I woke up this morning to the news of Ahmedabad’s selection as India’s first World Heritage City by UNESCO. As an Indian, I felt so proud that we finally have a city that will be counted amidst the world’s 250 heritage cities – alongside Edinburgh, Cairo and Paris!
For the uninitiated, it is the same feeling when an Indian entry to the Oscars actually wins at the Academy! It’s the same because first there is elation and excitement and a slew of congratulatory WhatsApp messages which over the course of the day change into a debate about the choice for the official entry.
It is no secret that Ahmedabad ran over Delhi and Mumbai and then faced rejection at the global stage. In celebrating Ahmedabad’s win yesterday, it is equally important to acknowledge and celebrate the dedication of those who worked despite failing thrice – unbelievable, isn’t it? And if you’re still wondering “Why Ahmedabad…” here are 5 reasons to begin with!
5 reasons to Ahmedabad’s Selection as a World Heritage City
1. Ahmedabad’s journey to bag the world heritage tag began in 1984. The Ford Foundation carried out the first study for conserving heritage structures. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) set up a heritage cell and the city’s entry for UNESCO’s consideration was made on March 31, 2011.
2. The World Heritage City – tag comes because of a lot of criteria, but one being the city’s long standing history with trade and commerce.
Interestingly, the culture of enterprise continues in Ahmedabad. Today some of the best, most sustainable craft enterprises of India are based out of the city.
3. Ahmedabad prospered under the Mughals, but with the disintegration of the Empire in the 18th century, the city plunged into chaos. The local chiefs ruled it jointly with the Marathas from 1733-1753. In 1757, it came under the sole control of the Marathas, before the British annexed it in 1817. The city however, resisted European control and worked on development and reorganisation of the urban centre through their own means.
4. The connection between Gandhi, Ahmedabad and the Independence Movement is not unknown to anybody – but you can truly experience the spirit of simplicity, selflessness and pure thought if you live at the Sabarmati Ashram. I had the opportunity once owing to Manav Sadhna, and was totally taken by the ethos of the place. I wondered then, and I still do – if it was Gandhi who imbibed the spirit of peace from the city; or if the city moulded into his way of life. One would never know – though I would say it is a challenge to keep development, simplicity and globalisation in the same wheel of balance, and Ahmedabad really achieves this feat with grace.
What’s more important though, is the continued engagement of the city with these structures – not as mere tourist destinations or heritage-walk stops, but as living places that provide ample space for community engagement. Even now, during a cricket match, you’d see boys of the neighbourhood gather over a radio at a Stepwell. On a different floor of the same stepwell, it is usual for women to collect in the evenings for their daily gossip.
Pol-Architecture as Living Heritage
Today, Ahmedabad has some of the key business and financial institutions, educational ones, and is a hub for handmade. Built heritage aside, the city and its culture is truly what makes for a successful “Gujarat Model”.
Ahmed Shah once said about this city :
“Ahmedabad/Amadawar is a godly city and situated on a fair river enclosed with strong walls and fair gates with many beautiful turrets. The buildings comparable to any city in Asia and Africa, the streets larger and well paved, the trade great, the merchants rich, the artifices excellent for gold and silver”