Last updated on August 18, 2023
I like to think that I have both a great sense of humor and a fair amount of tolerance. India tests those two qualities at every opportunity. My cousin and I arrived in Ahmedabad exhausted from the constant jostling of nine hours in the commuter section of the train—big whoops on booking that seat through a middleman!
Foreigners usually spring for a different section, but we got had by a ticket agent in Mumbai—just one of India’s many tourist scams. The train ride to Ahmedabad—where we were headed in search of Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi’s ashram—assaulted our senses and gave us a crash course on getting to know India.
Heaps of locals stared at us throughout the ride, and a few even reached out to touch our arms—not inappropriately, just more in our personal space. A few women even reached out to stroke our skin or hair—both of us are fair skinned and Helen has beautiful red hair, so I get it.
Getting to Ahmedabad
To be fair, the train ride was really not as bad as I am making it sound. Immersion is the whole point of a trip to India. If you want to understand the cultural nuances and facets of this massive country, then you have to travel like the locals. It’s more that it wasn’t our choice—we had paid for different seats on a different train.
I had left that morning unprepared for such a long train ride—it took many hours longer than the direct one—and we were squished face-to-butt in the cabin. This is a daily reality for Indians though, and we spent hours watching locals pass the time with newspapers, snacks, and their busy little kids.
For most travelers, you will be arriving in India by train. If you’ve left Mumbai, the fastest train arrives in under six hours, while most trains are around the seven hour mark. Ours took nine hours, but that was a mistake, obviously.
If you go for a slower commuter train, then prepare for a day in India that tests you. It’s not a stretch to say that we were the only Westerners on the train that day—probably the only ones taking it on any given day. We caught a tuk-tuk from the train station to Hotel Alka, which did the job as far as accommodation is concerned. It’s both clean and central to all that you want to do in Ahmedabad—including a visit to Gandhi’s Ashram.
Why Visit Ahmedabad?
The guy booking our tickets in Mumbai couldn’t fathom why we wanted to go to Ahmedabad, but it was our next planned stop. Plus, my trusty India Lonely Planet described Ahmedabad as having “old-world charm, fabulous night markets, and a pulsating Indian city.”
That’s a stretch. I’m not sure the guidebook writers visited the city. The truth is, Ahmedabad lacks charm. But it does have other things going for it, even beyond its Gandhian legacy. It’s not a tourist city, so you shouldn’t visit expecting that. Rather, it’s a huge bustling city where locals are getting on living their life.
So why visit? Ahmedabad is the largest city in Gujarat, India, and while it may not be widely regarded as a charming or bustling hub of tourism, it does offer interesting experiences and attractions worth exploring. Most travelers and pilgrims come to learn more about Ghandi. Ahmedabad played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence, and a visit to Sabarmati Ashram provides insights into the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, who resided there—the ashram has entire exhibits dedicated to his life as you wander the grounds.
The city’s cultural heritage can be also appreciated through architectural gems like Adalaj Vav and Sidi Saiyyed Mosque, which, although not widely known internationally, possess their own unique appeal.
And then there’s the street food. While Ahmedabad may not boast the glitz and glamour of renowned food destinations, it does offer a range of flavorful Gujarati specialties like khaman dhokla, fafda, and jalebi. Exploring local markets such as Manek Chowk (only a street food market at night) and Law Garden provides opportunities to savor authentic flavors and discover the local vegetarian cuisine.
Ahmedabad’s textile industry also holds significance within the city. While it may not be a globally acclaimed textile destination, it offers glimpses into traditional craftsmanship and techniques. I outfitted myself for my two months in India while in Ahmedabad because it’s an excellent place to explore textile markets and witness the beauty of handloom fabrics, including the famous tie-dye (bandhani) and block-printed varieties.
Things to Do in Ahmedabad
Eat All of the Gujarati Specialties
Indulge in Street Food at Manek Chowk, which is a bustling market square in the heart of Ahmedabad that transforms into a food paradise at night. Known for its street food stalls, it offers a wide array of delectable Gujarati snacks, chaats, and desserts. Savor local favorites like pav bhaji, dabeli, and kulfi while soaking in the good vibes.
Throughout your time in Ahmedabad, this is your time to try local foods you can only find in Gujarat. Dhokla, a fermented rice and chickpea flour snack, offers a spongy texture and tangy flavor.
Another must-try is the delectable combination of fafda and falebi, where the crunchy, deep-fried fafda pairs perfectly with the sweet and syrup-soaked jalebi. Lastly, handvo, a savory cake-like dish made from fermented rice, lentils, and vegetables, is seasoned with aromatic spices and offers a crispy exterior with a soft interior.
Also look out for Khandvi, which has a unique texture that is soft, smooth, and slightly chewy. It is typically garnished with finely chopped coriander leaves and served as a snack or appetizer.
And don’t be too proud to try India’s version of other things you find: On our hunt for a grocery store, we found a vegetarian McDonald’s—cool! We snapped our picture with Ronald and ordered a Paneer Tikka Pita—kinda awesome, kinda disgusting, but it was an experience nonetheless.
Experience the Ahmedabad Heritage Walk
This (self) guided tour takes you through the narrow streets of the city’s historic walled area. You’ll pass remarkable architecture, ancient temples, intricate pols (residential clusters), and busy markets. The walk provides insights into the city’s rich heritage and allows you to soak in the vibrant atmosphere of the old city.
Admire the Grand Akshardham Temple
The Akshardham Temple is a sprawling complex that showcases stunning architecture, intricate carvings, and serene surroundings. It serves as a center for spiritual and cultural activities. The temple complex features a main temple, exhibition halls, a research center, and beautifully manicured gardens.
Notable are the intricate stone carvings, which depict scenes from Hindu mythology and the life of Lord Swaminarayan. The temple’s architecture is a blend of traditional Indian craftsmanship and modern technology. Apart from the architectural grandeur, the temple also offers a unique experience through its exhibition halls, which provide insights into the teachings and philosophy of Lord Swaminarayan, showcasing multimedia presentations, light and sound shows, and interactive displays.
If you organize a guided tour (which are ridiculously affordable), then this is likely included.
Visit Sarkhej Roza
Sarkhej Roza is an architectural complex located on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. This historical site showcases a blend of Islamic, Hindu, and Jain architectural styles and comprises a mosque, tombs, pavilions, and a stepwell. Take a leisurely stroll through the serene surroundings, admire the intricate carvings, and learn about the cultural significance of this ancient complex.
This is also included in many guided tours of Ahmedabad.
Visit Sidi Bashir Mosque
Sidi Bashir Mosque, popularly known as the Shaking Minarets, is a really unique architectural marvel in Ahmedabad. These minarets are known for their distinctive feature—if one minaret is shaken, the other vibrates in response. Perhaps most well known is also the finely-carved lattice stone window a the mosque.
Marvel at the Adalaj Step Well
The Adalaj Step Well, also known as Adalaj Vav, was built in the 15th century by Queen Rudabai in memory of her husband, Rana Veer Singh, of the Vaghela dynasty. The step well was primarily constructed to provide a reliable water source and served as a resting place for travelers and pilgrims.
Today, it’s notable for its remarkable architecture and engineering. It’s located in a village near Ahmedabad, and easily visited on a tour or via rickshaw. The step well is intricately designed and showcases exquisite craftsmanship. It is constructed in the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, combining elements of Hindu and Islamic influences. The five-story structure features stunning carvings, ornate pillars, and intricately carved niches depicting various deities, animals, and floral patterns.
Outfit Yourself at FabIndia
Our hopes for FabIndia? That wearing Indian-style dress would be our “incognito clothes”, and would hopefully help us blend in more. We had failed the blending test so far.
Considering my cousin and I both tower over all of the men and women in the country, and considering that my cousin rocks gorgeous-but-not-inconspicuous red hair, we knew that blending in was a tall order. But we had hopes would help.
We found awesome deals at FabIndia and had a blast searching through the vast colors and styles of kurtas and saris. What fun. With these purchases, we considered our time in Ahmedabad well spent and we both couldn’t wait to go back to the hotel and try them on.
Just Go With the Flow
You never know what you’re getting when you travel India, and that’s part of the charm. We booked into a quite nice hotel—hot showers, clean sheets, and a lot more shiny that local guesthouses. But the Hotel Alka was right across the street from the Indian equivalent of a waste-management system. By day, the garbage from the immediately surrounding area is brought to this dump and then sorted for plastic bottles by a team of Indian women.
The plastic is then removed and presumably traded for money is how I understand the system. As evening settles each day, all cows in the vicinity migrated to our trash heap to clean up the scraps of food and paper (yes, cows here frequently munch on loose cardboard and newspaper).
While I thought that, perhaps, this cow-paper-food thing as a means of sanitation was an isolated incident, my subsequent weeks here have indicated that this is, in fact, the way it’s done in many cities and towns.
History of Gandhi’s Ashram (Sabarmati Ashram)
My cousin and I stopped in Ahmedabad on our train journey north primarily to visit Gandhi’s ashram. There are few Indian figures as internationally known and recognizable as Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi, often referred to as the Father of the Nation, played a pivotal role in India’s struggle for independence and left an indelible mark on the country’s history and identity. His philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa) and his principles of truth, simplicity, and self-reliance resonated deeply with people across India and beyond.
Once I learned that it was his home for many years, Sabarmati Ashram (formerly called Satyagraha Ashram) went on our itinerary.
The Ashram was built in 1915 and Gandhi lived here with his wife for much of his life. This ashram allowed Gandhi and his followers to live by his principles and live away from the hustle and bustle and politics of some Indian cities.
Today, Sabarmati Ashram holds immense importance as it served as Gandhi’s residence and a center for his socio-political activities. Located on the banks of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, the ashram became a symbol of the freedom struggle and a hub for experiments in sustainable living and community development. It was from here that Gandhi initiated his famous Dandi Salt March in 1930, a landmark event in India’s fight for independence.
Visiting Sabarmati Ashram
Today, in honor Gandhi, the ashram has a wonderful museum with photos from his life, and posters with some of his philosophy and quotes. One of my favorites comes as a part of the core Ashram policies, XI: Equality of Religions:
The Ashram believes that the principle faiths of the world constitute a revelation of truth but as they have all been outlined by imperfect men they have been affected by the imperfections and alloyed with untruth. One must therefore entertain the same respect for the religious faiths of others as one accords to one’s own.
The ashram is filled with pieces of wisdom.
The only drawback to the ashram was the fact that a group of men began to follow us within minutes of entering. They covertly snapped my picture with their cameras, documenting each moment as my cousin and I looked at the pictures and read facts about Gandhi’s remarkable life. This had happened in Mumbai some too—if we were walking in a certain area of the city we were sure to be stopped, but because it was the city we could just move on once we took a photo with the people.
This was more difficult in the ashram, where we walked through a set route in the museum and were trying to focus on the information and experience. The photographers bothered my cousin a lot though, so we confronted the picture-takers. They begged for “just one picture.”
At this point, I wasn’t wise to the fact that “one picture” really means as many as they can talk you into. But we wanted to nicely appease their request and also gain our freedom from the entourage. We agreed, took some pictures, and then thought it would be the end of it all. But the ashram attracts all sorts of visitors, not just foreigners, but Indians from all over the country too. These men were intrigued enough to continue following us. What had started as a small group of four guys morphed into as many as a dozen men slowly following us as we attempted to look through the museum.
The following became so intense that we fled the museum and headed out to the Ashram’s manicured lawns for space. India’s women and children are just as fascinated by our Western-ness, and that’s who we found also having down-time in the green open spaces. My cousin and I took great shots with a large family of women and children out on the lawn—they were all so very sweet. They women are more easily handled and we were less bothered with their requests.
Within a few minutes though, the same group of men hunted us down and continued what I can now only call the slow stalking. Moments later a school group of 60 children joined in with the gawking.
Count on this before you visit. It’s not isolated to the Ashram—this type of thing happened at the Taj Mahal too—but it does change the dynamic some when you’re visiting Sabarmati Ashram.
What to Know When Visiting Gandhi’s Ashram
Tips to Make the Most of Your Visit
- History and Significance: Read up on the historical significance of the ashram and its connection to Mahatma Gandhi. The ashram served as Gandhi’s residence and was a center for India’s freedom struggle. Understanding the role it played in shaping Gandhi’s ideologies and the nation’s history will enrich your visit.
- Dress Code and Etiquette: Dress modestly and respectfully when visiting the ashram out of consideration for its cultural and historical significance. Don’t wear revealing or inappropriate attire—that’s really advice for all of your India travels. Additionally, maintain a respectful demeanor while inside the premises, that means no loud conversations or disruptive behavior.
- Guided Tours: Take advantage of guided tours offered at the ashram. Knowledgeable guides provide insights into the ashram’s history, Gandhi’s life, and his principles of non-violence and self-reliance. These tours help to deepen your understanding of the ashram’s significance and its relevance to the present day.
- Exhibits and Displays: These are really the best part of visiting Sabarmati Ashram. Explore the various exhibits and displays within the ashram. The museum houses artifacts, photographs, and documents related to Gandhi’s life, including his personal belongings and letters. These exhibits offer a glimpse into the life and philosophies of one of the world’s most influential leaders.
- Prayer and Meditation: Participate in the collective prayer and meditation sessions held at the ashram. These sessions often follow the principles of prayer and reflection that Gandhi himself practiced. Engaging in these spiritual activities can provide a serene and contemplative atmosphere, allowing you to connect with the ashram’s essence.
- Silence and Reflection: Respect the tranquil environment of the ashram by maintaining a calm and introspective demeanor. Embrace moments of silence and reflection, allowing yourself to absorb the peaceful ambiance and contemplate the teachings of Gandhi.
- Photography and Cell Phones: Go light with photography and cell phone usage within the ashram premises. Some areas prohibit photography, others require permission for capturing images. Respect these guidelines to preserve the sanctity of the space and the privacy of those also visiting the ashram.
How to Get to Sabarmati Ashram
If you’re staying in the center of Ahmedabad, and you should, Sabarmati Ashram is not very far from the centre of the city—about 5km. And there are a number of easy ways to get there.
By Auto Rickshaw
Auto rickshaws, also known as tuk-tuks, are a popular mode of transportation in Ahmedabad. We easily found our auto rickshaw in the city center. Negotiate the fare with the driver before starting your journey! The approximate travel time from the city center to Sabarmati Ashram is around 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic.
By Taxi or Ride Hailing App
Taxis are a convenient option to get to Sabarmati Ashram. You can either book a local taxi service or use ride-hailing apps available in Ahmedabad, such as Uber or Ola. Taxis provide a more comfortable and private mode of transportation. The travel time is similar to that of auto rickshaws, around 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic.
By Public Bus
Ahmedabad has a well-connected public bus network operated by the Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service (AMTS). Look for buses heading towards Sabarmati or Gandhi Ashram. The bus numbers that serve this route may vary, so it’s advisable to check with locals or at the nearest bus station for the appropriate bus number and route. The travel time is closer to 30 minutes, depending on the traffic and the specific bus route.
If you enjoy cycling and prefer an eco-friendly mode of transportation, you can rent a bicycle in Ahmedabad. Several bike rental services offer hourly or daily rental options. Cycling to Sabarmati Ashram from the city center is an excellent way to explore the city’s streets and enjoy the scenery along the way. The travel time varies based on your cycling speed and route. And wear a face mask since you’ll be cycling right in the thick of traffic for a lot of the route.
Where to Stay in Ahmedabad
Navrangpura and CG Road
Located in the heart of Ahmedabad, Navrangpura and CG Road are vibrant and bustling areas known for their commercial and cultural significance. Navrangpura is known for its proximity to educational institutions, shopping centers, and cultural attractions like the Gujarat University and the famous Law Garden night market. CG Road is lined with shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues, making it a great choice for those seeking a lively atmosphere.
Situated in the western part of Ahmedabad, Vastrapur is a popular residential and commercial area. It is home to several high-end hotels and serviced apartments that cater to both business and leisure travelers. Vastrapur Lake, one of the city’s prominent landmarks, offers a peaceful setting for a leisurely stroll or boating. The area is also known for its proximity to educational institutions, corporate offices, and shopping malls.
Khanpur and the Old City
If you prefer a more authentic and traditional experience, consider staying in Khanpur or the Old City area. Khanpur is located close to the historic walled city and offers a glimpse into Ahmedabad’s rich heritage. The Old City is known for its narrow lanes, bustling markets, and iconic landmarks like the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque and the Jama Masjid. You can find budget-friendly accommodations in heritage havelis (traditional mansions) that have been converted into guesthouses.
Ahmedabad wasn’t the most spectacular spot on the trip, but it did have its own kind of adventure. :)
Essential Travel Planning Resources
🛏️ Find great accommodation.
Booking.com is essentially the only hotel booking site that I use. It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too. Use these pro tips to find the best travel accommodation.
📍Navigate more effectively.
Rome2Rio is super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more. If you’re booking a rental car, I’ve always found the best deals on RentalCars.com.