Ever wondered what the homes of the Great Silk Road merchants looked like? Please look at the image above this paragraph. All the monumental edifices lining the pronged road belonged to one such family—the three Rampuria brothers—the wealthiest merchants in Bikaner.
A small princely state deep in the deserts of northern Rajasthan, Bikaner’s strategic location on the Great Silk Road promised, and delivered, immense wealth to its people through the taxes imposed on the wares that passed through it and access to markets for Indian commodities. Silk, spices, precious stones, metals, and opium made the people of Bikaner into billionaires of their era.
Made of red dulmera sandstone, construction of the seven havelis’ commenced in the 15th Century under the eagle aesthetic eye of the architect Balujee Chalva and carried on till the 1900s. The result is a series of exquisite facades ranging from the Rajput to Mughal to European styles, all wrapped around a single crossroad.
Where-ever you look, be prepared to be bowled over. There are portraits of British kings and queens, stained glass windows, and sumptuous detailed stone carvings piled high on the walls. Flights of steps slice into the mansions to picturesque doorways. Wooden painted shutters look pokerfaced out into the street below.
Not a single route, but rather a network, the Great Silk Road connected China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe, trading goods, and with it the exchange of culture and politics.
The mansions still belong to the Rampuria family, albeit under the care of caretakers, and are closed to the public. Except for one, which has been turned into a heritage hotel, Bhawar Niwas, where if you wish you can have a peek.
For me, the Rampuria Havelis symbolize the very essence of the Great Silk Road. Opulence in the middle of the desert in the form of a mish-mash of world cultures. ❤
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[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my 35-day solo and independent road trip through Rajasthan from 17 October to 20 November, 2021. To read more posts in my Rajasthan series, click here.]