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Havelis in Jaipur, India

This article is part of a regional reporting project in partnership with GoUNESCO, a UNESCO New Delhi initiative.

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Havelis: a constant sight in Jaipur

An interesting constant feature in bazaars around Jaipur, India, is the haveli.

Havelis of Jaipur refer to “medieval north Indian mansions belonging to nobles” (UNESCO, 2011) that feature square or rectangular-shaped courtyard houses. These structures are hard to miss for they form the very fabric of bazaar life in Jaipur.

Without the unique typology of havelis consisting of bungalows, stepped terraces, multiple courtyards, well-defined chowkri (sector), and intricate window panes, Jaipur’s noble past can be easily overridden by urbanization. Putting historical socio-economic issues aside, on architectural and cultural preservation points of view, we can give Rajasthan’s* Tourism and Urban Development Ministry due credit for all the preservation work being done.

Many havelis are passed down through generations and to sell these heirlooms are considered unthinkable. Today, many havelis are transformed into commercial rental spaces, restaurants, and guesthouses. Usually, the first floor is for rentals; and the subsequent floors serve as a guesthouse which is also managed by the haveli-owning family. The owning family lives in the haveli, as well.

It is best to think of a haveli structure as divided into two: the single-family cluster (1) and the servant cluster (2). Between these two clusters lies a thin zenana wing, a waiting area reserved for the house’s attending ladies (today, these cluster differentiations are redefined as you will read below). A family’s status is determined by the number of clusters in their haveli: more clusters mean a higher status.

  • Why it’s a good choice to stay in a haveli:  R and I are grateful for the opportunity to live in a haveli all throughout our stay here in Jaipur. Living in one is like stepping back in time with marble floorings, pillars, carvings, antique implements, and paintings found even in the tiniest of rooms.

A haveli guesthouse is run much like how it was in Jaipur’s noble past, with the owning family in its own cluster, the guests in another, and the attending men and women in another. These days, thankfully, things have changed: the clustering now only refers to sleeping arrangements, and it is not uncommon to see the owning family, guests, and attendants sharing a meal and working together.

Staying in a haveli is one of the rare opportunities to live in a breathing museum. It is okay to get too comfortable, too!

  • As with any country in the world: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

*Rajasthan refers to the northern state of India.

Source: Jain, S. (2011). Walking into the Microcosm of Jaipur. UNESCO New Delhi.