A Merchant trail along Rampuria Havelis of Bikaner & its neighbors

posted in: Asia, Heritage, Rajasthan | 72

Frenzy! That is what I felt when I visited those small lanes of the uber-rich merchants of Bikaner. The “fear of missing out” – FOMO was running high as I walked the lanes from Rampuria Havelis of Bikaner to Kothari Havelis and its other equally beautiful neighbors. There was so much to see and so little time. In fact, as I write this, I have a FOMO of sharing the many details that I saw. What am I gushing about? Well – its the stunning, ornate, magnificent, out-of-the-world heritage homes of the erstwhile silk route merchants of Bikaner.

A merchant trail along Rampuria Havelis
A merchant trail along Rampuria Havelis

Of the many trails that Narendra Bhawan – my host in Bikaner took me on, the Rampuria Havelis Merchant Trail was my favorite. So much that I not only went along with everyone else but on the last free day, requested my host to take me back there again. I had only seen pictures of these mansions (called Havelis) but in real life – they are something else. Everyone talks of the glorious Junagarh Fort and the various palaces of Bikaner but these merchants had homes that can only be termed as “mini palaces”. Don’t believe me – just see it for yourself and I bet you will be including it in your places to visit in Bikaner.

Background of the Merchant Locality in Bikaner

The elegant facade of Rampuria Haveli of Bikaner
The elegant facade of Rampuria Haveli of Bikaner

Bikaner as a town was one of the places on the famous Silk Route of Asia. With the flourishing trade and the encouragement of the Bikaner Royal court, a lot of wealthy merchants set up their homes here. Elaborate courtyard mansions with artistic windows & doors, these Havelis of Bikaner are a symbol of the flamboyant lifestyle of these merchants, especially between the 15th and the 17th century. The havelis are a stunning mix of Mughal, British and Rajput style of architecture. Over time, with the need to modernize, families moving overseas and a nuclear set-up popping up, these were abandoned.

Kothari Haveli - yet another merchant haveli in Bikaner
Kothari Haveli – yet another merchant haveli in Bikaner

Of the many that thrived in that era, only 400 have survived. Most of these are closed, while a few have been refurbished to either newer residences or converted to hotels. Some are opened once a year during festivals when the family who owns it, visits the city. They might not be as well maintained as you might like them to be but they are still grand – so much that this historical part of Bikaner is now its pride.

Rampuria Havelis – Grandest of the Havelis in Bikaner

Rampuria Havelis - the start of Merchant Trail of Bikaner
Rampuria Havelis – the start of Merchant Trail of Bikaner

Among the surviving Havelis of Bikaner, it is a common consensus that the Rampuria Havelis are the grandest of them all. One look at them and you will also, agree to the same. The Rampuria Havelis is actually a group of 7 Rajasthani Havelis made by 3 brothers. The seven havelis are across each other on a narrow street. Stand in the center of the street and you will see a triangular mansion with the other two along its edges, except that the Haveli is not really triangular. The layout is so unique that it reminded me of that Farmville kind of game where you design your plots to create an artistic layout.

Along one of the side roads of Rampuria Havelis
Along one of the side roads of Rampuria Havelis

Most of your trail starts at this point. Here is where I got the first frenzy attack for I really did not know what to look at. The construction of the Bikaner Rampuria Havelis is credited to a local architect – Balujee Chalva. They are possibly one of the best examples of Rajasthani haveli architecture. Made out of dulmera red sandstone, it was as if every nook and corner was fighting for my attention. However, you take a deep breath and stay calm. I am going to just decipher it all for you so that you don’t suffer the same fate. Hopefully, with this, you will know where to look when you are there 😉

Bas Reliefs on Rampuria Havelis

The Colonial Facade of the oldest Rampuria Havelis of Bikaner
The Colonial Facade of the oldest Rampuria Havelis of Bikaner

Red bricked walls fitted with delicate windows and doors and carved overhangs  – this is the sight you get when you stare at each of the Rampuria Havelis. However, even on this red sandstone facade are some interesting Bas Reliefs and Paintings that you can make a note of. On the oldest Haveli is a row of reliefs depicting the British King and Queen. Our Guide said that it was King George and as to why – maybe it was just allegiance or design, no one knows.

Round painting on the walls of Rampuria Havelis, Bikaner
Round painting on the walls of Rampuria Havelis, Bikaner

Look carefully and you will see plenty of deities on the other Rampuria Havelis.  And then, there are some in the form of paintings. Like the ones on the triangular looking Rampuria Haveli. Glance above the first window to see various circular panels of colorful paintings of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

Windows & Doors of Rampuria Havelis of Rajasthan

Doors of Rampuria Havelis with their carved frame & name plate
Doors of Rampuria Havelis with their carved frame & nameplate

What enhanced the beauty of the Rampuria Havelis of Bikaner were its aesthetic windows and doors – some contrasting its red facade while some blending right in with elegance. Each fixture was set on an intricately carved floral frame. The oldest Haveli had simple brown wooden doors. These got replaced by elegant brown ones with rich frames in the triangular looking Haveli.

Contrasting doors & windows of Rampuria Havelis of Bikaner
Contrasting doors & windows of Rampuria Havelis of Bikaner

The contrast of the green against the red in the Haveli opposite the triangular one made the entire Rampuria Haveli set-up stand out. This one also had a lovely carved balcony parapet – one of the few open structures facing the roads.

The main entrance of Rampuria Haveli, Bikaner
The main entrance of Rampuria Haveli, Bikaner

As was the custom in those days – there were separate entrances for the men and the women of the Rampuria Havelis. The ones facing the front were for the men while the side entrances were for the women – away from the public eye. While this may seem like a discriminating factor, the Rampuria family did seem to ensure there was no difference in the decor of each of those doors. There was a uniformity as far as the architecture of the Haveli was concerned.

Close-up of the main door of one of the Rampuria Haveli
Close-up of the main door of one of the Rampuria Haveli

The only obvious difference was the presence of two types of entrances – large ones directly onto the street and a few that led up the stairs to even more ornate doors. Our guide mentioned that these were for different types of visitors. The more important ones were led up the staircase.

Stained glass on windows of Rampuria Havelis
Stained glass on windows of Rampuria Havelis

The central triangular haveli had an interesting use of Stained Glass for their windows, adding that little dash of color to the otherwise red facade.

Aesthetic Window of Rampuria Haveli, Bikaner
Aesthetic Window of Rampuria Haveli, Bikaner

One of the Havelis seemed to be used as an office and had one of the windows opened. This gave me a good idea of how it might have looked when opened. I found these as perfect picture frames. All I had to do, is just hop over and pose behind those elegant frames for one. Sadly, this time, it was not to be.

Open jharokha styled window of Rampuria Haveli
An open jharokha styled window of Rampuria Haveli

Overhanging or Chajjas of Rampuria Havelis

Chajjas & Corners of Rampuria Haveli
Chajjas & Corners of Rampuria Haveli

One of the things I enjoyed spotting was the carved overhanging (chajjas) and the corners of the haveli. What made them interesting to me was not just the variety of designs but for the fact that these are parts of a building often neglected. In the case of Rampuria Havelis – these had their own story to tell. And one that could not have been told any better.

Carvings on the overhangings of a door frame on Rampuria Haveli
Carvings on the overhangings of a door frame on Rampuria Haveli

Kothari Havelis of Bikaner

I was stood transfixed by the opulent Rampuria Havelis until my guide politely jolted me out of this spell to remind me that there were some more of these elegant havelis that I would love to catch. Right he was, for if I had not gone ahead to the others, I would have sorely regretted missing my second most favorite cluster of Bikaner Havelis – The Kothari Havelis.

Kothari Haveli in Bikaner
Kothari Haveli in Bikaner

Where the Rampuria Havelis had a brick-walled facade, the Kothari Havelis of Bikaner had every inch of theirs covered with stunning floral carvings. There is no missing the carved beauties of the chajjas and the doors. Some of them had these lovely paintings on their walls – quite like the Bikaner Miniature Art that I spoke of in my last post.

Paintings on Kothari Haveli in Bikaner

The Kothari Havelis seem to be in use for they definitely seemed better maintained – with flower pots in the balconies & curtains on their windows. However, there was no one in sight who could confirm that.

Dadda Havelis of Bikaner

Dadda Haveli in Bikaner
Dadda Haveli in Bikaner

The third important group of Havelis along this Bikaner heritage walk. In actual life, this might have been probably the most prominent family. The Dadda family supported the royal family in terms of offering wealth when required and in return, were quite favored by them. Not as traditional as the Rampuria and the Kothari Havelis, the Dadda havelis showcased a touch of the British- European influence in its design.

The European influence on Dadda Haveli
The European influence on Dadda Haveli

As our guide pointed out – the use of colors like cream and white, with straight-lined balcony parapets were some indicators of that influence. However, there is still no missing out on the traditional haveli designs – the doors, windows and the Chajjas. I particularly found this facade interesting for its symmetry of doors and windows – which are different and yet not so.

Traditional touch to Dadda Haveli
Traditional touch to Dadda Haveli

Inside a refurbished Haveli – Bhawar Niwas

Central Courtyard inside Bhawar Niwas - one of the erstwhile Rampuria Havelis
Central Courtyard inside Bhawar Niwas – one of the erstwhile Rampuria Havelis

As impressed as I was with the outsides of a Haveli, I was dying to see the insides. I am sure that you too, were quite curious to know that. I wish I could have met one of those family members who could have allowed me a peek within. Since that was not to be, my guide suggested a visit to one of the Rampuria Havelis – turned hotel – Bhawar Niwas.

Drawing room of Bhawar Niwas
Drawing room of Bhawar Niwas

Though refurbished, you get a clear idea of what might have been the layout of these havelis from inside. A central courtyard dominates the inside while around it are the rooms. Bhawar Niwas had the drawing room and the guest rooms right near the entrance. These were quite ornate with the family crest at various points and elaborate use of gold to add that glitter.

The clock facade within Bhawar Niwas
The clock facade within Bhawar Niwas

The other rooms as you move in further, were the various bedrooms of family members while the kitchen and dining room were on the first floor. Even within the haveli, the decor had the traditional carved parapets and window frames. My favorite among all these – the clock set in the courtyard on all four walls of the haveli. Guess, everything in those days was timed to the minute 😉

Other sights of the Merchant Trail

Rakheja Haveli - found along the Merchant Trail of Bikaner
Rakheja Haveli – found along the Merchant Trail of Bikaner

The merchant trail of Bikaner is not just limited to these groups of Havelis that I have described here. There are plenty of other smaller ones that you can still see. Colorful wall paintings and tile work with Hindu Deities are common sights that you should watch out for.

One of the Jain Temples on the Merchant Trail of Bikaner
One of the Jain Temples on the Merchant Trail of Bikaner

The Jain temples at various squares add to the exquisiteness of this trail. The white marble structures with their gold and silver doors add a certain serenity to the atmosphere. If you look carefully at the walls of these Jain temples, you will see delightful marble engravings  – some floral and some with a religious significance.

Carved Door frame of a Jain Temple along the Merchant Trail of Bikaner
Carved Door frame of a Jain Temple along the Merchant Trail of Bikaner

Though I spend at least 3 hours here, I felt I still could not capture everything. There were quite a few hidden Havelis that I missed. And then, there were some more that I saw but will let you discover for yourself. I know that you are already planning your visit there. Pretty sure in fact! For there is no other way. The Merchant Trail of Rampuria Havelis has to be on your list of Bikaner sightseeing!

Getting here

  • Bikaner is very well connected by road and railway to all the major cities of India. It has limited flight connectivity with one regular Air India Flight every day from Delhi. The seats for the same are limited and it is best booked early.
  • Once in Bikaner, you can hail a cab or an auto to take you to the old city of Bikaner – specifically the Rampuria Haveli. Click here to get the location on your mobile.

Travel Tips

  • You can always hire an auto to take your around this area but I highly recommend that you walk this place.
  • The roads are very narrow and are two-way. Hence, please be alert when taking pictures here.
  • There are plenty of cows and dogs on the roads here. Be careful where you step.
  • Keep drinking water handy as there is a lot of walking to be done.
  • Dress in comfortable cotton clothes and wear walking shoes for this trail.
  • If you can hire a local guide through your hotel, you are likely to enjoy the trail better.
  • Early morning is the best time for visiting this area as there is little traffic and also, you get some good light for photography.
  • If you are clicking pictures of people here, I would request my readers to please ask them for their permission. It is only polite.

P.S: I experienced this merchant trail as a part of my Narendra Bhawan stay in Bikaner.


Share the Thrill of Travel

72 Responses

  1. Yogi Saraswat

    राजस्थान की हवेलियां ही अपने आप में पूरा इतिहास और शाही संस्कृति ओढ़े हुए हैं। बेहतरीन पोस्ट

    • Ami

      Trust me, I did not have enough of it. So, will return for sure. Thanks for stopping by

  2. Clarice Lao | Camping for Women

    I need a lot of time to see this place. You are correct that everything is competing for attention thus, ample time is needed to appreciate each and every design. It would be a dream to visit this place.

    • Ami

      Trust me, even if you have time, you would go crazy taking it all in. It’s just magnificent.

  3. Nathan Ang

    Bikaner is certainly home to a wide variety of magnificent architecture with its iconic red stone designs. I would love to be able to visit this beautiful city that I was not even aware existed before last year but now have heard so many positive reviews from travellers and backpackers alike.

    • Ami

      It is a smaller city in the same Rajasthan circuit and gets missed. Glad to that it is now getting some limelight for it so deserves it. Fingers crossed for you Nathan. Hope you can visit it soon.

  4. Soraya

    The architecture and the design of the buildings are just incredible. You can really see the rich history of Bikaner from its Silk Road days. With all the rich merchants setting up their homes here, it’s no wonder the design of the buildings are such. I’m also loving to see the paints on the side of the building.

    • Ami

      It is indeed nice to see the lifestyle from those days. I am sure when you see these in person, you will love them even more for their details. Hope you can visit soon, Soraya.

  5. Karla

    Your photos are lovely. It makes me want to go to Bikaner too. The details of everything is very intricate. Something I would love to see. India is so rich with these things.

    • Ami

      I hope you do get to visit this for yourself. These are real gems. Thanks for stopping by, Karla

  6. Kavita Favelle

    Wow, I can see why you had FOMO, every corner of thesHav lis of Bikaner seem to have another beautiful detail to appreciate! Those merchants sure spent the effort trying to outdo each other with their homes! The Rampuria Havelis outshine even the others, how wonderful to see them in person. Admit it, how many shots did you click? The Bhawar Niwas gives a great view inside what it must have been like.

    • Ami

      Countless shots, Kavita. I could not stop clicking and even with the countless shots, it was FOMO. These are truly beautiful. Thanks for stopping by Kavita.

  7. Denny George

    I was under the impression that one needs to visit Shekhavati to understand the grandeur of Rajasthani Havelis. I stand corrected. These look absolutely amazing. I had no idea these existed since I have never been to Bikaner.

  8. Dada

    Beautiful! And mostly thanks to you with your eyes for details and great description of these incredible historical buildings! I can imagine how it was many many years ago walking on these streets but what I love about India is that unlike many countries in the world, it feels like the time has stand still. If I knew about the Rampuria Havelis and its neighbourhood when I was back packing around India in 2014, I would definitely took my time to go there!

    • Ami

      Ah, Sad that you missed these but am sure you can get back to enjoy them and the other stuff that I am sure you would want to explore. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Vasu Devan

    I completely agree with you . I can go to Bikaner and those havelis again any time. The architecture amazes me and shows the how affluent the traders were in those days.

    • Ami

      Yes, it is a good idea to go back. Pretty sure that not just you, but I left a lot unseen.

  10. Marvi

    I can really see why you wanted to see this again! Bikaner looks amazing. What a unique structure and very enticing these Havelis of Bikaner are. Can’t believe how detailed the buildings. Too bad about not being allowed to see the interior of any of the Haveli. I’m sure it’s as impressive as the exterior. Good thing though that you were able to see inside the Bhawar Niwas. Such elegant interiors!

    • Ami

      Well, the way I see it, something is better than nothing. At least Bhawar Niwas gave me an idea. Thanks for stopping by Marvi. and I hope you can visit here soon.

  11. Chris Bloomfield

    We love seeing fancy buildings with historical value. These Havelis are stunning and I can understand you having a fear of missing out. The carved overhanging chajjas are so intricate and beautiful. I love the inside courtyard of Bhawar Niwas.

    • Ami

      It is an uncontrollable feeling – that FOMO. Am sure you will get it too but it is so worth it as well. Thanks for stopping by Chris.

  12. Aditi

    Oh my!! Such grandeur packed in these structures. They truly are a glimpse of the glorious past. I particularly love the Rampuria havelis. Must head there soon. Cheers!!

  13. Siddhartha Joshi

    Absolutely gorgeous place and your pictures have covered the havelis so well Ami! Bikaner is one of my favourite cities of Rajasthan and I itch to go back there someday…there is so much to explore both within as well as around there!

    • Ami

      I don’t think I will tire of visiting this again. Though my second visit to Bikaner, did not have enough of it. Hence can understand your itch too. Thanks for stopping by

  14. Ash

    “A picture is worth a thousand words”, as the cliche goes. You don’t have to worry about FOMO as your photos would certainly make up everything for the viewers. Unique and stunning architecture of the Havelis. The designs are very intricate and ornate.

    • Ami

      I am glad that you find these good. I will warn you though that there was plenty that I could not click or myself have left unseen. I hope I can visit again for it. Thanks for stopping by, Ash.

  15. Lauren

    Ah, those windows and doors! Such intricate designs and sculptures. I’d be walking around there taking photos all day long. It’s so beautiful and I’m loving the history.

    • Ami

      That is exactly,what I did….walked and captured it all. but was not enough. Got to go back. Thanks Lauren for the lovely comment.

  16. Ryan Biddulph

    LOL FOMO Ami! I have suffered from this affliction. Feeling it now in New Zealand. I see why you felt this way in Rampuria, as so much stuff tempted your senses. The whole of this country and region screams at your attention. I went through a wee bit of Southern India well before my travel blogging days. I am digging a return trip soon. Thanks for sharing 🙂


    • Ami

      Get down here soon Ryan. Lots more of FOMO awaiting. Am sure you are having a blast in New Zealand but India still calls.

  17. Suruchi

    Ami, you have covered the merchant trail and these Haveli’s so well in your pictures. They truly are grand and loyal and their architecture is super impressive. I too liked those Chajjas and that traingular Rampuria Haveli is my favorite.

    • Ami

      Thank you Suruchi. I am sure you will love exploring the place as much as me. Hope you get there soon.

  18. Nicola

    Wow, the buildings are beautiful! I love walking around places like this, I totally agree that you definitely see more than when your in a car. I particularly like all the blue contrasting colours of the Rampuria Haveli.

    • Ami

      Difficult to drive here anyway as the roads are quite narrow. Yes, you can do a horse carriage but walking is the best given the details. Thanks for stopping by

  19. Heidi Medina

    Hehe on the FOMO. Love that feeling. All the Haveli’s are so beautiful. The architecture of India is so beautiful and amazing in the colors and details. We haven’t been yet really need to get there.

  20. Rishabh & Nirali

    For some reason the shekhawati belt is the only one remaining in Rajasthan which we haven’t explored despite our multiple trips to the state. Hopefully we’ll get to them sooner given the wanderlust you’ve just reignited 😉

    • Ami

      Hope you do. Am sure you will find plenty of stories here. I too have to see more of it.

  21. Saumya Rai

    Lovely pictures! We always enjoy the tips at the end of the articles. Rightly said, it’s always polite to ask before clicking someone!

  22. Gujarat Trip Plan

    The blog takes the readers into the glorious bygone era through the Havelis of the Bikaner and Rampuria. Thank you for beautifully describing the numerous Havelis of Bikaner and Rampuria which are unique and amazing in its own way. I really loved the blog and will surely plan a trip to explore the stunning Havelis.

    • Ami

      These Havelis are indeed quite a treat to see. Hope you get to see them in person. Thanks for stopping by

  23. JRDTours

    Thank you, sir, for sharing this kind of informative information about the old culture as well as the real and unique architectural structure of Rajasthan. All the beautiful places that you discuss in the following blog are precisely very beautiful.

    • Ami

      Thank you. I am glad that you like the blog and its posts. Rajasthan is quite close to my heart and I love visiting it over and over.

  24. Brenda Hayes

    These Havelis unfolds the pages of history. Such beautiful architecture, people back then were really artistic. I want to visit Bikaner and make some unforgettable memories.

    • Ami

      Thank you Brenda. These Havelis are a class apart and yes, I do hope you get to them for your own memories. Cheers

  25. Pawan Kumar

    The Wow Post. Pictures and your writing made it all look so mesmerize. I have been to Bikaner but just to the Karni Mata temple. Now I have to visit the town again and pay a visit to these havelis. Wonderful article again.

  26. Shyam Tiwari

    Amazing post ! I really liked the way you narrated the travel story and I would love to have more this kind of stuff which is informative and helpful to visitors .

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