Navratri in Ahmedabad

Navratri in Ahmedabad, a must visit for the traveller in you

From dancing, eating to seeing some glorious sights of India’s past and present, a trip to Ahmedabad in Navratri will surely be one of your most cherished travel memories.
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They say every city you live in makes a little home in you. If that is true, Ahmedabad, my adopted home must have filled up a lot of space in my heart. Apart from being the only place I have lived in for over a decade other than the Indian capital, it is also the one I have lovingly built a family in. Growing up a little more here each year has been adventurous because of the cross cultural quirks and the many things that are new and fascinating to my eyes even today. Brought up in Delhi, a city that is always on the go, being in Ahmedabad made me see how paced out and beautiful one’s lifestyle can be. Truly, it is what the locals call it, Aapnu Amdavad.

Being here at any time of the year brings out a different emotion. Winters are pleasant with just a slight nip in the air, while spring sees the most beautiful Bougainvilleas of every colour imaginable along the roads. However, it is the autumn season that lights up Ahmedabad and makes it look more gorgeous than ever. The season beckons to Navratri, the biggest festival of the state. A celebration of the mother goddess, Navratri brings with it nine nights of dancing and revolving around a clay lamp that denotes a womb, also called garba in Gujarati. This is where the famous dance form also gets its name from.

Navratri in Ahmedabad is truly vibrant. Toddlers to the elderly – all know how to groove to the music during this festival. In fact, the city breathes a youthful air with some of the best colleges and universities of India situated here participating in the festive spirit; students who come from all parts of the country to study in varsities like the National Institute of Design and NIFT enjoy their tenure to the full during Navratri. Dressed in kediyus and chaniya cholis, they dance to traditional songs as well as to the latest Bollywood hits in their bright and cool campuses. It can be said with certainty that anyone who visits Ahmedabad during Navratri and wants to swing to the beats of the dandiya will find a great venue to do so on every street of the city.

Preparations galore

The countdown starts early for Navratri in Gujarat with dance classes mushrooming everywhere. Learning the steps is no mean feat either; the one time I tried to pick up a few steps to be in sync with the locals, I discovered how it is. It looks deceptively easy, but needs plenty of practice.

Similarly, shopping for festive wear for Navratri in Ahmedabad is also no less than a mission. Law Garden in the heart of the city is the place to be – it is one of the oldest and most classic destinations to buy the typical attire of chaniya choli and kediyu from. That said, the veteran shopkeepers of Law Garden offer the latest Bollywood cuts and sleeves to colours that are a rage in the current season, so the traditional dresses for men and women are anything but typical. While I get only one new chaniya choli and recycle my old favourites for garba, I have friends who wear a new pair of chaniya choli every single day of Navratri! In fact, they start planning for this event much in advance, right from buying and designing the latest design attires, visiting the tailor shops to accessorizing! The enthusiasm towards these nine nights is unimaginable!

While dancing goes on till the wee hours of the next morning, no Navratri in Gujarat is complete without an absolute surrender to the delicious, festive food. I wait patiently every year for my neighbourhood’s festivities that include dancing, singing and eating delicacies like khakhra, dhokla and the mouth-watering fafda-jalebi laid out by the best chefs and caterers in town!

Explore the Heritage City

While the nights are sorted, the days are a great opportunity to explore this city, tagged as one of UNESCO’s heritage cities. A walk in the serene ashram of the Mahatma at Sabarmati will rejuvenate and enlighten you to your great Indian past. His concept of simple living and positive influence around the world can be seen by just spending a few hours in the ashram by the river.

A more recent, but record making addition to the state’s wonders is the Statue of Unity, a statue of Sardar Patel, also called the Iron Man of India. A few hours of drive from the main city, exploring the area around the tallest monument of the world comprising of a zoo, a food court and tents for overnight stays makes for a riveting day out.

Ahmedabad is indeed a beautiful mix of different architectures and I have always been amazed at the diversity in its history. On one hand, we have the intricate Adalaj stepwell built by Mahmud Begada in 1411, while on the other we have the regal Hutheesing Jain Temple built in 1848 AD by a merchant in reverence to one of the 24 tirthankaras in Jainism.

Then there is the Sarkhej Roza, a magnificent mosque built as a tribute to Ahmed Shah I’s spiritual advisor. This mosque has been made popular by Indian movies that have shot here. The Sidi Saiyyed mosque built by a saint of African descent of the same name, is also widely known for its tree of life design and jali work that has given IIM Ahmedabad its logo!

Finally, no trip to Ahmedabad is complete without a visit to the unique pols of the old city, especially during Navratri. These pols or bylanes still celebrate the festival in its classic glory, with all the families of one pol coming out to do the garba as one big family. Here you will not see the latest influence of fashion or hit movie songs – the gorgeous dhol will welcome you as will the traditional folk songs sung by these families themselves. If there is one absolute must do, it is to join in on the most traditional of Navratri celebrations in one of Ahmedabad’s many pols.

As a Bengali living here, a lot of things are different from what I know to be the norm. But what I find common to both is the zest for life. And one gets to see it in full effect during Navratri. From dancing, eating to seeing some glorious sights of India’s past and present, a trip to this western city during the festival of nine nights will surely turn out to be one of your most cherished travel memories as they have become mine.

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