As we've previously written, the camel-train route between India and the west since the foundation of Jaisalmer in 1156 brought great wealth to the people of Jaisalmer. This resulted to the construction of magnificent homes intricately carved from golden wood and sandstones. These were called haveli. And many of these traditional Rajasthani abodes still amaze to this day. Some of them have been converted into guesthouses. Others allow tourists to peek in for a fee, of course.
In Jaisalmer, get those shades ready because when the sun fully beams its radiance, most of Jaisalmer glistens with its golden hue, thus its moniker as the Golden City.
Among the most imposing of havelis is the Patwa-ki Haveli (above and below): a honey colored lacework of 5 smaller clusters of smaller havelis built between 1800 and 1860 by 5 Jain brothers in a narrow street in Jaisalmer. The siblings were merchants of brocade and jewellery. This magnificent "home" was the very first haveli constructed in the city.
Some local literature has this to add: "The first among these havelis was commissioned and constructed in the year 1805 by Guman Chand Patwa and is the biggest and the most ostentatious. It is believed that Patwa was a merchant of considerable influence in his time. He ordered the construction of separate stories for each of his 5 sons. These were completed in the span of 50 years. All five houses were constructed in the first 60 years of the 19th century."
There were whispers from the grapevine regarding the owner's source of wealth which involves money laundering and the opium trade. But such talks is common due to the lavish designs of each haveli. These days, the Patwa-ki is under the management of the local government. The State Art Department and the Archaeological Survey of India find their homes in some parts of the haveli. It's open to visitors for 70 rupees for foreigners, 20 rupees for Indians, and 50 rupees for still cameras. It is open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM.
Another haveli I was able to check out was Salim Singh-ki Haveli, a 300 year old haveli once owned by a fearsome Prime Minister when Jaisalmer was still state capital. The top story is particularly imposing like a balcony decked with graceful arches and several cupolas reaching the skies. This is open from 8 AM to 6 or 7 PM, and has an entrace frr of 100 rupees. It's located near the fort entrance.
Natmal-ki Haveli (Nathmal) was closed when I dropped in, but it was enough to see it from the outside. This was a 19th century home of a former Prime Minister. The virtuoso work is the product of the competitive spirit of brothers who designed the two wings of the haveli.
Walking around the city takes you to the coterie of havelis of varying sizes and designs; each one gleaming in golden hue. Some of them look abandoned, though many of these havelis look immaculately preserved. During this "tour", I dropped by the Tourist Information Center (which was closed) and the post office to send postcards to my mother. It's nothing sentimental, but this allows her to experience trips such as this one.
MEAL FIT FOR A KING
Later that day, I invited my rickshaw driver for late lunch at the Seema Restaurant, one of the better looking dining places in that area (we had to go up the second level to get to the restaurant). I ordered sweet lassi (yoghurt), fried chicken fried rice (70 rupees), and sweet and sour vegetable curry (60 rupees). My driver had chicken curry with 8 pieces of chapati. Eight! Imagine that. :) This took me back for 380 rupees, a considerable amount for a long-haul traveler.
|Salim Singh-ki Haveli (above and below)|
|Embroideries and mirror works are the city's main industry aside from tourism.|
|Tourist Information Center|
|My rickshaw driver|
|Sweet and sour chicken with vegetables and pineapple. Delicious.|
|Fried chicken fried rice|