Unusually I met up with my guide at 10.30 at night, I had just finished a delicious Gujarati dinner at M.G. Haveli in the heart of Ahmedabad, and was about to set off on a guided night walk of the narrow alleys and hidden passage ways that make up the old city. Set up by Mr Mangaldas, the owner of the House of M.G., to promote the virtually unknown heritage of the city, the walks are led by volunteers who all have a passion for history. Armed with a bunch of keys and a couple of torches we set off.

With over 15000 registered heritage buildings the area has the highest concentration of protected buildings in India. Most are privately owned havelis or merchant houses ranging in age from 100 to over 400 years old. Gujarat is famous for it’s excellent wood carvings and the buildings are testament to this reputation. Columns, brackets, lintels, shutters, balconies and any other available square inch, are all subjected to rigorous transformation. Flowers, animals, people, religious icons cover the frontage of thousands of these wonderful houses. My guide leads me through winding lanes and secret passages explaining the history and purpose of each area. The city is split into minute ghettos, each providing a haven for a distinct sub caste, bound together by religion, employment and thousands of years of subjugation. Gates with night watchmen quarters above divided the areas and were closed after dark.

Today the streets are quiet at night but the gates are left open. As we slip through the night we stop at some of the more impressive buildings. We have keys to enter several and they are no less ornate inside. The biggest surprise comes when we arrive at a junction manned by a posse of cows, behind them a square is floodlit and packed with locals dinning alfresco. Delicious smells fill the air and the excitable crowd are equally surprised to see us. They welcome us to try some pani puri, sweet and salty with a spicy kick, tasty but impossible to eat without dribbling! Hence the cows and pie dogs are out in force sweeping up the discarded remnants.

Finally we pass all the stands and head off down another alley that emerges at a vast mausoleum, pictured above. The graves of Ahmedabad’s erstwhile rulers are revered and during the day hundreds of people flock to the site to seek their blessings. At night it’s deserted, everything is silent but the candles still burn brightly over the tombs. It feels strangely like a private audience as we walk clockwise around the silk covered caskets.

Ahmedabad’s Hidden Heritage

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