beyond the unesco sites: what not to miss in ahmedabad

You have finished exploring the UNESCO-designated historic city of Ahmedabad. And combed through the sites to its north [Modhera, Patan and Sidhpur] and south [Lothal and Utelia] spanning a few millennia each in time. What now? Is there more?

There is in fact lots more, but if one had to pare it down to the absolute unmissable, what would that be? The one museum not to give a miss. The one restaurant where not eating at would be sacrilege. This post is about that—about the unmissables. Luckily, I was guided by friends who have lived in and loved Ahmedabad, with all its quirks and treasures. This is what they insisted I experience. Paying it forward, these are the top five experiences I insist you too have whilst in the city. 😊

1. The unmissable centre of Gandhian philosophy: Sabarmati Ashram

“This is the right place for our activities to carry on the search for truth and develop fearlessness, for on one side are the iron bolts of the foreigners, and on the other the thunderbolts of Mother Nature.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi, 17 June, 1917, Sabarmati Ashram

There are many sights dotted around India and South Africa related to Mahatma Gandhi’s remarkable life. His Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati River, hemmed in by a jail and a crematorium, and where Gandhi spent 12 years of his life together with his wife Kasturba Gandhi is unanimously agreed to be the quintessence of his life and philosophy.

It is from here that he led the Dandi March, also referred to as the Salt Satyagraha on 12 March, 1930. It is here that he experimented on spinning and weaving, and where khadi came to symbolise a way of thought. Don’t miss: A stroll around his cottage, hriday kunj, at sunrise, and a shot at a charkha [spinning wheel]. Guaranteed to make you feel reflective about non-violent resistance.

2. The unmissable museum on Indian textiles and artifacts: Calico Museum

[image courtesy: Calico Museum]
If there is only one museum you have time for in Ahmedabad, let it be the Calico Museum and the Sarabhai Foundation Collections. One of its kind in the country, it pays homage to India’s rich tradition of textiles and objets d’art, albeit in a unique format. The displays are lightweight, modular, and flexible. They stay close to the viewer sans any barriers, allowing one to walk right around them.

Set up by the textile baron Gautam Sarabhai in 1949 on the prodding of art historian Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy, the museum is housed in the palatial Sarabhai-ni-Haveli suitably called “The Retreat.”

Visits are by appointment. Shoes and photography are both not allowed. The lights inside are dimmed to ensure minimal UV damage. Only 20 visitors are allowed in at a time to be regaled with insights and stories of its treasures by a museum guide, passionate and deeply knowledgeable about the collection.

3. The unmissable Louis Kahn architectural masterpiece: IIM Ahmedabad

IIM-Ahmedabad is no stranger to visitors eager to be bowled over by Louis Kahn’s most celebrated architectural masterpiece. They even have a site map outlining where one can wander, and where it would be deemed trespassing. That not many take advantage of this ease of access is another matter.

An American architect and professor based in Philadelphia, Kahn, one of 20th Century’s most influential architects, created a style that was uniquely his—monumental and monolithic, yet meticulously built. In IIM-Ahmedabad, his style reached its high-point.

There are two campuses in the Institute. The original red brick ensemble built by Kahn in 1974, and the new campus which follows Kahn’s style, in grey concrete by HCP Design in 2009. Don’t miss: A moment or two of cloud-gazing, sprawled on its immaculate green lawns.

4. The unmissable trysts with the Sabarmati River: A walk down the waterfront

The history of Ahmedabad and the River Sabarmati have been entwined since 1411 AD when Sultan Ahmed Shah decided to build his capital city on its fertile banks. Somewhere down the line the relationship got side-lined. There were more important things on Ahmedabad’s agenda: urbanisation and industrialisation. A common plight in modern times. But one, the city chose to recognise and fix.

Launched in 2005, the ongoing Sabarmati Riverfront project is sprucing up 11 kilometres on both the banks, turning them into world-class public spaces dotted with parks, promenades, markets, cafes, and cultural and recreational facilities. Don’t miss: A walk down the riverfront at night. It is a whiff of delightful, neon-coloured fresh air in an otherwise chaotic, smog-enveloped city.

5. The unmissable street food of Ahmedabad: Where else, but at Swati Snacks

Aah, the joys of travel. To be able to mix and match experiences out-of-the-ordinary, far removed from everyday life!

For a foodie, Swati Snacks is the very embodiment of paradise. For a non-foodie like me, well, it is well-qualified to turn me into one! Situated in the lively Law Garden district, it offers a lip-smacking array of embellished street food and authentic Gujarati meals. I had the sev puri [see above picture] and a tall glass of limbu pani. Check out their menu here. They have a line-up to appease all kinds of tastes.

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Have you been to any of Ahmedabad’s above treasures? What did you like most about them? More importantly, do you agree with the list? Look forward to hearing from you. ❤

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