Episode 35: Ahmedabad, more than just cricket
Location: The House of MG, Bhadra Rd, Old City, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
This year, the great ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 takes place in India. It starts today, 5 October, and continues until 19 November. The first and final matches are in Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat; the rest are in cities across the country. Indeed, five of the 48 matches will be played at Ahmedabad's vast Narendra Modi Stadium whose capacity is 1.3 lakhs - 130,000 - making it the world’s largest.
So today, excitement is at fever pitch for the first match when trophy-holders England meet New Zealand. The unfortunate who do not have a ticket (most people) are glued to their phones/TVs/local movie hall screens. There are 29 TV sports channels, all covering the cricket. Forget about any other conversation topic until 20 November.
My thoughts turn to Ahmedabad, too, but specifically to House of MG which has nothing to do with cricket! In a city of impressive merchants’ mansions this is a notably grand one built by the Mangaldas family. Two decades ago it opened as an unassuming, almost untouched family-run historic hotel. It has since evolved into a meticulously restored, deluxe experience. With discerning sensitivity the family has tucked in a pool with lotus mural ceiling, a spoiling spa, a gym, and a store selling the best possible examples of Gujarat’s renowned crafts and textiles. As for the food, a pure Gujarati banquet at the rooftop Agashiye restaurant is not to be forgotten - ingredient combinations unknown in other regions, light, delicate, gently perfumed. If you fancy changing your bedroom and view, the family has also created two exquisite havelis inside the walled city and a 1930s garden retreat.
Out and about in Ahmedabad, the handsome, walled city was founded by Sultan Ahmed Shah on the key east-west trade route in 1411. It served as the political, economic, and cultural hub of western India, so envied by Mughal emperor Akbar that he made a lightning attack in 1573, arriving by camel from Fatehpur Sikri. Later, the city became India’s industrial textile capital, whose enlightened tycoons supported Mahatma Gandhi’s fight for India’s independence and patronised Le Corbusier.
Ahmedabad is walking wellness. There is much to see on foot - walled city, ornate medieval mosques, modern buildings, carved stepwells, tip top art museums (textiles, paintings, sculptures), contemporary dance, and a peaceful stroll through Gandhi’s ashram. There might even be a cricket match - outside the World Cup you should be able to get a ticket.
Must-do wellness experience: authentic Gujarati banquet at Agashiye
House of MG buzzwords: See you in the café, must show you the textiles I bought!
Walk down into a vav - stepwell. Ahmedabad has several, mostly 15-16C; this one is Dada Harir (1485). Each is an elaborate symmetrical structure a bit like an inverted temple. Descend floor by floor to the water, enjoying floral and geometric carving. Imagine ladies meeting here for a chat.
Stroll the Gandhi Ashram beside the Sabamati River, his HQ for achieving free India peacefully. See inside the simple and very evocative rooms where The Mahatma lived from 1917 (two years after his return from Africa) until he left on 12 March 1930 to lead the March against the British salt tax.
Gandhi-ji's great weapon in winning freedom for India was not the gun but moral silence, which he publicised by fasting. This sketch documents him breaking a fast with what looks like chai - nourishing tea.
More walking, this time indoors to roam the world class museums. There is a museum for every interest: be amazed by textiles in the Calico Museum, and by vibrant paintings, bold sculptures, folk art, kites, and more.
Walk outdoors, too, for Ahmbedabad city is an architectural museum. Immerse yourself in Sultan Ahmed's 15C mosque, and the duo of Rani Sipri and Rani Rupmati's exquisite tomb complexes. Skip to the 20C for Le Corbusier's Mill Owners Association building, shown here, and subsequent buildings by Louis Kahn, Charles Correa and B V Doshi.