Inconspicuous on its traffic island amid the chaos of central Ahmedabad, the diminutive mosque of Sidi Sayyid encapsulates the flawed charms of Gujarat’s largest city. Blink and you could miss it. But the building holds some of the greatest architectural treasures of medieval Hindustan – masterpieces so fine they remained unsurpassed even by the craftsmen of the great Mughals in Agra and Delhi. Lining the walls of the mosque are ten semi-circular windows filled with pierced-stone jali screens. A closer look reveals designs of unimaginable delicacy: twisting trees whose branches unfurl into a profusion of tendrils and flowers; slender palms with gracefully tilting tops; and square panels of symmetrical motifs as complex and uniform as any in the Alhambra or Taj Mahal.
The mosque is merely one among many Indo-Islamic gems buried amid the teeming streets of modern Ahmedabad – a fast-paced metropolis of over 7 million people which, in the 15th century, was the capital of Sultan Ahmad Shah I. Stand-out vestiges of this golden era include the spectacular Jama Masjid, with its vast courtyard, and exquisitely decorated Tomb of Ahmad Shah himself.
Elsewhere in the city, the famous Calico Museum of Textiles contains the largest collection of antique saris, Kashmiri shawls, embroidered tents and traditional Indian clothing ever assembled, while a couple of 16th century stepwells on the outskirts are other incentives to brave the traffic. Afterwards, head for the wonderful rooftop restaurant of the MG Hotel – a restored 19th century haveli – for the most sumptuous Gujarati thali you’ll ever eat.
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