Truth be told, my fascination with the royal land of Rajasthan began with my occasional visits to the Jaipur Literature Festival and the few hours dedicated to short city tours after the fest hours. The evenings spent at Johari Bazar hunting for the best of Meenakari jewellery, at Tripolia Bazar and Chaura Rasta for brightly-coloured lac bangles and at Sireh Deori near Hawa Mahal for Rajasthani handicrafts, make some of my best travel memories. But I was always intrigued every time I heard about the ancient havelis in Rajasthan.
In the heart of the capital city of Jaipur, Bapu Bazar is a local market with a fragrance of its own. The 5000-year-old art of distilling traditional perfumes (ittar/attar) can be witnessed by following the hypnotising fragrances in local markets.
These traditional artifacts are also the signs of the prospering trading community in Rajasthan. The traditional havelis in Rajasthan have been the ancestral homes of the Marwari business communities that prospered during the 18th and 19th century through growing trade relations. Believe it or not, these palatial ancestral homes of the traders have been the focal point of prospering art, architecture and culture in the land of the royals.
Here's my ultimate guide to visiting havelis in Rajasthan, giving you a sneak peek into the history of these thriving cultural hotspots in the land of the royals.
Hotel Mandawa Haveli
The havelis of the Shekhawati region have set a benchmark for excellence in traditional art and architecture in Rajasthan. The Mandawa Haveli was built in 1896 by the 15th ruler of Mandawa, Thakur Bhagwant Singhji. The rich interiors with painted frescos, jewel-adorned pillars and ceiling are indicative of the prosperity of this business clan with ancestral havelis located in this trade route between Delhi-Bikaner.
Local Cultural Scoop: The Shekhawati region is also known for the locally-crafted solid wood furniture and the traditional Rajasthani Mojadi leather footwear. These can be your souvenir picks while visiting Shekhawati.
Seth Arjun Das Goenka Haveli
Jhunjhunu district's small Dundlod town is home to the haveli of Seth Arjun Das Goenka. The haveli was first constructed in 1875 and is an architectural marvel showcasing the life of the merchant clans of the region. The old artifacts, clay figures of merchants and traders depict olden times when the region was flourishing with trading communities that settled here. The haveli is separated into two different quarters, the mardana or male quarter and zenana or the inner female quarters and is one of the oldest havelis in Rajasthan.
Local Cultural Scoop: The haveli also serves as a museum giving a sneak peek into the lifestyle of the merchant community of Dundlod.
Patwon Ki Haveli
Built in the 18th century, Patwon ki Haveli is a complex of five havelis built side by side. The complex was constructed by Guman Chand Patwa, a famous trader of textile and precious metals. The ingeniously designed wooden ceilings and mud floors of the haveli still serve as a great means of temperature control inside the magnificent structure. The ornate paintings on yellow sandstone add to the grandeur of this cluster of havelis.
Local Cultural Scoop: Jaisalmer is known for the mirror-work embroidered garments, carpets, puppets and silver jewellery. These dexterously made handicrafts are present day symbols of Rajasthani craft across the globe.
Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli
The intricately-carved floral patterns and lattices represent the life and times of the 18th century royals in Jaisalmer. This haveli served as the residence of Diwan Mohata Nathmal, the erstwhile Prime Minister of Jaisalmer. It was commissioned to be built in 1885 by Maharawal Bairisal
Local Cultural Scoop: A clash between the two architects, who were brothers, during the construction of the haveli can be spotted in the architectural differences in the two sides of the haveli, which are constructed differently.