Historic Havelis of Bikaner
Located in the the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, the walled city of Bikaner is a dense urban settlement with narrow, winding lanes and buildings featuring highly ornamental street facades. Bikaner was established in the fifteenth century along a flourishing trade. A wealthy merchant class that profited from the trade route was responsible for the opulently decorated courtyard houses, known as havelis, that characterize the historic center of the city. Constructed in red sandstone with elaborately detailed facades, they show various influences ranging from Rajput and Mughal styles to British colonial detailing. The architecture and urban form of the walled city are both a response to the harsh arid climate of the region and a celebration of its building tradition, with delicately carved stone jaalis (perforated screens), stone chajjas (overhangs), and projecting jharokhas (balconies). Over 400 havelis presently exist in the city, dating from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries.
Once grand homes, many havelis have been subdivided and are now overcrowded and decaying. Remote and largely untouched by India’s recent economic boom, Bikaner has seen little investment and limited tourism. The havelis are being demolished, not as a whole but piece by piece, because the value of the architectural and artistic components is higher than that of the buildings themselves. Modern constructions are replacing the havelis, which are afforded no heritage protections. Poor maintenance and a lack of waste disposal and drainage systems within the city compound the challenges. All of these issues require urgent response in the form of a comprehensive strategy for urban policy and heritage protection. It is hoped that inclusion on the Watch will raise awareness locally and internationally about the significance of the havelis and promote efforts to improve quality of life through the conservation of this historic urban landscape.
Watch Day 2012
Watch Day at the Historic Havelis of Bikaner in India helped to spread awareness about Bikaner’s built heritage and the need for greater stewardship. Activities included an exhibition of artwork of the havelis and a heritage walk through the historic neighborhood with local students and community members.