THE FIRST AND THE ONLY HERITAGE CITY OF INDIA

THE FIRST AND THE ONLY HERITAGE CITY OF INDIA
If I would have visited this city before 9th of July, which was technically not possible because of my internship ending on 7th of July, this blog post would have carried a different heading. Yes, for people who read Indian news regularly [1], it is not a big deal to understand which city I’m talking about. And if you still haven’t understood, it is Ahmedabad or Amdavad (અમદાવાદ in Gujarati), the former capital of Gujarat.

If we take a quick glimpse at its history, it was founded by Emperor Ahmed Shah I [2] of the Sultanate of Gujarat. My visit to Ahmedabad comes after the end of my internship at Bengaluru, as a holiday break with my family. Our journey began with reaching Mumbai Central at 5:40 am at dawn to board the queen of the Western Railways – the Shatabdi Express departing at 6:25.

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The Mumbai Ahmedabad Shatabdi Express at Ahmedabad Railway Station

This was not our first visit there. We had already visited it in September 2012 and this year, it was more like a breakthrough holiday rather than a tourist trip. As we had already visited Sabarmati Riverfront, Ashram, Kite museum and the City Museum then, we straightaway headed to Kankaria Lake.

The Kankaria lake is a giant lake with fountains and a mini amusement park in the shape of the logo of the State Bank of India (SBI). Ironically, the logo was designed by Shekhar Kamat, an alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and it is said that it was inspired by the design of the lake [3]. There is also a mini train ride which goes around the circumference of this lake. However, it is not a good deal to visit this place in monsoon as it is infested with flies.

 

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The Kankaria Lake at evening time

Ahmedabad is especially known for its Gujarati cuisine, which is famous all over the world today because of Gujarati expatriate businessmen opening food chains in various countries such as the United States and those of Europe. There are various joints available for refreshments of which we visited the Lijjat Khaman House at Maninagar, near Kankaria lake which is well-known for its dhoklas and pakodas. Gujarat is also famous for its sweets, particularly the mohanthal[4].

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Lijjat Khaman House, Maninagar

A peculiarity of Ahmedabad that one may notice on its streets is the presence of numerous ice-cream parlours. While most of the Amul parlours in Mumbai have closed, and there are hardly any in Bengaluru, you’ll find an ice-cream parlour in Ahmedabad with the same rate of recurrence as that of a vada pav wala in Mumbai or a South Indian joint in Bengaluru. These dedicated ice-cream parlours not only offer you with ice-creams but also with milk and other dairy products. The price of Amul milk per litre in Ahmedabad is INR 40, whereas the same is 42 in Mumbai, owing to transportation costs and shopkeepers selling at 1 rupee higher for reasons not worth mentioning here. Also, how many flavours of Amul cups or candies have you tasted in Mumbai? At least in the retail stores in my area, the only available flavours are some commonly known ones like Vanilla, Strawberry, Butterscotch, etc. However, the abundance of flavours at ice-cream parlours in Ahmedabad would surely make you go crazy!

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Amul ice-cream and milk parlour, Paldi

Gujarati cuisine is incomplete without the Gujarati thali. Yes, the same pure vegetarian Gujarati thali with four to five different vegetables, rotlas, farsan, and papad! The Gopi dining hall at Ellis Bridge [5] is one of the restaurants where this thali is recommended.

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Gopi Dining Hall, Ellis Bridge
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Gopi’s Gujarati thali for INR 250

If you are planning to gift your wife/girlfriend/sister/mother a new saree or dress piece, Gujarat is the best place. Both Ahmedabad and Surat are prominently recognized as one of the best destinations to buy female attire at the cheapest rates. I gifted my mom two designer sarees and my grandmother a simple cotton saree in just under INR 3500; can you imagine that? The same types of sarees from Mumbai or Bengaluru would have individually cost the same as the total price! My mother also bought for herself four fashionable dresses with each at almost half the price than that at which it is sold in Mumbai. Theoretically, if you wish to buy a new dress, the total cost of your journey from Mumbai to Surat/Ahmedabad and back plus the cost of the dress would still be cheaper than its cost in Mumbai, if you are willing to compromise your time for the same!

As it is evident to find street dogs frequently on the roads in Mumbai, cows are a frequent sight here. After seeing numerous cows on the roads, one may have to actually think twice to determine who has a greater population – street dogs or cows?

 

 

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A street cow at Naranpura

 

Our trip concluded with an Air India flight from Ahmedabad to Mumbai in the evening. The Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport is a grand majestic airport with two terminals, just as that of CSIA Mumbai; with terminal 1 meant for domestic flights and terminal 2 for all international and domestic flights from Air India. It has several boarding gates, more than required; however, I found the airport to be somewhat mismanaged which was the reason for our flight departing one hour late. Also, surprisingly, this was the only airport where I found pigeons entering the terminal building.

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Pigeons inside Terminal 2, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport

They enter the building from gaps in the wall of the building facing the taxiway, yet this was still ok. The fact that made me heavily annoyed was that of Air India serving just a cheese bread with Real fruit juice at 9 pm in the night! Who wouldn’t like to have these extremely healthy plain slices of bread at dinner time when they’re expecting a tummy full dinner?

An interesting aspect of this trip was my brother’s commitment to his school homework which was truly appreciable. He was doing his homework on the train as well as in the hotel since it was to be submitted on the coming Monday.

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My brother doing his homework in the Shatabdi Express

We had planned to visit many places, such as the Akshardham temple at Gandhinagar but unfortunately, couldn’t because of the shortage of time. Nevertheless, there would surely be many more occasions of visiting the city; especially after the bullet train project is complete. In the monsoon season, I found the city infested with too many flies. Every sweets shop and restaurant uses an ultraviolet fly trap such as the one shown below:

The primary reason for this infestation is garbage and dirt. In fact, I found the city to be as dirtier as clean it was in 2012; maybe it’s showing a reverse result of the Swaccha Bharat Abhiyan in Narendra Modi’s own state!

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A balloon advertising for Swaccha Bharat Abhiyan at Kankaria Lake; however, it shows very little to no effect on the city!
BRTS bus stop (courtesy: Flickr)

No worries, every city falls in some or the other aspect. Nevertheless, Ahmedabad has shown the world the use of BRTS bus corridor [6] and is the only heritage city in India declared by UNESCO. The Union government has also planned celebrations on this occasion [7]. The city is already old enough, and one of the fastest growing cities. A new international cricket stadium is also being built on its outskirts. I’m already curious to know the venue of the final at the 2023 cricket world cup.

ચાલો જોઈએ!

References:

  1. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/ahmedabad-becomes-indias-first-world-heritage-city-unesco-site-indians-first-4742234/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_Shah_I
  3. https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-story-behind-State-Bank-of-India-logo
  4. http://food.ndtv.com/recipe-mohanthal-442322
  5. https://www.zomato.com/ahmedabad/gopi-dining-hall-ellis-bridge
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmedabad_BRTS
  7. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/ahmedabad-to-turn-i-am-davad-to-celebrate-world-heritage-city-tag/articleshow/59689658.cms

WHY CAN’T INDIAN CITIES HAVE MANY SKYSCRAPERS?

WHY CAN’T INDIAN CITIES HAVE MANY SKYSCRAPERS?

Skyscrapers today are a symbol of growth and pride for the city, aren’t they? Well, if that’s the case, then one may wonder that if the India can proudly boast of its 7% annual growth, why can’t we see the growth in the height of our buildings? Globally, growing economies are looked upon and shown with a mix of their culture and height of their buildings. Try this out – google image search for ‘India backgrounds’ and ‘South Korea’ backgrounds and see the difference. The fact is that even today, the Western world looks upon India as the place of Taj Mahal, Qutab Minar, the ghats of Varanasi or slums. Who knows – the westerners living in dark shadows of their fake media might still be thinking that Indians still live in only either of the two types of residences – palaces or village huts – just as our age-old kingdoms!Before explaining the fact that why Indian cities fall short of skyscrapers, let us try to define a skyscraper. According to Wikipedia [1][2], a skyscraper is a building which is at least 150 metres high. Buildings higher than 35 metres are termed as ‘high-rises’.Now, with the ever-booming real estate sector of major urban areas in the country and the prices soaring up without a rise in the inflation index, it indicates that the demand for real estate has certainly increased and is expected to increase more with GST and RERA in place; yet our focus is on horizontal spread rather than vertical growth. So, are there any reasons behind this?

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Trends of per sq. ft. price at Dadar, a locality in Mumbai; observe that the prices had doubled in just 3 years! Pic was taken from 99acres.com

The primary reason why can’t builders in Indian cities like Mumbai and New Delhi cannot build towers as tall as they desire is because of restrictions on FSI (floor space index). It was introduced after the World War II in the United States. The governing council of the city (Municipal Corporation) in the case of Indian cities is responsible for limiting the value of FSI. The FSI is defined as the ratio of the total built-up area to the plot area. For example, if the plot area is 10000 sq. m., the builder can build an apartment with a built-up area of 10000 sq. m. if the FSI=1 and a built-up area of 20000 sq. m. if the FSI=2. In the case of Mumbai, the FSI for the city district is 1.33 and that of the suburban area (Bandra to Dahisar and Sion to Mulund) is 1. No wonder why most of the high rises are located in South Mumbai!

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A comparison of FSIs of different cities

As it is clearly evident, Mumbai has one of the lowest FSIs in the world. So, should Mumbai increase its FSI? Probably no. Why so? There are several reasons for it.

Firstly, the density of population in Mumbai is ridiculously high at 32,400 people per sq. km. On the contrary, Hong Kong, with an FSI of 12 times that of Mumbai is still less! In fact, Mumbai ranks third on this list [3] trailing behind Manila and Pateros, a suburb of Manila in the Philippines. Hence, with an FSI of just 1 and 1.33, if Mumbai can be this dense, how dense would it be if there had been an unlimited FSI?

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A skyline of Metro Manila, the Philippines

Secondly, Indian government always aimed for cities to have a horizontal spread rather than vertical growth. This was because most of the Indian cities were in the interiors, surrounded by villages. Thus, a horizontal spread of the city would mean ease of accessibility to the central city areas from the adjacent rural areas, and thus a faster urbanization of the rural areas. However, for cities like Mumbai, this is not possible. Due to Mumbai’s geographical constraints (situated on an island and the mainland surrounded by forests and the Western Ghats), it limits the horizontal spread of Mumbai’s metropolitan area. Hence, there was no option but to develop the existing areas vertically and that’s the reason you find Mumbai on this list.

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Satellite view of Mumbai and its ‘satellite’ towns

The third and one of the most significant reasons is Indian climate. Imagine two plots of constant area. One of them has a 10 storey building whereas the other has a 50 storey building. What do you would be the difference between the heat dissipation between the two plots? The plot with the taller building will certainly dissipate more heat. As an example, consider the number of ACs operating in the two plots. As the number of ACs or basically all electrical gadgets is more in taller buildings on the same plot area, the heat dissipation per unit area would be higher if we allow a higher FSI. Also, due to increasing effects of global warming, it would be wise to encourage horizontal spread rather than vertical growth. Mumbai is low lying and there is a high risk of it being submerged because of increasing sea levels. Also, the climate of Mumbai is humid and temperatures soar up to 35°C in summers. So, do we want our actions to increase our mean temperature further? Aren’t we happy with the current humidity and heat? This is more disastrous for dry cities like Delhi, and that’s the reason that Delhi has spread this huge with minimal high rises. You won’t believe, but until the 1970s, the tallest structure in Delhi was the Qutab Minar!

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The urban heat island profile map of London, UK

It has also been observed that there’s isn’t much a difference without putting a cap on the FSI. For instance, Hyderabad does not have any FSI limit; so technically you can build a structure any high over there. However, Hyderabad gets a rank of 80 in the list [2], because of its huge area and possibility of a spread.Well, so if you were the one who belonged to the category of people who compared the growth of the economy with the height of its buildings, do you now

Well, if you were the one who belonged to the category of people who compared the growth of the economy with the height of its buildings, do you now realize how wrong were you? My entire article was a compilation of articles by experts [4][5] and some of the answers on Quora [7][8][9] relevant to the topic. The very purpose behind writing this was because I too was inquisitive to know the same and I thought that it would be better to share my research with others, in case you are wondering the same! If you liked this blog, please do like, comment and follow!
All my references are as below:

  1. List of cities with most skyscrapers, Wikipedia
  2. List of cities with most high rise buildings, Wikipedia
  3. List of cities by population density, Wikipedia
  4. Article in The Hindu
  5. Article in The Indian Express
  6. Emporis skyline ranking
  7. Why doesn’t India have more skyscrapers? – Quora
  8. Why don’t Indian cities grow vertically? – Quora
  9. Why don’t Indian cities have high rise buildings like other newly industrialized countries? – Quora