The Law Garden is a popular place for Amdavadis to picnic and hang out. It's a clean and neat park, and for tourists a perfect place to sit and people-watch.
But what makes the area special is the night market. It starts to set up along the Netaji Rd in the afternoon, and gathers momentum until at about 7.30 when the little stalls are all full to bursting with clothes, bags, baubles, textiles and knick knacks from the far flung areas of Gujarat. Gorgeously embroidered Ribari mirrored-wear, some of it quite old, and most of it genuine, reflects and sparkles from the street lights and camera flashes. We bargained with the best of them, and I giggled with visiting Indian women as we haggled over colourful kurtas and backless cholas.
This is also one of the best places in Ahmedabad for street food, just what you'll need after all that spending. We had fresh pulav, kadai and lassis in "Ajay Intercontinental", all for just over a quid each.
Law Garden, Netaji Rd, Ahmedabad
Google map: bit.ly/z3QIiK
Dating back to the fifteenth century, the old walled town of Ahmedabad is a maze of enchanting 'Pols' (small communities) connected by narrow alleys and lanes, and sprinkled with mosques and temples. Each Pol has a gated entrance – and sometimes a secret exit – enabling each small community to shut itself off from its neighbours, or any marauding invaders. The small squares (chowks) – around which a few dwellings, shops and ateliers crowd – usually contain a well and an elaborate wooden "chabutra" (bird feeder) on a high stone plinth.
To save yourself from getting lost in this unique place, and to understand better what's in front of you, join the heritage walk which starts every morning from Swaminarayan Temple. Get there on time so as not to miss the a/v show beforehand; they don't wait for stragglers.
The city is currently bidding for UNESCO World Heritage status, and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is pulling out all the stops to renovate this beautiful area. With plans for lighted walkways, cafés and re-painted façades, the clean-up has encouraged local inhabitants to return to their old homes. We went back the next day on our own, and enjoyed talking to the friendly and inquisitive workers, schoolchildren and families.
Heritage Walk (every day, starting with a slide show)
Starting Point: 8:00am Swaminarayan Temple, Old town.
Ending Point: 10:30am Jama Masjid
Fees: Indians: Rs 30, foreigners: Rs 50
+91 79 25391811 (Mobile) +91 98240 32866
Google map: bit.ly/GCuk8S
The privately-run textile museum, situated in one of the smarter areas of the city, proudly claims itself as the "best textile museum in the world". I met a number of people who visited the museum, and they all said they loved it. I would have liked to have seen it too, but as it only allows 20 people to visit in the morning, and 10 in the afternoon you have to be quick. We thought we were quick, but what we didn't realise was that you have to book in advance. Don't make the same mistake as us, phone beforehand, or get your hotel or local agent to book for you.
When we turned up an immovable security guard looked bored by our pleas for admittance. The drivers of the gleaming people carriers waiting outside for the chosen few inside did their utmost to help us, adding that the museum was privately-run, so what could we expect? "They make their own rules," said one driver, who explained that every day he sees crowds of tourists outside the gate trying to get in.
Lesson learned? Unlike us, do your homework and book in advance. Or go to Kachchh and see the textiles being woven, block-printed, painted, embroidered and embellished in situ. There are two good museums in Bhuj which also house Gujarati textiles.
By prior appointment only:
Morning guided Tour: 10.30am to 12.30pm (Entry between 10.15am and 10.30am Restricted to 20 visitors.)
Afternoon guided Tour: 3.00pm to 5.00pm (Entry between 2.45pm and 3.00pm. Restricted to 10 visitors.)
Children under 10 not admitted.
No charge is made for tours.
Sarabhai Foundation, Opp Underbridge, Shahibag, Ahmedabad-380 004, Gujarat, India
+91 79 2286 8172
Google map: bit.ly/GFvuzT
Le Corbusier's building offers the perfect mixture of space and light required for a museum. It is set in an affluent part of the new town, next to a park. On the ground floor is the small Kite Museum, worth a quick look round if kites are your bag (they are a big part of north Indian culture). Some beautiful examples are pressed against backlit glass walls, allowing the visitor to get up close to these exotic paper-thin works of art. The colours and designs are as intricate and varied as one would expect in a state renowned for its textiles and design. The rest of the simple space is lined with text, photographs and drawings depicting the history of kites. The style of writing is typical of the slightly archaic forms of expression sometimes used by well-educated Indians: "...Cries of victory or defeat rend the air, and everyone enters the fray."
The main museum is accessed up a concrete ramp from the central well area. On our visit, a solitary guard sat behind the entrance desk and proffered a visitors' book for us to sign. We were then left to our own devices.
The space inside is voluminous and unadorned, a perfect characterless backdrop to house the exhibits.
At first I was wrapped up in the functional architecture and big spaces, but when I turned my attention to the exhibits I rapidly became less impressed. The lack of maintenance sadly lets down this museum: display cases, although being furiously cleaned on the outside by a local woman, were thick with dust inside. The areas devoted to Gujarati handicrafts (for which the state is best known) were dull and uninspiring, and what should have been vibrant and colourful artefacts hung limply from the wall, or lay neglected in cases. A series of areas devoted to different ages were hardly given any explanation, and I was left wondering what I was looking at. A nice section on photography, including images and camera equipment, was so badly lit I could barely make them out. The modern art section had some interesting work, but a numbered list on the wall (simply giving the artists name and date of birth, no title) did not relate to any of the paintings, none of which had numbers.
The guard handed us a pamphlet as we left; it contained a plan and some information on the exhibits. Perhaps it might have been a better idea to give this to us as we entered.
The final nail in the coffin were the toilets. Housed outside the museum, behind a screen of trees, is a separate his and hers block. We have lived in India for nearly two years and are not easily phased by Indian toilets any more, but these were so bad that we felt compelled to do something we've never bothered with before: we complained to the museum manager. Surely a city's museum should have plumbed-in loos? And if they don't, perhaps they could clean the excrement-covered floors and walls?
Unless they do something soon, the City Museum's cabinet displays will disappear under a ton of dust and the unplumbed lavatories under a sea of shit. Le Corbusier must be spinning in his grave. It's a terrible waste of a fantastic space and fascinating exhibits.
Bhagtacharya Rd Sanskar Kendra, Sanskar Chendra
+91 (079) 26578369
Google map: bit.ly/wly6dz
As the name indicates this is a restaurant. It actually only have one dish, the local Thali, but it was amazing. Several locals were eating there, and we were the only westerens
Meal for two was less than GBP3
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