Havelis or mansions are a constant sight in Jaipur.
An interesting constant feature in bazaars around Jaipur (the capital city in the northern state of Rajasthan) in India, is the haveli.
The 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 Tourism and Urban Development Ministry due credit for all the preservation work being done.
Many havelis are passed down through generations and selling these heirlooms is 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 differentiation is redefined as you 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? I am grateful for the opportunity to have lived in one all through my stay in Jaipur. Living in one is like stepping back in time with marble flooring, 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 other rooms. These days, thankfully, things have changed. The clustering now only refers to sleeping arrangements, and it is common 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!
Source: Jain, S. 2011. Walking into the Microcosm of Jaipur. UNESCO New Delhi.