Have you heard of the mysterious mansions of Sidhpur?

Unearth an abandoned neighbourhood in Gujarat

I shouldn’t have gone googling when the guide asked me, “Would you like to see the wooden mansions of Sidhpur?” It killed the surprise. Or maybe I should have. Because it would have been a huge mistake to skip it. Pick from various good hotels in Ahmedabad to stay, and drive 112 km away to this ancient city of north Gujarat, believed to be located at the junction of the rivers Ganga and Saraswati.

Whoa! Brace for impact

At first glance, its just a remote Indian town untouched by modernisation, but hold your breath till you reach the Dawoodi Bohras neighbourhood. And exhale. Pinch yourself. Rub your eyes. Still there! A broad lane filled with majestic mansions on both sides. Defying all possible expectations. Not because they’re mansions, but because they’re distinctly European in appearance. In the whole range of soft pastels…lime green, pale pink, lilac, salmon, peach, mint green and lemon. You might as well be standing in one of the streets of Karlovy Vary in Czech Republic. But this is a dusty little town in one of the most traditional regions of Western India! And not a soul in sight.

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Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

There’s lane after lane of such houses, all standing abandoned. Is this a dream? A movie set left behind? Or a ghost town evacuated after a mysterious disaster? Hold your horses. The reality isn’t even remotely fantastic. Apparently, the properties were built by a prosperous community of Bohras, (Shia Muslim traders), who migrated from Yemen in the 18th century. Influenced by the good life in Europe? Without a trace of doubt.

European by character…

Once you’ve steadied yourself from the initial dizziness, venture closer and fuel your heightening curiosity further. Order, homogeneity, symmetry, precision…all the essentials features of a predominantly European character meet your gaze unflinchingly. Gaze back with deeper, microscopic vision and decipher the code…similar shape, similar material, similar design. As if all houses were commissioned to the same architect, who used just one common, basic blueprint. Or were all of them clones of the first one? If they were all washed in the same colour, it would appear to be one giant condominium. Its an incredible mix of architectural styles, varying from Gothic to Art Nouveau to Art Deco exhibited through every extravagant aspect possible. Stuccoed facades, ornate columns, trellised balconies, gabled roofs, elaborate brackets, grandiose banisters, flamboyant door mouldings, decorative grills and stained glass windows. All empty! Unreal.

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…but not in spirit

The character is outwardly European, but there’s a very local spirit within. The most obvious one that strikes you is the Gujarati tradition of using wood as building material. But with an unusual, reinvented aesthetic expression. Extensive use of geometric patterns and an abundance of nature motifs like flower and creepers to adorn doors and windows, in keeping with Islamic convention. The human and animal figures that are a quintessential part of Indian design vocabulary are conspicuously absent. Every house has an intricate monogram in English representing initials of the owner! Could you think of a more impressive display for your nameplate?

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Inside, the soul of Indian havelis (mansions) reveals itself in its full glory. The central open courtyard constructed to allow light and air, richly embellished windows designed to resemble portrait frames, and demarcated living spaces for men and women, show how seamlessly outward character and inner spirit can be blended into a unified whole.

Dying heritage

The empty, forgotten lanes of Sidhpur are an example of hundreds of living traditions that are slowly dying a slow death. What must have been a modern, classy, upmarket neighbourhood 200 years back, is now a picture of neglect and sure signs of deterioration is already visible in the peeling paint, broken window panes, and cracking wood surfaces. Its not entirely impossible that dismantling and reselling of decorative elements has already begun. Locals of Sidhpur are baffled that visitors come to see these derelict, creepy Bohra mansions. What’s to see, they wonder.

As you leave the area, you can’t help but pause by the biggest, grandest house of them all. The distinctness of its structure and appearance makes you stare for a long, long time. Soft sun rays hit some of the 365 windows that speckle the grit-blackened facade of the corner villa. Suddenly, all the pretty colours that you had been admiring in those lanes seem dull and drab against this black-and-white drama. Beware! The vintage beauty of this phantom house may haunt you in your dreams tonight.

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Unearth an abandoned neighbourhood in Gujarat

 

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66 thoughts on “Have you heard of the mysterious mansions of Sidhpur?

  1. I love the comparison picture to Karlovy Vary. I shows the architectural style, but also your later points about how the Sidhpur Mansions are very monotonic, while the Karlovv mansions vary in color from one to the next. This is one of those fascinating oddities that you see when traveling the world. There are a few American housing divisions that are made to look Tudor in their architecture, but I have seen nothing to this scale or precision.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Travelling through India is a special experience. We haven’t been to Gujurat on either of our trips there, but would definitely like to. Finding places like Dawoodi Bohras makes a trip so special. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! As a true fan of India, I have to say that I had no idea about this place. It looks impressive. And I also didn’t know that the traditional style of building in Gujarat is with wood. Gujarat is on my must-see list for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely post! The pictures tell a beautiful story. Your descriptions, history and comparisons to European architecture added more depth to the post. Thank you or sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Stunning! I had no idea this existed! What a crazy place to stand abandoned, the homes are gorgeous! India is always full of new and crazy delights. Thanks for sharing, my wife and I will add this to our India travel list!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. First off, to answer your question, no I hadn’t heard of these mysterious mansions! The fact that they are made of wood is really intriguing. They are utterly gorgeous, all those pastels in the bright sunshine. It’s sad that they are empty and forlorn. I can’t imagine someone wouldn’t want to live in them, but perhaps the cost is too great?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. In answer to your questions, I have not heard of the mysterious mansions of Sidhpur – thanks for introducing me! But wow, it definitely looks like you’ve stepped into Europe here. And they all look very extravagant – I can’t believe no-one lives here! Despite its European character though it’s good to know that there is a local soul within. So sad though how what was once such a modern and classy neighborhood can be left to total neglect. That said, I do find abandoned towns and buildings so fascinating.

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  8. So what happened to the Yemeni traders? How come those magnificent houses are left untouched rather than have seen others move in? So many questions!
    I am currently sitting in a hotel in Sri Lanka and some of the elements along the roofs actually remind me of what I am seeing around me. So there seems to be a common style connecting communities around the World.

    Thank you for sharing this find!
    Happy continued travels,
    C

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love that you compare the colours with Karlovy Vary. You’re right! What an extraordinary find with a fascinating history. I, too, want to know the story of why these stunning mansions are deserted. I do hope they get restored. Tell us more.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lovely photographs, the style reminds me a big of the south of Vienna. It’s saddening to see such beautiful constructions fall to disrepair. There’s something very haunting about these images!

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  11. Wow these houses look amazing. Very European-esque like you said and so so colourful and intricate. I would have loved to see these on my recent trip to India. I’ve never heard of Sidhpur but I’ll definitely remember it now. So cool.

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  12. What a unique and cool place! I’ve never heard of it. But you’re right, it does remind me a lot of Europe. The style, the colours, it’s really quite beautiful but I’d like to see it fixed back up, right? It’s charming in its own way though!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What a find! I can clearly see the similarity with the European architecture here. And then there are the local touches like the carvings that you called out. I would definitely like to visit these streets of Sidhpur and look at these unique buildings on my own. Overall, it looks beautiful, and that is what is important. Did you happen to visit the inside of any of these houses?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow, what a unique place! I don’t think I would have ever known about it if I hadn’t read your blog.
    It looks like such a cool place to explore. I’m surprised the mansions all remain empty still.
    Definitely pinning this for a future trip to India 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a beautiful piece of architecture! They are all beautifully built! I really love the pastel colors of the buildings, indeed lovely and so pleasant in my eyes. I hope they will be maintained well to preserve it’s own unique beauty. Thanks for sharing this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. The Dawoodi Bohras neighbourhood is incredible! The architecture is truly stunning and I totally lovely the colours, even the slight fade to them is just beautiful and evocative. I hope they are maintained and restored. You were right about bracing for impact, I didn’t expect this! A hidden treasure that’s for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Is it totally abandoned? Because I saw curtains in one picture. And what’s the reason to leave the city dying? I like history and when you said it’s in Gujarat, I remember it’s traders from Gujarat that brought Moslem to Indonesia in the 13th century.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Goodness me! The Bohras neighborhood is totally instagrammable with all those different shades of pastels! Why on earth is this place abandoned? I’d love to make it out here one day. Holding thumbs that someone restores them to their original beauty!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. What an incredible looking place! I cannot believe it is abandoned!!! What a shame that pieces would be take from here and sold. Why not take care of the place and make something of it?! Looks so unreal! I think it should be a protected site and more people should visit! Also, it’s super “Instagram Worthy” LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I feel sad that after having lived for years in Ahmedabad, never visited Siddhpur. In fact it is only in recent years I have been hearing of these fascinating mansions that lie empty today, a silent comma in the passage of history. In fact recently I met someone who told me that her family owned one of these mansions and they all used to meet up there once in 5 years or so. So fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

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