Nestled in the heart of the state of Gujarat, this city is so rich in culture that UNESCO recognized it as India’s World Heritage City (the first of its kind) in 2017. Its multi-faceted nature has made Ahmedabad is famous for a variety of things, and you wouldn’t be surprised if this distinction isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Ahmedabad. The contrasting occurrence of the typical cityscape (think new buildings, relentless progress everywhere you see, etc.) and a walled city that seemed to have a world of its own makes it, for lack of a better word, unique. The coexistence of a variety of religions, its architecture, and the continuous evolution of culture (and hence global relevance) have made Ahmedabad worthy of its status, among others. Although we’ve seen the city charm travelers and locals a number of times, we decided to head into the walled city to see what it’s all about.
But what about the car we drive? The majority of cars on sale today are decent, so finding one for a drive between the walled city of Ahmedabad and our next destination wouldn’t be difficult. But like the two cities, we thought the car had to be just as extraordinary. A compact crossover SUV that can handle all sorts of roads, big enough to be stable on the highways but compact enough to get into the crowded old neighborhoods of the cities we were about to visit. It also had to have an engine and gearbox combination powerful enough to exit corners and overtake effortlessly, but at the same time in urban conditions it had to be hassle-free. And to top it off, this car had to look good, because in awe of the visuals these two cities would offer, we didn’t want to go back to a car that looked oversized or tried too hard to look good. Big criteria, you might say, but the 2022 Hyundai Venue seemed to tick all the boxes.
But before the actual drive, it was time to explore Ahmedabad. The over 600-year-old walled city was founded by Sultan Ahmed Shah. The mix of narrow streets, traditional houses, and even unique structures (like region-specific bird feeders) might not set it apart as much as the evidence of the religion’s coexistence. In the walled city you will find Hindu and Jain temples as well as old mosques (like Jami Masjid and Siddi Sayed Mosque) etc. The concept of Mahajan propagated the idea of living in harmony.
The houses in the walled city were meant to be self-sufficient units, i.e. from water to temperature regulation, they did not need any outside intervention. All of these houses would form a closed street or ‘pol’, which were again completely dependent on themselves. It wasn’t just an early version of what we call residential societies. There were also escape routes because if (and when) an invader struck, the occupants could easily find their way, as our overzealous tour guide was quick to point out. Pretty neat stuff. And considering that Ahmedabad has never stopped evolving, its cityscape is the icing on the cake. From world-class educational institutions to modern amenities, it probably has everything to make it a great city to live in. And if you always wanted to remember where it all must have started, a walk through the walled city will suffice. Or if you want to see the multifaceted nature of Ahmedabad in action, a trip to Manek Chowk will suffice. What is a pretty serious jeweler’s market during the day turns into a street-food lover’s paradise at night. You don’t even have to be late-night to enjoy it, but it’s open late into the night, and the nearly endless sea of food stalls in the Old Town will satisfy your food cravings.
After a tour of the old city, spend some time appreciating the architectural beauty of the intricate jalis of the Siddi Syed Mosque, the shining looks of the Swaminarayan Temple with its Burmese teak exterior, the beautiful statue of the Gujarati poet Dalpataram, the many haveli- style houses, the different tombs (Haziro) and Jumma Masjid, we too had a craving. For quality time behind the wheel. Walking and exploring a culturally rich new city is fun, no doubt, but it’s nowhere as engaging as driving. Especially when the roads are well tarred, tighter at every turn, but wide enough to allow disciplined driving on the lanes, and without any potholes… If you know this part of the world, you would have guessed that we were heading Rajasthan.
And not just any other place in Rajasthan; this trip was to another walled city, also recognized by UNESCO, and probably just as logical/scientific in its creation: Jaipur. Divided into a grid following Vedic architecture, the walled city of Jaipur is one of the greatest examples of planned cities in India. It was founded by Sawai Jai Singh II and was planned under the guidance of architect Vidyadhar. What should be noted is that unlike other places in Rajasthan, which were either surrounded by hills or designed to function as self-contained ecosystems (most likely to avoid encroachment and annexation), Jaipur , in the plains, was more open to traders. The business-oriented approach is evident even now, as bazaars continue to be overrun with travelers and avid shoppers.
Some of the places to visit in the walled city are the City Palace, the iconic Hawa Mahal, various shops on the way to Badi Chaupar (public square), Govind Devji Temple and Kalki Temple, Jantar Mantar, etc. Under the leadership of Sawai Jai Singh II, the majority of the walled city was built in a remarkably rapid period of just four years. He was also a keen scholar, so it’s no surprise that he was responsible for the Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory. Of chaupars at poles (note that here ‘pol’ is used to refer to city gates and not self-contained closed streets like in Ahmedabad), the fusion of architecture and many firsts, Jaipur is a master class. And he rewards those who wish to know more with bouts of amazement.
And you know what surprised us on this trip? The 2022 Hyundai Venue. It’s hard to find a product as complete as this, available at a price where the choices are not rare… And despite all this, as fierce as the competition is, there is a good chance that you will choose always the place. Its design, acclaimed worldwide, is now rejuvenated thanks to large LED rear lights, new alloys and this imposing new grille. Inside, while Hyundai clearly didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, the Venue’s cabin feels more complete. The fully digital dashboard looks great, the driver’s seat is now electrically adjustable and the rear seats can be manually reclined. There’s a nice electric sunroof and in-car air purifier, and of course Hyundai’s Bluelink suite of connected car features – now with Amazon Alexa connectivity and Smartwatch compatibility.
The list of features is long, but what makes the Venue unbeatable is the combination of the 1-liter turbocharged petrol that makes 118 hp and the clutchless manual gearbox. The latter is a cinch to use around town and also when you feel like hypermiling or when you want to hold the car in a specific gear without having to deal with a clutch. It even makes driving more fun. At highway speeds, the Venue is stable but not inert on your inputs, which becomes a lifesaver in an emergency. The brakes are great too. And given that recent incessant rains have turned parts of the highway into what may look like the Stepping Stones film set of Takeshi Castlethe Venue performed extremely well.
World Heritage cities like Ahmedabad and Jaipur have been tasked with putting India on the global cultural map, even before they were recognized. A short visit gave us an idea of India’s brilliant wealth of culture, architecture, science and even peaceful coexistence. And the fact that it’s not always about the journey, but sometimes also about the place.