A gaggle of giggling knee-high children accosts me in Dhal Ni Pol, refusing to let me pass until I have shaken each of their hands and patted the frisky little stray pups accompanying them. It’s a small fee for their help in directing me to French Haveli, a boutique bed-and-breakfast, through the narrow curving lanes of the traditional Gujarati neighbourhood. Ahmedabad’s walled city area, set on the eastern bank of the Sabarmati River, is chock-full of these residential clusters organised along caste and professional lines. They are a far cry from the insane traffic and modern architecture that are the hallmarks of the new city.
It is with the purpose of having guests experience communal life in these pols, that the Threee Foundation restored this century-old haveli. Its name is a nod to the Indo-French partnership that jump-started the conservation of many such houses. I happened to be their first guest after the refurbishment, when the lime stucco facade (an eclectic mix of colonial and traditional elements) was still getting its final pats and taps. Distressed cerulean doors, yellow relief walls, and Jaipur print bed linen—the chic contemporary aesthetic of the interiors nimbly squares off with the 17th century architecture, which remains untouched.
My favourite part of the haveli was the naturally illuminated chowk, or central courtyard. I loved walking barefoot on the stone floor that draws its coolness from an underground tanka built for storing rainwater for the parched Ahmedabad summer months. Most visitors find their way to the jhula overlooking the entrance, a characteristic feature of several old Gujarati homes. The spot is conducive to long, spirited conversations as well as quiet recuperation with a book. The chowk leads up to the rooms built over two levels. The mosaic flooring of several of these has been retained; the entrance to one spells “Welcome” in English.
While the haveli offers a micro-lesson in heritage conservation, I chose to delve deeper with a long walk around the pols (the owners can organise this). Guests with other interests can spend time discovering the haveli’s nooks, or rent a bicycle and head out to Manek Chowk nearby to get a taste of Ahmedabad’s gastronomic cache. Or simply, try to keep up with the full-throttle chatter of the young ’uns who keep slipping in and out of the haveli’s always-open doors.
Appeared in the April 2015 issue as “Community Watch.”
Accommodation French Haveli has five compact rooms, including Mahajan Suite. I stayed in Agaashi, the terrace room, with two queen-size beds and en-suite bathroom (Malo and Chabutro rooms have bathrooms on the outside). Agaashi’s sun-kissed private balcony, lined with bougainvillea creepers, affords a nice view of the pol’s Jain temple. Meals are simple. Mohanbhai, the haveli’s shy caretaker makes excellent masala tea (1824, Khijda Sheri, Dhal Ni Pol, Astodia; +91-79-2217 0629, 99789 10730; frenchhaveli.com; doubles from ₹3,500).
Getting There Ahmedabad is 560 km/8 hours north of Mumbai. The two cities are connected via several daily flights, buses, and trains. Shatabdi Express, which departs from Mumbai at 6.25 a.m. every day except Sunday, and the afternoon Karnavati Express are both convenient options.
was formerly Chief Senior Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes stumbling through small towns and is the last person to board the plane. She will always pick the mountains over the beach. She tweets as @kaju_katri.
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