Along the cobbled stone pathways of Jaisalmer, arise the havelis, the mansions of the Jain merchants who were as powerful in the court of the time, as they were adept in business. Their homes are poetry of sandstone, carved and pierced incredibly into different patterns, and though they are opulent and effusive, the result is in perfect harmony, and never offending the eye.
Salem Singh ki Haveli
It is at an unhurried pace that the havelis (houses of rich merchants) should be seen and admired. These havelis are the pride of Jaisalmer architecture, a part of the national heritage. Salem Singh haveli, at the eastern end of the city, is an Arabian Nights structure, which, like a wild flower, blossoms at the top.
Patwon ki Haveli
Near the city centre is the Patwon ki Haveli, built by Guman Chand Patwa and his five sons, dealers in brocade, gold and silver embroidery with business stretching between Afghanistan and China. The five suites built between 1800 and 1860 are virtually the showpiece of Jaisalmer's legendary architectural wealth. The carving on stone far surpasses in beauty the work on brocade and gold. The balconies are so delicately chiselled you would stand mesmerized by the splendour of it all, particularly when viewed early in the morning or in late afternoon. Oblique sunrays create enchanting and dramatic shadows, highlighting the carving and infusing a new life of its own. It is the grandest mansion in Jaisalmer, a veritable museum piece in the open.
Nathmal ki Haveli
The third haveli belongs to Nathmal, a later day prime minister who gifted it to the Rawal and was allowed to retain it. Built by two brothers in 1885, this haveli has two identical looking portions, which are in fact two different parts united by a common façade. Look for the projected balconies, which seem to emerge from books of poetry. So ethereal and charming, the carving never looked better. A perfect example of jeweller's art applied to stone carving. The Muslim silavats (artisans) did a wonderful job here and left a marvellous legacy of craftsmanship excellent in detail and flawless in conception. If only for viewing these havelis a trip to Jaisalmer is more than amply rewarded.