Ahmedabad was an intriguing addition to TIME magazine's 2022 list of 50 of the World's Greatest Places.
Tapan Joshi, who spent two years working and exploring Ahmedabad, is not at all surprised.
Most cities the world over have a common theme.
There's the old, or the 'original' city, and there's the newer, developed version.
Planned cities such as Chandigarh are an exception. But a visit to any major city in India, be it Varanasi and Delhi in the north, Kolkata in the east, or Hyderabad down south, will reveal that the old parts have frozen in time.
I have had the good fortune of travelling to every major Indian city on all-expenses-paid tours as a sports journalist, covering cricket matches.
Apart from Mumbai, where I was born, I have worked for a considerable period in Ahmedabad, Nagpur, and Chandigarh.
The western Indian city of Ahmedabad, which the British called the Manchester of the East for its thriving textile business, is a classic example of two very different cities blended into one.
The city is designed on the lines of London, with a river running down the middle, and several bridges acting as connectors.
The old Ahmedabad or the Walled City is dotted with bazaars and mosques and tall gates of what was once a fort.
It has remained unchanged over the years, with the city's sizeable Muslim community residing there over several generations.
The new, bursting-at-its-seams Ahmedabad with swank hotels, restaurants and large, ugly glass-façade malls, is ever-growing.
It's almost like the judwaa-formula Bollywood movie wherein the hero and his identical twin grow up as contrasting personalities.
Alcohol is banned in Ahmedabad as part of Gujarat's prohibition policy and the city has one of the busiest Alcoholics Anonymous offices in the country.
The Times of India reported that the COVID-19-induced lockdown in 2020 resulted in a three-fold rise in the Alcoholics Anonymous membership in Ahmedabad.
Parts of the city, especially where the Jains are a majority, are rigidly vegetarian where even the consumption of eggs is frowned upon. And the city is home to a hole-in-the-wall outlet whose fried beef (buffalo meat) kebabs and samosas are hugely popular not just locally but also in the Middle East.
A Google search on things to do in Ahmedabad will suggest the usual visit to the Gandhi Ashram on the banks of Sabarmati, a stroll along the riverfront, a visit to the ancient mosques and high-profile temples. And of course, there's the food.
Recently, the city has been ravaged by unprecedented rainfall and the resultant flooding, but it will be at its glittering best in a few weeks with the nine-night Navratri, or the Garba festival, which begins September 26.
Even without the Garba, Ahmedabad doesn't sleep, and the big reason is the food.
Fancy an ice-cream sandwich?
The street food of Ahmedabad is in a league of its own.
Recently, a video went viral, prompting sneers from several people, including Omar Abdullah, at the sheer audacity of the dish.
It's what the locals call an 'ice-cream sandwich'.
Eating it requires the similar sort of courage and heart needed while consuming frog's legs at Bangkok's night market.
Here's the recipe: A large piece of bread is cut into shape of a heart.
It is drenched with butter, green chutney, and jam.
Then a chocolate is grated over it, after which grated cheese is added. And finally, two large bars of choco bar ice-cream are placed on the cheese, following which it is further dressed up with tomato ketchup.
Ahmedabad has its own version of pizza, called 'Biscuit Pizza'.
It is basically a hard maida base, solid like a biscuit, which is smeared in tomato ketchup and butter.
Thin slices of onions and capsicum are added, after which it is baked in the oven for 10 minutes.
Once out of the oven, huge amount of cheese is grated on it and more ketchup gets added.
The city has its own night food street, at Manek Chowk locality in Old Ahmedabad.
More than 50 stalls stand cheek by jowl, selling everything from fafda, ganthia, pizza, sandwich, pani puri and chaats to chhole bhature.
People sit on the floor covered with mats, the rich and the poor all brought to the same level by the love for food.
The Manek Chowk market is a vegetable, grocery and jewellery bazaar during the daytime, and re-opens as a food market around 8 pm, and is operational till 1.30 am. It would remain open till 5 am in pre-Covid times.
No shortage of meat
Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujarat is home to the Cheliya Muslim community, which has found fortune in the restaurant business.
The Cheliyas own and manage more than 1,500 restaurants across Mumbai too, including the legendary Olympia at Colaba, and other parts of Maharashtra and in Gujarat.
The Cheliyas have their own version of biryani, which is somewhat similar to what you get at the Jaffer Bhai Delhi Darbar outlets in Mumbai.
Then there are the hole-in-the-wall outlets such as Bera's Samosa and Kebab, which was established in 1928 and still operates out of the same location in Bhadra in the Walled City.
The meaty answer to the vegetarian Manek Chowk is Ahmedabad's Bhathiyaar Gully, which dozens of 'tawaa' outlets dish out kebabs, bheja, gurda-kaleji, chicken and prawns fry through the night.
Further tips for Ahmedabad travel
- Ahmedabad has an excellent public transport system, but autorickshaws are the best way to enjoy the city.
- Hotels are available across the city for every budget.
- Bootlegging of alcohol is rampant, but getting a temporary alcohol permit is easy. All major hotels have liquor stores. Carry your passport, Aadhaar card, voter ID and driving licence. Log on to http://eps.gpeonline.co.in/ for more info.
- Visit Law Garden street bazaar for authentic local garments, artificial jewellery, décor items, and handicraft.