Nobody can be immune to the charms of Jaisalmer. Here you will realise that the desert is not an endless sequence of sand dunes— but there won’t be any reason for disappointment. The sand dunes have an inescapable magnetism that will draw you in, just as Jaisalmer effortlessly does. The muted colours of the desertscape, the radiance of the traditional lives and the artistry embedded in stone are the highlights of Jaisalmer.
The Havelis Of Jaisalmer
The wealthy merchants of Jaisalmer chose to be remembered by posterity by commissioning some of the most ornate residences human beings ever built. These havelis were built in the 18th and the 19th centuries when trade was most lucrative, before the rise of sea trade and the Bombay (now Mumbai) harbour made land routes redundant. The havelis are made of yellow Jaisalmer sandstone and are adorned with elaborate façades, including ‘jaali’ (latticed screens) and carved balconies. The most skilful stonework is done on the outside, reminding you that the havelis are a show of wealth more than anything else. In some of the havelis, the top portions are later additions and this is quite clearly discernible in the quality of the stonework. One of the heartening developments is that many new buildings are using traditional sandstone and employing local stone carvers. The new buildings in the city don’t quite match the elegance of the heritage buildings, but they bolster Jaisalmer’s unique look and feel.
The biggest and the most ornate of the havelis is the Patwon-ki-Haveli, a set of five houses adjacent to each other, built by five Jain brothers in the first half of the 19th century. The most impressive work is on the outside, and the work is so intricate that the more time you spend studying it, the more it reveals itself to you.
The multi-storeyed buildings are constructed in the traditional style – rooms set around a central courtyard. There are remnants of exquisite paintings on some of the walls; many walls have lovely ‘jharokhas’ (projecting stone windows) opening out to the courtyard or the street below. From the terrace, there are great views of the fort. One of the havelis now has a shop selling brocades and embroidered textiles to tourist.
Built in the early 19th century and named after a prime minister of Jaisalmer, this haveli is made of stone without the use of any cement or mortar. Elephants carved out of stone welcome you into the haveli. The upper storeys are replete with delicate carving and charming balconies. The high-arched roof is supported by carved brackets designed in the shape of peacocks. Legend has it that there were two additional wooden storeys that made it match the Maharaja's palace in height, but he ordered for the upper level to be demolished.
Built by two brothers in the late 19th century, this haveli is still partly inhabited. The exterior is beautifully carved. Miniature style paintings and mighty tuskers carved out of yellow sandstone are used for decoration. The family living here tries to earn money by selling paintings and artefacts to visitors. The brothers worked on the haveli from two sides and the outcome is a beautiful blend of the symmetrical construction.