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When it comes to choosing a place to visit in Rajasthan, Bikaner is not the obvious choice for many. Founded by Rao Bikaji in 1488, the beautiful and vibrant Bikaner has the charm of being less explored. Like most of the cities of Rajasthan, Bikaner not only displays its ancient richness through palaces and forts, that have withstood the passage of time, but is also home to some of the majestic Havelis. Located in the Thar Desert, the densely populated walled city of Bikaner is nothing less than a treasure trove of opulently decorated courtyard houses, typically known as Havelis. Constructed mainly for the rich merchant community, the elaborate and intricate work on the facades make you fall in love with these large traditional houses instantly. These Havelis are a visual delight and I was spellbound when I first saw them.
It was during the merchant trail, curated by the Narendra Bhawan, I visited the famous Rampuria Havelis. The moment I stepped out of the car to take a walking tour in those meandering narrow alleys of the old city of Bikaner, I was wonder-struck looking at the sublime grandeur and exquisiteness of the Rampuria Havelis, also known as “The Pride of Bikaner”. Wrapped in the bygone era, the Havelis give you glimpses of the opulent lifestyle of the merchants of Bikaner, who contributed immensely to make the erstwhile princely city as one of the most flourishing trade centers of Rajasthan.
The traders were invited to Bikaner by the Maharajas to make the city their base for trade. Since Bikaner was an important stop on the ancient Silk Route, the wealthy merchant class started making profits from the trade route. As the merchant community started coming to Bikaner and settling down in the city, it soon resulted in the construction of the grand courtyard houses which characterized the historic city of Bikaner.
In the 15th century, the construction of Rampuria Havelis was commissioned to Balujee Chalva by the affluent Rampuria family, who did full justice to the responsibility entrusted upon him and constructed the Havelis that befit their elite status. The Dulmera red sandstone was used as the crucial base material in the construction of these lavish mansions. It is said that the stones had been sourced from a nearby village named Dulmera in Bikaner. The architectural designs of the famous Havelis are a specimen of the artistic proficiency of the workers in that era.
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The delicately curved stones, perforated screens (jaalis), beautiful balconies (jharokhas), the intricate and exquisite detailing of the motif on the walls, the stone overhangs (chajjas) of the façade, present the most stunning amalgamation of varying influences from Rajput, Mughal to the British Colonial. The interiors are said to be the most aesthetically designed, though it is out of bounds for public. It is left to one’s imagination as to how it must have been living a “larger than life” lifestyle in these astounding mansions those days.
While imagining the lifestyle, my heart sank after seeing the hanging big lock on the grand doors, buried in dust for ages. I wondered why the Rampurias had left these Havelis in a neglected state. I was later told by the guide that the original owners of Rampuria Havelis no longer live here and have settled abroad.
These Havelis are looked after by the appointed caretakers. Unfortunately, dating from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries, these grand mansions are sub-divided which has led to their crumbling state. Due to poor maintenance and negligence, these heritage buildings are decaying day by day.I was told that there were over 1000 Havelis at one point of time, but only a few hundred are left in the walled city presently.
It takes less than an hour to take a quick tour around the cluster of Havelis in the old city of Bikaner, but if you wish to delve into a detailed exploration, it may take a couple of hours. The sights were so fascinating that I kept staring and admiring at the same time.
The flower motifs, use of tiles and a variety of design inspirations from the bygone era got me hooked onto those forgotten alleys so much that I decided to come back again to see these Havelis basking under the glory of morning sunshine.
Air: Now you can take a direct AirIndia flight from Delhi to Bikaner. It will take 1 hour 20 minutes to reach Bikaner. From the airport, Narendra Bhawan is hardly 30 minutes away.
Train: Bikaner is well connected to most of the Indian cities via railway. You can easily reach Bikaner from Kolkata, Delhi, Jaipur, Bhatinda, Kalka, Jodhpur etc. There are a number of trains connecting this destination like Bikaner Mail (Delhi Sarai Rohila-Bikaner), Kalka Express (Bikaner-Jodhpur), Bikaner Express (Delhi Sarai Rohilla-Bikaner) etc.
Road: Bikaner is well connected through a wide network of roads. The bus service within Rajasthan is excellent. If you like road trips, traveling to Bikaner via road is a good option.
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