Pols are housing clusters which comprises of many families that belong together, and together on the basis of either a caste, religion or profession. Pols are generally said to have only one or two entrances but sometimes have secret pathways which are known only to those who reside there.
Pols are a very interesting housing evolution, in an urban fabric. As pols are a very ancient thing, they existed in times when Ahmedabad was called popularly as the Manchester of India. And most residences that form a part of pols are from the olden times, and are hence beautifully carved and detailed along with an old planning system, that is with a central courtyard and intricately designed thresholds. Sometimes even the facades and the walls inside are extremely ornamental when compared to the facades that are constructed in today’s time.
Pols have a lot of unique characteristics that add to its functional design.
Pols have a central courtyard or a clearance at the centre, which function as a community space for the residences that are a part of the pol. And bird feeder which they call the Chabutro, at the centre as a symbol of replacement for the trees that they have felled in order to add to the ornamentals of the havelis in the pol.
We rode around the streets of Old Ahmedabad, on three wheels, actually two, the other one was never on the street, one might say its because of the space constraint?
Mohemmad bai took us around on a heritage rickshaw ride, through the impenetrable streets. The ride was spectacular, what with all the screeches of tires, dodging the lives of people and dogs. We stopped street after street, the chatter of people and noises from vehicles act as a background score, people were commuting to their places of work, starting their work for the day. Dogs stretched lazily and moved about with much less enthusiasm, energy-less, just like us.
It was an extremely sunny day of one of the most hottest summers in Ahmedabad.
tip: avoid summer visits to Ahmedabad.
The character of the streets intrigued me, as we walked through the narrow and congested streets to, haveli after haveli, admiring the intricate carvings of the thresholds and the small balconies that let members of the residence have a chat with the neighbours and front porches where men sat during their free evenings A screenplay directed itself in my head, housewives having late afternoon conversations over chai, as birds feed on the Chabutro, and chirp along with them; mothers watch over their children playing garlic cricket after a taxing day of school, riding bicycles in circles as dogs chase them around the pol.
Imagining such sequences only taught me the dynamics of such spaces, where each street, pol and house itself, transforms itself with respect to the needs. This multi functionality of a simple space is what interests one in the urban fabric of the city.
Not to forget what adds greatly to the dynamic streets are the little shops that act as hubs of the community and shows how the people who live there, socialise and stay knit together as a community.
People of various faiths and values rub shoulders with each other and create a unique ecosystem in this walled city.
The chai-walas, chaats-walas, soda-walas and of course the golgappa walas. As you read that sentence I’m sure that you could identify what kind of a crowd each type would attract in terms of age, profession and time. And here we see how time plays an important role in the streets of Ahmedabad, transforming the space to suit its needs at various times of the day, week, month and year.
Traditions townhouses or mansions that were constructed in parts of Old Ahmedabad, structures of large scale and of historical and architectural importance. These havelis are constructed with some uniform character and base.
- Socio-Cultural Aspects: The chowk or courtyard served as the centre for various ceremonies and the rituals. The sacred tulso plant was placed here and worshipped daily to bring prosperity to the house.
- Security and Privacy: The chowk, at times, separated areas for men and women, and provided them with privacy.
- Climate: Treating open space in building design to respond to the local climate. Air movement caused by temperature differences is utilized in the natural ventilation of building.
- Different Activities At Different Times: The use of the court in the day time, mostly by women to carry out their work, interact with other women in private open space. Mansions of merchant class had more than one courtyard.
- Articulation Of Space: In havelis, a courtyard has several functions, commonly used for weddings and festive occasions and even day to day operations.
- Materials : baked bricks, sandstone, marble, wood, plaster and granite are commonly used materials.
All these elements join to form an enclosure and give the chowk a composed secured feel. The architectural built form of havelis has evolved in response to the climate, lifestyle and availability of material. In hot climates where cooling is a necessity, buildings with internal courtyards were considered the most appropriate. It acted as a perfect shading technique, while also allowing light inside. The arcade along the court, or the high wall around it, kept the interiors cool.
The ornamental qualities of the Havelis, makes it exceptional and stands above the original residences that existed at the time. The Havelis were different in character and style, but all were ornamental in a way that even their support structures and beams were intricately sculpted and carved.
Stopping in front of the Mangaldas Ni Haveli, we all got down one by one, with our eyes fixated on that colourful three storied elegant structure. The haveli had cute little balconies of a combination of pleasant colours and curves. Not knowing if they gave us permission to go inside, we tried to capture as much beauty that was available to us. But yeah, it was not just a haveli, it was a haveli that was transformed into a café. Mangaldas Ni Haveli II. The entrance to the cafe was from the left and hence wasn’t very obvious.
The adaptation of the old haveli into a picturesque cafe was mind-blowing. I entered into the courtyard first, a small square that allowed the cafe to be well exposed to sunlight. The haveli had a pleasant, yet vibrant colour scheme of passive yellow and browns to go with it in the furniture. The haveli had wonderful food too, especially the Gujarati specials, batra, chaas, and others too.
The light in the cafe was what made it so alive and comfortable, as it had some diffused sunlight and some direct light too.
The next stop was inside a pol, a French pol, that had a different ornamental language and a varied colour scheme altogether. The French Haveli was quite smaller in size and had a direct entrance to it, with a small boulevard in front of the entrance.
We moved into the dim-lit haveli, with a comfortable and cosy couch on its left, it had a jula in the centre with a glass panel right above it, that let in diffused sun light into the space. The simple and yet classy furniture impressed me at my first sight. Looking to the right I found a bright yellow light on top of a dressing table with a large display mirror and to its right inside was the bathroom. The interiors and fitting were made to match the decor of the house.
With great difficulty, we climbed the narrow and steep wooden stairs of the haveli to have a look at its dining room and tea table which was quite spacious compared to the rest of the haveli. The bedrooms too were definitely worth the climb.
The interiors are well exaggerated and the language of restoration has completely taken off from the language of the pols outside. The change in language creates a drastic difference and gives an overall dynamism to the space.
The best time to visit these places would be early in the morning before the sun rises above our heads, especially during the summers. (trust me)