The havelis of Jaisalmer

Sometimes words are not enough to describe experiences; seeing Jaisalmer’s famous havelis (mansions) was one such experience. It was one of those moments when time just seemed to freeze, and only the mesmerising sight before you is in focus. Imagination takes over in an instant and one just gets transported to times gone by.

Of a time when artists and their art was nurtured and treasured and patronised.

Of a time when artists went unknown and the owners became famous through the very art of building such structures.

And of more recent times when modern tourists must have seen these havelis and gasped with delight at the work. Just as I did and just as I know others will when they see the havelis for the first time.

An abandoned Haveli in Jaisalmer
An abandoned Haveli in Jaisalmer

While I saw most of the havelis from the outside in passing, I did spend some time at the Patwon ki Haveli and the Nathmal Diwan Haveli in Jaisalmer. Both these havelis were so grand that at my first sight of them, I think just forgot to breathe.

The Patwa Haveli
The Patwon ki Haveli

Patwon ki Haveli is actually a complex of 5 havelis built next to each other by the 5 sons of Guman Chand, a trader in textiles and precious metals. These multi-storeyed buildings were constructed at the beginning of the 18th century from the golden-yellow Jaisalmeri stone and have mud floors and wooden ceilings ensuring perfect temperature inside, regardless of the weather outside. The exterior stonework is so unimaginably magnificent, that I am going to show you what I saw rather than attempt a write-up which will not even capture its essence.

Jaisalmer havelis, Travel, Rajasthan
A beautifully carved jharokha at the Patwon ki Haveli.
Patwon ki Haveli
Patwon ki Haveli
Carved stonework and carved windows. I can't decide which one is more beautifulc
Patwon ki Haveli: Carved stonework and carved wooden windows. I can’t decide which one is more beautiful
Jaisalmer Haveli 7
Patwon ki Haveli: Just look at the way the design on the wooden windows almost mirror the stonework surrounding it
An interior courtyard at the Patwon ki Haveli
An interior courtyard at the Patwon ki Haveli
Room of glass and mirrors in the Patwon ki Haveli
Room of glass and mirrors in the Patwon ki Haveli

Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli was built in 1885. Gifted to the Diwan by Maharawal Bairisal., this ornamental two-storied haveli was built by two brothers — Hathi and Lalu — who reportedly  fought during its construction leading to one half of the haveli being built by one brother and the other half by another. At first glance, both sides of the haveli look the same, but a closer inspection reveals differences in the carving and symmetry as well.

Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli, which is partly inhabited today, has a special feature — its roof has been cast by binding stone pieces without using beams and brackets. This haveli, too, has a beautiful façade with stone elephants on both side of the platform of the haveli, ornamental latticed balconies, partly bloomed lotus flowers, floral patterns on intricate lattices and minute birds and animals.

Front facade of Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli
Front façade of Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli
A closer look at the exterior of Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli
A closer look at the exterior of Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli
Carved animals at the Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli
Carved animals at the Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli

Jaisalmer Haveli 16

All these havelis were built by merchants and are perhaps the finest example of construction without any European influence. The intricacy in jaalis, jharokhas, balconies and building facades has to be seen to be believed.

Imagine staying in one of the havelis.

Imagine watching the world go by from one of its many windows or balconies or jharokhas.

Of full moon nights, rosy sunrises, and golden sunsets.

Of street life, festival celebrations and processions.

Of soldiers marching past, and wandering minstrels and musicians going by.

Jaisalmer Haveli 1

But most of all I tried to imagine what would it feel like to be serenaded from a jharokha or a balcony. Sigh !  😉

51 thoughts on “The havelis of Jaisalmer

    1. Yes, what lives they must have lead. And know what Amma tells me when she saw these pictures? “How did they keep the place clean?” 😛

      And thanks for your kind words, Anu. I am enjoying writing this series too.

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  1. Wow! Each one of these pics is gorgeous!

    I would have been transported to those times, too, had I been in your place. 🙂 I have always been fascinated by jharokhas – I am sure it would have been a wonderful experience to watch the world go by from one of them! 🙂

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  2. Sigh, how would it have been to live like a princess in such havelis. To be in that era, flanked by royalty! What a world to be transported to! Beautiful post Sudha!

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    1. I just want to be serenaded, Deepa, as I stand or sit in one of the jharokhas. Can you imagine a scene like this in Mumbai? 🙂

      Thanks for your comments. I’m quite enjoying writing this series.

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    1. I think that is true of any place as perspectives will always differ. And all of us see the same things in so many different ways. Jaisalmer has so much to offer for the casual tourist, the serious tourist, the history buff, the culture buff … there is something for everyone. 🙂

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  3. Beautiful! I am sure the pictures do much justice to the actuals. Loved this post. I visited Jodhpur recently and visited a fort there and it was a mesmerizing experience. These havelis, being built by merchants and not by royalty makes them extra special 🙂

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    1. The real thing is the best, and pictures just about capture about 10 % of it. I too visited Jodhpur and its Mehrangarh Fort. Will be writing about it in one of my forthcoming posts soon.

      Another region in India where the merchants built grand mansions is the Chettinad region. Have you been there?

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    1. Welcome here, Fayaz Pasha, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Glad you liked the post and liked it enough to want to visit these places soon 🙂

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    1. Yes, the havelis are really quite something and quite breathtakingly beautiful. But I do wonder how long they’ll stay well as there is a lot of pigeon menace in the area.

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      1. I agree totally. A nice post. We had been there ages ago when my kids were studying at Mayo collage, and remember meeting the descendants who were struggling for financing the upkeep of the Haveli… There was no help from the government.. Hopefully now things have changed. It is a master piece and a must visit site.

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        1. Welcome here, Heena.Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I don’t think things have changed much now. The government is only able to support partly. But a lot of hotels have got together and are trying to support tourism in different ways.

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  4. Yes, to be serenaded….and why not? The beautiful jharokhas / balconies takes me back to Rapunzel and Romeo and Juliet. I doubt any of the balconies used by Juliet or Rapunzel were as lovely and intricately carved. Definitely not Rapunzel’s!
    I am sure the beautiful women living in these havelis would have had gorgeous long hair.
    Great pictures Sudha! and I am already imagining the life going by in those days.
    The room of glass and mirrors—does it also have precious stones/gems too?

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    1. Ooh ! Somebody’s imagination is running strong I must say with Rapunzel and Romeo and Juliet 😉

      The room of mirrors and glass was just that and had no precious stones that I could make out.

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  5. This post on indivine drew me to your blog for the first time! As I read through it, I relived the memories of my visit to this gorgeous place. And needless to say, those are some stupendous pictures! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Malini,

      A warm welcome to “My Favourite Things”. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Great to know that you have also visited and loved Jaisalmer. Have you written about it on your blog?

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  6. phew! that was aboslutely gorgeous and ur writing does the perfect honours!
    “.. these havelis were so grand that at my first sight of them, I think just forgot to breathe..” how I loved that sentence!

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  7. I can so totally imagine a gaggle of young girls all hanging around the jharokha, waiting for the baraat to show up. The haveli, all lit up and decorated with flowers – simply shining in all its finery. I can also imagine the shehnai playing a soulful Bihag or a joyful Malkauns. I can also imagine the sweet fragrance of laddoos, the ghewar, can almost taste the ghee in the daal baati choorma. Shoot, now, not only do I want to go to Rajasthan but I want to go to a wedding at a haveli. Better yet, I want to get married at a haveli. I can’t get a do over of my wedding, can I?

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    1. It’s fashionable to get married in Rajasthan. It’s even more fashionable to renew vows or get married again. So why don’t you do just that in one of the havelis and watch your baaraat come 🙂 Chalo, chalo plan karo

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      1. The DH will run screaming for the hills or jump off a jharokha from my haveli the minute I suggest this. He looks at me and wonders what possessed him to marry me in the first place.

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        1. Meera, Meera. Then time to put some feminine wiles in action. You don’t tell DH you want to get married again. You just tell him about a holiday to Jaisalmer and then take it from there 😉

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