Ahmedabad Newsline Express India

A walk into the past


On a barely 10-feet wide bylane leading to Lakha Patel ni Pol on the Sankdi Sheri street near Manek Chowk lies a treasure trove of ancient architecture and history. It is a 180-year-old haveli that will soon become a showcase for traditional Gujarati lifestyle and architecture.
Thanks to its interior location, the haveli – once owned by Sardar Bholabhai Sarabhai Divatia for three generations – has survived vagaries of road widening or mindless town planning but time has left its scars, forcing its restoration which is going on for past four months and in another four to five months, it will be ready for re-use, according to the Heritage Cell of the AMC. The restoration will cost Rs 10 to 15 lakh, to be borne by its current owner Abhay Mangaldas who has plans to convert it into a heritage site along with facility to showcase local handcrafted products. The haveli is already on the map of D-Tours, an audio-synchronised walking tour organised by House of MG run by Abhay Mangaldas. It is the last spot on the walking tour that begins from House of MG opposite Sidi Sayeed Mosque. The tour is an authentic sonic walk mixing architecture, history and folklore that make the walled city a fascinating place to visit.

Debashish Nayak, heritage advisor in the AMC heritage cell, puts this haveli in the top urban heritage structures and it is among the 100 such structures that figure in the restoration list of the Cell. “There are 15,000 heritage buildings in Ahmedabad but condition survey is not yet done in the case of many,” Nayak said. The repairs could be started only after the haveli rendered unoccupied after death of sole resident Sushilaben Shah when her neighbours drew attention of heritage cell as well as of the Mangaldas family which agreed to buy it and restore it. “This is going to be the first structure that is unoccupied and it will enable general public and tourists to walk in for a dekko in the city”, Nayak said.
Exploration into the past history of this building reveals amazing facts. It is one of the ten best havelis of walled city which have high quality wooden carvings and frescos, though the latter have faded partly and being restored. Its restoration was due since the earthquake. Going by details of research done on the building by students, it used to be occupied by Paramhansa Nagar Brahmins, the elitist and most literate Brahmins in Gujarat who were known for scholarly knowledge of Vedanta. The structure represents Indo-Saracenic architecture, typical of this region of Gujarat, a merger of Islamic architecture brought from West Asia and intricate wooden Hindu style.