our friend, we took the government walking tour, starting from the Swaminarayan Temple. We recommend the tour, which takes you not through the city’s major sites (which we covered on the first day), but through the city’s fascinating “pols,” or neighborhoods. The House of MG also organizes walking tours, which I imagine are good.
After spending part of the afternoon revisiting some of the sites from the previous day, I taxied to the airport for my flight, while Derek stayed behind to take kite festival pictures.