For centuries, havelis reigned supreme in places such as Lucknow, but recent decades have seen a gradual decline in the number of such palatial homes
WORDS: N. B. RAO
Today, there are more than a dozen heritage hotels in Uttar Pradesh that have managed to restore the grandeur to many of the havelis of the past. Besides providing a peep into the history of a lovely land, the hotels have also managed to preserve the rich history and heritage of Uttar Pradesh.
FOR centuries, thousands of Indians living in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, would stay in havelis, which were traditional mansions with divisions within.
Havelis have been popular for centuries and during the Mughal Empire, they rose to prominence with many of the impressive buildings being described as havelis.
Sadly, today even historic cities like Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, do not have many havelis on display. Many of the old structures in the city have crumbled because of the lack of adequate attention by the owners, most of who have become impoverished.
The few havelis that can be seen are at Katari Tola, but most are in bad shape. To enjoy the true essence of living in a haveli, one has to stay in some of the impressive heritage hotels, not just in the capital, but other parts of Uttar Pradesh.
Today, there are more than a dozen heritage hotels in Uttar Pradesh that have managed to restore the grandeur to many of the havelis of the past. Besides providing a peep into the history of a lovely land, the hotels have also managed to preserve the rich history and heritage of Uttar
Pradesh. Indeed, many of the havelis and palaces are still owned by the erstwhile royal families, who were desperately lacking funds to ensure the upkeep of these majestic structures built about 150 to 200 years ago.
They have tied up with hotel chains to ensure the upkeep of these properties.
The palatial mansions and havelis have in recent years been refurbished and transformed into heritage hotels, where a growing number of middle-class Indians (not just the very affluent) are able to spend a few nights in royal splendor.
The heritage hotels in UP reflect the glory of the Mughal era and also during the British empire, going back to those days of grandeur in those palatial buildings.
Tourism officials in UP claim that the havelis and palaces – now converted into hotels – reflect wonderful stories of heroism, sacrifice and even romance.
Of course, quite a few books have also been written on these ancient monuments that once mesmerised the people – both ordinary folk and the royalty – with their grandeur.
Adity Chakravarti, an artist and jewellery maker, who is also the wife of an IFS officer – and has lived abroad in many capitals for several years – wrote a coffee table book on Lucknow’s havelis and other homes. Rehaish – At Home in Lucknow, her book, discovers the historic homes, havelis, kothis and bungalows of the city.
In her book, she writes extensively about some of the most fascinating havelis in the city. She travelled extensively across Lucknow, interacting with the owners of the havelis to come up with her book.
Havelis have been popular across Uttar Pradesh for centuries. Before the Mughal empire, havelis – a generic term for mansions and townhouses – were popular in north India.
They featured courtyards, which were the centre of the house and all members and guests gathered there. Some in Gujarat and Rajasthan also referred to a few temples as havelis. Rajasthani architecture also influenced the construction of havelis in many cities.
Unfortunately, the era of havelis has virtually come to an end, though some of the heritage properties are trying to preserve the ancient structures.