Earlier in the week, I visited the incredibly sumptuous Patwa-ki-Haveli (the first haveli built in Jaisalmer) and Nathmal-ki-Haveli. Both mansions are covered in intricate stonework.
On Tuesday, when returning from Gadisar Lake, I came across a private haveli, the Salim Singh-ki-Haveli. The ticket seller, I learnt later, was a relative of the owner of the haveli. He offered to give me a tour of the place but I assumed he was after commission and said I’d have a look around and return with any questions.
After about 15 minutes, the guide appeared. We started talking and it became obvious he wasn’t just another guide. He had deep knowledge of the haveli: its history, architecture, building techniques, lifestyle and ornaments.
The guide said that they don’t advertise the haveli but give free tours only to people who are not in a rush, genuinely interested and curious. In me, he found the perfect audience! We chatted for over an hour both about the haveli and India now.
The haveli was built without mortar. Instead the large stones resembled Lego bricks, each having a male or female part to lock them in place.
One of the defining characteristics of the haveli is the courtyard. This attracts wind and distributes it throughout the building to provide natural ventilation.
I was delighted to see columns that looked like they were carved out of a single stone when in fact they were constructed with several pieces held together by a metal rod.
Flowery fringes were separate carved stones that were attached with a simple locking mechanism for special occasions.
The list went on: ingenious locks, incense holders, multifunction receptacles, and air fresheners.
My guide said that although we don’t like noise now, the haveli was designed to propagate noise to detect intruders. For example, the floors had larger gaps between them to create an echo; the stairs for the lower floors were steep but nearer the upper floors (where the bedrooms were) they were normal because the height would be more practicable for the owner and his family. The differing heights would deceive intruders into thinking the stairs were a particular height only to stumble the higher up they went.
The haveli had nine floors originally but the top two were removed because it was decreed that nothing could rise higher than the fort! Earlier in the talk, I had asked if I could go right to the top of the haveli. He said that it wasn’t open to the public. Towards the end of the talk, he opened some doors and led me up some very uneven stairs and out we came on the top floor! He then showed me another room not open to the public.
I left with an admiration for the creators of this haveli built two hundred years ago.