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Once part of the expansive Mughal empire, Ahmedabad (also known as Amdavad) is Gujarat's largest city, with a population of around six million extending along the banks of the Sabarmati River, and is best used as a platform to enter or exit Gujarat, or as a base from which to explore the state. As is typical of India's modern cities, Ahmedabad is an intriguing blend of medieval and contemporary history, with a big-city atmosphere seemingly indifferent to its ancient walled heart, with step wells, temples, bazaars, and pols (as the charming old city neighborhoods and residential areas are known). While not a university town per se, the city also has some of the best tertiary educational institutions in India, including the Institute of Fashion Design which clearly draws on its history as a textile hub. It's an industrial powerhouse yet the frenetic pace and chaos belies an informal and carefree attitude, and it appears to have (at least to a Westerner) none of the snootiness and social pressures of Mumbai.

It's got none of the heady sex appeal of Mumbai, and the first-time visitor may experience it as unpleasant and noisy, its history all but obscured by pollution, and its culture too urbanized. But stick around and you'll find a city with its soul still intact, and refreshingly indifferent to the tourism that has transformed the more popular Indian states.

A fascinating window to Gujarati traditional culture and history, its industrious inhabitants play host to over 40% of India's pharmaceuticals and textile businesses, and is a vital component of most other commercial and industrial enterprises. This would come as no surprise to it's tolerant and progressive founder Ahmed Shah, who in 1411, inherited the Sultanate of Gujarat and judiciously relocated it from Patan to its current position on the ancient site of Ashaval and Karnawati, and named it after himself: the suffix "abad" means to prosper. Ahmed attracted traders, skilled artisans, and established a formidable merchant class. Although its fortunes waxed and waned on the back of famines and political unrest, prosper it certainly did, and in the late 19th century the city again rose to prominence as a huge textile centre similarly exporting valuable textiles. Congruously, while Gandhi was revitalizing and restructuring small-scale textile industry, its fame came from its role as a home to Gandhi's famous ashram, which became synonymous with the Indian Freedom Movement. The last textile mills closed in the early 1970s and the economic hardship that followed most likely played a part in the communal and religious conflict in 2002.