The Charms of Ahmedabad

Why this Indian city attracts design lovers and history buffs.

By Aarti Virani

India’s first city to secure UNESCO World Heritage status is Ahmedabad, a former textile powerhouse in the northwestern state of Gujarat. Mogul-era monuments, centuries-old Hindu temples, and a history of fine craftsmanship, or karigari, as it’s known in the local language, fuel its reputation as an innovative design hub. An annual navratri festival (a Hindu celebration which falls in late September this year) consists of nine nights of devotional dance gatherings that stretch into dawn, hinting at the city’s kinetic soul.

Thanks to frequent flights from major Indian cities—Ahmedabad is a little more than an hour from Mumbai and 90 minutes from New Delhi by air—getting here is a breeze. Visit between November and February to avoid monsoon season and skip the extra arid summer months.

Renowned Relics

With its filigreed stone windows, the 16th-century Siddi Sayed Mosque (Bhadra Rd., Opposite Electric House, Gheekanta, Lal Darwaja; 011-91-79-2550-7147; free) is an unlikely oasis near a bustling intersection. The adventurous can follow up their visit with a chocolate chai and a maska (butter) bun at the nearby New Lucky Restaurant (Opposite City College, Old City, Lal Darwaja; 011-91-79-2550-5033; dinner for two, $10*), where the tables are set among tombs—this 50-year-old establishment is built on a Sufi cemetery.

You can explore the city on foot on a Heritage Walk (Swaminarayan Mandir Rd., Kalpur; 011-91-98-2509-1049; two-and-a-half-hour tours, from $1.25 a person), courtesy of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The tour is made up of nearly 20 stops, which range from a kaleidoscopic 19th-century Hindu temple carved from Burmese teak to vegetable markets to ornamented pols, gated communities that were once segregated according to profession and caste. The Heritage Walk concludes at the Jama Masjid (Manek Chowk, Gandhi Rd., Danapidth, Khadia; free), a striking sandstone mosque emblematic of Indo-Saracenic architecture, an eclectic style often used by British architects in India in the late 19th century.

Design Destination

Ahmedabad was once dubbed the Manchester of the East for its prolific textile mills. For a deep dive into the city’s past life as a thriving fabric hub, head to the Calico Museum of Textiles (The Retreat, Airport Rd., Opposite Rani Sati Mandir, Jain Colony, Shahibag; 011-91-79-2286-8172; free; advance booking required), home to a trove of rare tapestries. The museum’s collection of tie-dye is especially awe-inducing; it showcases a regional weaving method in which 100,000 threads are individually colored.

You can break for an alfresco lunch at Agashiye (Bhadra Rd., Opposite Sidi Saiyid Jali, Old City, Gheekanta, Lal Darwaja; 011- 91-79-2550-6946; dinner for two, $20). The petal-strewn restaurant serves an all-vegetarian thali (a meal of various dishes served on a platter), a nod to the region’s herbivorous traditions. The menu changes daily but often includes local specialties such as a piquant black-eyed-pea stew, fried bananas with bell peppers, and saffron yogurt, best scooped up with their sumptuous flatbreads. A meal here is also an excuse to wander through one of the most palatial buildings in Ahmedabad, a 1920s-era mansion that once belonged to an illustrious textile baron.

Architecture aficionados and history buffs also won’t want to miss a visit to the Gandhi Ashram (Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, Ashram Rd.; 011-91-79-2755-7277; free), an interactive open-air museum. Its collection of cottages, designed by the late modernist icon Charles Correa, is considered to be the unofficial headquarters of the Indian independence movement. There’s no better place to get a feel for the history and aesthetics that make Ahmedabad so worth exploring.

  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: August 2019