Central Gujarat is the Gujarati heartland. All the districts in this area share a common culture with no variations in dialect. Important cities in this area include Gujarat’s commercial capital of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, it’s milk capital of Anand, Chhota Udaipur, Dahod, Kheda, Mahisagar, Panchmahal, Nadiad and Mehsana. Let’s start with Ahmedabad, the biggest city in Gujarat.
The largest city and former capital of the state, Ahmedabad was previously part of the Bombay Presidency. This city is the fifth most populous city in India and the encompassing urban agglomeration is the seventh-most populous in India. Ahmedabad is located on the banks of the Sabarmati River, 23 km from the state capital Gandhinagar, which is its twin city, but Gandhinagar does not fall under central Gujarat, instead it is counted as a north Gujarat city. Ahmedabad is the second-largest producer of cotton in India, and its stock exchange is the country’s second oldest.
The area around Ahmedabad has been inhabited since the 11th century, when it was known as Ashaval. Ahmedabad is named after the grandson of Muzzafar Shah I, Sultan Ahmed Shah who founded the Muzzaffarid dynasty in early 15th century. Ahmed Shah I laid the foundation of the city on 26 February 1411 and chose it as the new capital on 4 March 1411. During the period of Maratha Empire governance, the city became the centre of a conflict between the Peshwa of Poona and the Gaekwad of Baroda but the the British East India Company took over the city in 1818 during the Third Anglo-Maratha War. A military cantonment was established in 1824 and a municipal government in 1858 and this city which became one of the most important cities in the Gujarat region became a part of the Bombay Presidency. In 1864, a railway link between Ahmedabad and Bombay was established by the Bombay, Baroda, and Central India Railway or BB&CI, enabling traffic and trade between northern and southern India via the city. Over time, the city established itself as the home of a developing textile industry, which earned it the nickname “Manchester of the East”.
The Indian independence movement developed roots in the city when Mahatma Gandhi established two ashrams – the Kochrab Ashram near Paldi in 1915 and the Satyagraha Ashram which is now called the Sabarmati Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati in 1917 – which would become centres of nationalist activities. In 1930, Gandhi initiated the Salt Satyagraha from Ahmedabad by embarking from his ashram on the Dandi Salt March. Following independence and the partition of India in 1947, the city was scarred by the intense communal violence that broke out between Hindus and Muslims. In 1947, Ahmedabad was the focus for settlement by Hindu migrants from Pakistan, who expanded the city’s population and transformed its demographics and economy.
Early in Ahmedabad’s history, under Ahmed Shah, builders fused Hindu craftsmanship with Persian architecture which gave rise to the Indo-Saracenic style seen in many of the heritage structures in the city.
Ahmedabad is synonymous with the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi and no visit to Ahmedabad can be complete without a visit to Sabarmati Ashram. Once the residence of Gandhiji and his wife Kasturba, this ashram is located on a tranquil and serene stretch of Sabarmati river. It is commonly believed that Mahatma Gandhi chose this site for it is located between a prison and a cemetery and a Satyagrahi is likely to end up in one of these. In gratitude of the substantial impact Dandi march had on the Indian independence movement, the Indian government has recognised the Sabarmati Ashram as a national monument. While visiting the Ashram, don’t forget to stop by the Upasana Mandir, Magan Niwas, Hriday Kunj, Udyog Mandir and Nandini. The Ashram Museum, Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, includes an art gallery, a library, and the archives, tells you a lot about Gandhi, his family, his ways, revolutionary movements as well as some of Gandhi’s personal letters and photographs which are on display. The ashram is open daily from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm and entry is free.
Ahmedabad is also well known for its temples and mosques. The Swaminarayan temple is a shrine dedicated to Narayan Dev built in 1822 on the instructions of Swaminarayan, who was the founder of the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism. Embellished with vivid colours and intricate carvings, the temple is a marvellous example of the architecture of the nineteenth century. Beautifully carved out of Burma teak wood, the intricate detailing in the carvings of this temple makes it an engineering masterpiece. The temple is open from 6 am to 7 pm, seven days of the week and entry is free.
Established in 1848, the Hutheesing Jain Temple is is dedicated to Dharmanath, the 15th Tirthankara of Jains, and is among the finest Jain temples in Gujarat. This two-storied elegant white marble structure is home to 11 deity sculptures. The courtyard, is bordered by a row of pergolas that has 52 shrines where each shrine exhibits remarkable designs and intricate carvings. The temple was christened after Sri Hathee Singh and it was made in the same architectural patterns of the Dilwara Jain Temples of Rajasthan.
Popularly known as Sidi Saiyyed Ni Jaali, the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque was built in the year 1573 and is among the last few mosques that were built under the Gujarat Sultanate and was completed in the last year of their reign before the Mughals invaded Gujarat and defeated them. The construction of this fantastic mosque is credited to Sidi Saiyyed in the retinue of Bilal Jhajar Khan, the general in the army of the last Sultan, Shams-Ud-Din Muzaffar Shah III, of the Gujarat Sultanate. The mosque is especially famous for its beautiful ten stone latticework windows, also known as Jalis, on the side and rear arches. The stone slabs are carved in the designs of intertwined trees and foliage with a palm motif. The mosque is now under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The mosque is open from 7 am to 6 pm and there is no entry fee.
The Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad is one of the largest mosques in India built in around 1424. A beautiful blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture styles, it was constructed with the purpose of serving as a private shrine to the Sultans and took about 13 years to finish. The mosque was built out of stones and rubble rescued from demolished Hindu and Jain temples. The Jama Masjid also houses the tombs of Ahmed Shah I, his son and his grandson followed by the graves of the queens of the king. The facade of Jama Masjid has a huge archway that welcomes you into the main complex. Made out of intricate stonework, the mosque opens into a splendid courtyard with an abulution pool right in the centre. The most striking feature of the construction is its unique meshwork in the main prayer hall, which allows enough illumination into the room without any direct sunlight. The mosque is open all days of the week between 6 am to 8 am and entry is free. Do note that during times of prayers, the doors are closed to visitors.
The Sarkhej Roza is a tomb and mosque complex is an attractive architectural complex which depicts the Islamic style during the Mughal period. This complex is also known as Ahmedabad’s Acropolis as the famous architect Le Corbusier’s compared this mosque’s design to the Acropolis of Athens. Don’t miss the Persian designs of the toms, Ganj Baksh’s Tomb and Sarkhej Lake when you are there. The tomb is open from 9 am to 6 pm with entry being free.
Also known as the Arak Fort, the 44 acre-Bhadra fort comprises of intricate carvings, latticework and frescos alongside arches and inscriptions at the entrance. Built in 1411 by Ahmed Shah I, the walls are said to have been established to protect the Gujarat Sultanate. The fort’s name is said to have come from the Bhadrakali temple installed by the Marathas. This red stone-fort located along the Sabarmati river was revamped by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and the Archaeological Survey of India in 2014. The fort comprises of a majestic palace, a lush green courtyard, and the Bhadrakali temple. Popular belief says that Goddess Lakshmi once stepped into the Bhadra Fort and blessed the Sultan that his city was to always remain wealthy and affluent. Even today it is believed that there are statshes of hidden wealth buried deep within the fort. Don’t miss the Royal Square, the Azam Khan Sarai, Clock Tower, Nagina Baugh, Maidan-e-Shah and the gardens within the fort. The fort is open from 9 am to 5 pm, all days of the week and entry to the fort is free.
Located at the eastern end of the Bhadra Fort, the Teen Darwaza holds historical significance as it used to bracket the Maidan Shahi palace. The gateway essentially opened into the fort’s Royal Square which organised games, processions and events. Besides being the city’s longest and oldest gateway, the Teen Darwaza is also featured on the emblem of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. An architectural marvel in every sense, the Teen Darwaza is made of stunning arched gates and was established in 141 A.D. by the founder of Ahmedabad city Sultan Ahmed Shah. The arch is open 24 hours of the day, seven days of the week and you don’t have to pay anything to view this magnificent structure.
Kankaria Lake is the second largest lake in Ahmedabad and was formerly known as Hauz-e-Qutub. Bulit in the 15th century, this pristine lakefront is popular among locals for an evening stroll because of the multi-coloured lights glowing all around its periphery. The lake also has a balloon safari, zoo, toy trains and an amusement park. The Kankaria carnival is usually celebrated as a week-long festival during the last week of December and is filled with many cultural, art and social activities. The lake is open from 9 am to 10 pm every day and you need to pay INR 10 for an adult and INR 5 for a child to enter the premises.
A lush green and well maintained garden, the Law Garden is frequented by locals and tourists alike. The garden is famous for its night market where one can find intricate traditional work and is a great place to buy traditional Gujarati apparel, accessories, ornaments and handicraft with traditional handiwork on them. This place is also well known for its street food and foodies will be spoilt for choice here.
The Sabarmati Riverfront is a waterfront developed on the banks of river Sabarmati. It was initiated with the objective for sustainable development and environmental improvement, but this riverfront has now become a major tourist attraction owing to its lush green promenades, beautiful parks and plazas and an all-around soothing ambience.
Also known as the Bai Harir Stepwell, the Dada Harir Vav is among the two famous stepwells in this region. The stepwell was built in 1485 by Dhai Harir, a household lady of Mahmud Begada according to the Persian inscription in the stepwell who was the superintendent of the royal harem. This octagonal stepwell designed in sandstone is a remanence of the Solanki style of architecture with intricate carvings and the stunning architecture of a bygone era. The stepwell has seven levels and is a great source of water conservation. Located right behind the grave of Dhai Harir, this unique construction showcases three stairways to the bottom of the well from the first storey. The whole structure of the Dada Harir Wav is a masterpiece of Gujarati design and intricate artistry in stone. The well bears two inscriptions, one in Sanskrit on the south, and one in Arabic on the north wall, of the first gallery. The Vav is open from 9 am to 5 pm and is free to visitors.
The Jhulta Minar or shaking minarets are among one of the most intriguing architectural wonders you can see. Originally part of the Sidi Bashir Mosque, only the central gateway and two minarets survive. The minarets are the tallest in Ahmedabad and though much damaged, especially near the foot, the stairs inside the minarets may still be used. The minarets are three stories tall with carved balconies. A gentle shaking of either minaret results in the other minaret vibrating after a few seconds, though the connecting passage between them remains free of vibration. The mechanism of this is not known, although the layered construction is thought to be a factor. The minarets are also able to withstand fast-moving trains passing close by. The minar is open from 5:30 am to 9 pm, with no entry fee, though entry was prohibited following an 1981 incident at the Qutub Minar in Delhi, when a stampede resulted in the deaths of many children. There is also damage to the upper sections.
Abbreviated as L.D Museum, the Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum, established in 1984 has Indian sculptures, bronzes, manuscripts, paintings, drawings, miniature paintings, woodwork, beadwork and ancient and contemporary coins. An outcome of the visions of Muni Punyavijayaji, an erudite monk scholar and Sheth Kasturbhai Lalbhai, the well-known industrialist of Ahmedabad, the museum is located on the premises of the L.D. Institute of Indology. All the major regional styles of the sub-continent find their place on the ground floor in Madhuri D. Desai Gallery. The museum has finest paintings in Gujarati Jaina Style, some of which are older than Mughal Period. The paintings find their place on the 1st floor of the Museum Building. In its eastern wing of the Muni Punyavijayaji Gallery, there is a section displaying the Leelavati Lalbhai Woodwork Collection. The museum houses 76,000 handwritten Jain Manuscripts, including 500 illustrated versions and 45,000 printed books, making it the largest collection of Jain scripts. The old books are written in languages such as Sanskrit, Pali, Old Gujarati, Apabhramsa, Hindi and Rajasthani. The museum is open on all days, except on Mondays and public holidays, from 10:30 am. to 5:30 pm. Entry is free in the museum.
The Calico Museum of Textile managed by the Sarabhai Foundation, is one of the oldest textile museums in the country and comprises exclusive collections of various textiles, fabrics and artefacts; rare collections of antique textiles; spectacular samples of Kashmir shawls; tie and dye fabrics; and relics from various parts of the country that makes it one of the best places for those interested in the history of fabrics and clothing. Don’t miss the exlusive collections of bronze, pichwai paintings, Jain art items, Indian miniature paintings, tribal art and handicrafts which are displayed in the museum. The museum is open from 10 am to 12:30 pm and then again from 2:45 pm to 4:30 pm every day of the week except Wednesdays with free entry into the museum.
Designed by the famous Le Corbusier, Sanskar Kendra is a city museum depicting history, art, culture and the architecture of Ahmedabad. A Patang or Kite Museum is also located next door, which includes a collection of kites, photographs, and other artifacts. Visiting this museum will give you a glimpse of the the living heritage of the city and its glorious past. Make sure you check out the photographs related to history of city, art, photography, Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian independence struggle and the various religious communities of Ahmedabad. The museum also houses the tallest incense stick of the world at 4.5 m long. Entry is free to this museum which is open on all days of the week from 10 am to 6 pm.
The Vechaar Utensils Museum is a unique and exclusive showcase depicting an centuries old antique collection of utensils and pots that have been picked from all over the country. Built in 1981, this one of a kind museum has a collection of over 4,500 exhibits and aims at preserving the evolution of Indian utensils over time. You need to pay INR 30 per adult and INR 10 for children aged 3 to 11 yearsto access the exhibits which remain open from 3 to 10:30 pm on all days except Mondays. Please note that foreigners pay more which is INR 100 per person and if you want to carry your camera or mobile phone inside, you need to pay an extra INR 100. If you plan on making videos inside the museum, it will cost you an extra INR 500 per video camera.
One of the southernmost cities of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, Lothal was located in the Bhal region in present day Gujarat and first inhabited from 3700 BC. Discovered in 1954, Lothal was excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and was said to have had the world’s earliest known dock, which connected the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati river on the trade route between Harappan cities in Sindh and the peninsula of Saurashtra when the surrounding Kutch desert of today was a part of the Arabian Sea. Lothal was a vital and thriving trade centre in ancient times, with its trade of beads, gems and valuable ornaments reaching the far corners of West Asia and Africa. The techniques and tools they pioneered for bead-making and in metallurgy have stood the test of time for over 4,000 years.
Lothal, which means “Mount of the Dead” is located near the village of Saragwala about 85 km southwest of of Ahmedabad on the banks of the ancient mythical river Saraswati which has now dried up or gone underground as it is commonly understood, the nearest cities to Lothal are Dholka and Bagodara. Adjacent to the excavated areas stands the Archaeological Museum, where some of the most prominent collections of Indus-era antiquities in India are displayed. This site has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Known as Baroda during the British times, Vadodara is known as a Sanskari Nagari or traditional city of India. The city used to be called Chandanavati after its ruler Raja Chandan of the Dodiya of Rajputs. The capital was also known as Virakshetra or Viravati or the Land of Warriors. Later, it was known as Vadpatraka or Vadodara, which according to tradition is a corrupt form of the Sanskrit word vatodar meaning in the belly of the Banyan tree. In 1974, the official name of the city was changed to Vadodara.
The Navratri festival celebrated in Vadodara in the months of October/November are famous throughout India. The festival is celebrated with a lot of exuberance in this city and one should not leave the city without shaking a leg in its traditional dance forms of Garba and Dandiya. If you plan on visiting this city during this time, make sure you are there during Navratri and can check out the amazing and huge dance floors in the city. The picture above is the largest garba stadium and the small images inside the photo are the hundreds of thousands of people all dancing together.
The Laxmi Vilas Palace is the one thing you must visit while in Vadodara, if not anything else. Built in the Indo-Saracenic school of architecture, the Laxmi Vilas Palace is almost four times the size of Buckingham Palace and was the private residence of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III. The royal family of the Gaekwads still reside today in private parts of the palace. Constructed in in 1890 and taking nearly twelve years to complete, the palace complex sprawls over an area of about 700 acres. It is built in the Indo-Saracenic style which is a hybrid of the Hindu, Gothic and Mughal architectural forms with the presence of domes, minarets and arches. The palace incorporates several important buildings within, including the Moti Baug Palace, the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum building and the LVP Banquets & Conventions building.
The Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum building was mainly constructed as a school for the Maharaja’s children. Today, it houses an extraordinary collection of sculptures and paintings by Raja Ravi Verma and various other artefacts gathered from all around the world, including several portaits of the royal family. The oriental gallery present inside the museum comprises of Chinese as well as Japanese sculptures. An excellent audio tour with free drink and snack are included in the ticket price.
The Makarpura Palace was initially constructed as a summer palace for the royal family of the Gaekwads. Built in 1870 and given an Italian touch in terms of architecture, it was renovated years after it was built because the palace was left unused as the royal family preferred spending most of their summers in the relatively cooler Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. It now serves as a training school called No.17 Tetra School used by the Indian Air Force.
Believed to be used to collect tolls from merchants and traders, the Mandvi Gate is located at the exact centre of the old walled city. A pavilion or Mandapa, standing at the crossing of of the two cardinal streets of the old city, the structure is actually part of a larger building scheme, the “Killa-e-Daulatabad”. The fort is supposed to have been designed and constructed by Rumin Khan and based on the design of a Chopat or Ludo game. The square was cut into four more squares by two major streets and aligned with the cardinal directions. The fort walls were pierced with four gates, one on each side where the streets intersected with the wall. At the intersection of these cardinal streets, at the centre of the square, Mandvi Gate was built. The entire structure is illuminated during festivals and is truly a sight to behold.
Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III had an entire monument built to commemorate the cremation of his family members. This monument was called the Kirti Mandir. Widely known as the Temple of Fame, this structure was constructed also to celebrate the fifty years of his mighty administration. One of the carvings on the cenotaph makes one reminisce about the good old days, where India was not divided into so many states and territories, due credit to the undivided map of India displayed on the central arch. The 33 m high central arch is also ornamented with the sun, the moon and the earth and the rooms behold the sculptures and photographs of the members of the Gaekwad family.
Constructed by the Gaekwads in 1894, the Vadodara Museum and Picture Gallery is host to umpteen numbers of relics relating to a wide spectrum of fields right from archeology to geology. It also houses a few rare personal collection pieces of Maharaja Sayajirao III. Some of the most noteworthy relics include the 109 miniature paintings of the Mughal times, a Persian version of Mahabharata specially commissioned by Mughal Emperor Akbar and a 11th century Shiva in the Natraja pose, amongst others.
Sayaji Baug or Gardens, was dedicated to Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III himself. It is the most extensive garden in India’s western region and sprawls over 45 hectares of land. The garden was built in 1879 on the banks of the river Vishwamitri, and it comprises of a broad spectrum of flora, with more than 99 species of trees. The park also houses two museums, a planetarium, a zoo, a toy train for children and a flower clock. This park is a popular hangout for locals, especially during weekends.
Decked with green manicured lawns and towering palm trees, the crowd puller at the Ajwa Nimeta Garden is the 100-meter row of perfectly aligned musical fountains that mesmerise visitors with coordinated water shoots in the background of lively colours.
Located at a distance of about 90 km from Varoda in the heart of the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, the perennial and gorgeous Zarwani Waterfalls provide you an opportunity to trek, picnic, and indulge in wildlife photography.
Deserted today, the city of Champaner provides a glimpse of the kind of prosperity which must have existed at one point of time. Located in the foothills of Pavagadh, the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that rests on a rocky hilltop and is dotted with mosques, forts, temples and palaces. The architecture of many old mosques reflect a blend of Islamic and Jain tradition. You also come across various heritage monuments belonging to the 16th century including mosques, temples, fortresses and palaces, among others. Some of the famous attractions worth checking out are the Jama Masjid, the Lila Gumbaj ki Masjid, the Lakulisa Temple, Pavagadh Fort and the Helica step-well. The hill of Pavagadh is believed to be a chunk of the Himalayas that was originally carried by Hanuman to Lanka in the Hindu mythological epic, the Ramayana.
Known as the Milk Capital of India, Anand came into the nation’s conscious when it became famous for Amul dairy and its milk revolution spearheaded by Dr. Verghese Kurien.
The Anand Milk Union Limited or Amul is a brand name that every Indian knows and has tasted. The Amul Chocolate Factory Dairy is a great place to revisit your childhood for adults and for children to believe they are in Willy Wonka’s world. You can see what goes behind making chocolate from all the stages of chocolate production, right from the earliest of stages to packaging. The factory also has a museum known as AMUL Co-operative Museum which has an exhibition, tracing down the storied past of one of the country’s greatest institutions and takes the visitor down the history of one of India’s best loved brands. It shows the advanced pasteurization methods of milk and the production of processed food. The museum is part of the history and heritage of Anand and has a photo gallery as well as an auditorium with a capacity to seat hundred people which showcases documentaries that take one back to its origins in the 1960s.
The Sun Temple at Borsad in Anand is dedicated to the Sun God. People believe that visiting and praying in this temple relives visitots from ailments which might cause unhappiness. The history behind this temple is a bit vague, but is believed that the temple was built at the insistence of the Sun God himself.