The evolution of heritage
Jodhpur may have been established way back in 1459, but heritage and contemporary blur their lines in structures that are as beautiful as they are climate-conscious. Shalini Seth explores Jodhpur’s majestic architecture that was created in response to the region’s heat and dust.
For Jodhpur’s residents, heritage is a matter of evolution and renewal. Old bawris or step wells, which dot the inner city, are now being put to use after decades.
Its unique blue-tinged whitewash still puts together a uniform cityscape from the ramparts of the 15th century Mehrangarh fort.
Located in the complicated bylanes of the inner city areas, hathais – covered structures open on one side, located in various areas – continue to attract citizens in the evening to discuss the day’s events – from elections to marriage announcements.
Younger than all these is the city’s most famous heritage structure, the Umaid Bhawan Palace, handed over to its royal residents only in 1944.
The Palace – along with the Fort with its red sandstone boundary walls; and the Jaswant Thada, the white marble cenotaph of a former ruler built in 1899, which glows translucently at sundown due to the thinness of the marble – dominates the skyline, reminding residents of an architectural tradition that links centuries.
“Even though the architecture of western Rajasthan has many common points, the stone used here is not as soft as that available in Jaisalmer – so it’s used in its plain form. You will see much more ornamental jali (lattice) work in Jaisalmer,” says Dr DurgaGopal M Purohit, Head of the Department of the Architecture and Town Planning department of Jodhpur’s Jai Narayan Vyas (JNV) University.
While the pink-tinged sandstone used in Umaid Bhawan Palace is its own advertisement, there are other varieties – one with a greyish tinge to it which is used for structures; and dark red stone which was used for boundary walls.
It is the dark red variety that is used in the Mandore gardens created around cenotaphs of old rulers. All three types of sandstone can be seen on various buildings, from private residences to the high court, the movie theatres and even the university.
Maintenance is one of the main reasons why the locally-mined stone is ideal for the city situated in the Thar desert, with little or no rain to wash the structures once a year.
Sandstorms are common and the light colour stone matches the colour of desert sand almost perfectly. RK Singhal, Professor of Structural Engineering at JNV University, says: “Sandstone facades require very little maintenance, for even as long as 500 years. The stone could take being exposed to weather without plastering or painting. Even today, more than 90% of houses are built using slabs of stone rather than bricks.”
Stone slabs can be used for structures up to three storeys and rooms as wide as 13ft. This is visible in new developments with private residences and in property developed by developers such as the Khalsa Group and Ashapurna. Sachar Group’s Hukumraj, which prides itself on ‘Greek architecture’ and necessitates RCC structures in its multi-storey buildings, is an exception.
Umaid Heritage, a township built on the land that belongs to the former ruler of Jodhpur, Maharaja Gaj Singh II, has a master plan designed by Uttam Jain and bungalows by Karan Grover. The township uses both the types of sandstone.
The bungalows are made of light sandstone, with boundary walls in red stone, typical of Umaid Palace. The difference is that the township will also have a mall with a chain store.
Raina Dora, the chief architect of Ansal API, a Delhi-based developer building a township on the outskirts of the city, says: “Jodhpur’s character comes through even if you just drive by.
Sandstone, particularly, gives the city a very unique look. Even small makeshift houses of the very poor are made of stone slabs. On our project, Sushant City, stone is used instead of RCC as it’s easily available. On the facade, we try to use it for decorative elements such as doorsteps and windows frames.”
Apart from the use of local material, there are other characteristics of housing influenced by climate. Says Dr Purohit: “In older buildings, the width of the wall is at least 40-50cm. Each wall had a cavity through which wind would be funnelled and reach the living areas after being cooled. That is seen in desert architecture in other parts of the world as well.”
One of the legends associated with Umaid Bhawan is that the palace is constructed to maintain a temperature of 23 degrees centigrade regardless of the heat outside – and it is not unknown for the mercury to hit 50 degrees in the desert.
In the inner city areas, Dr Purohit says, houses are constructed higher than the road, with steps leading into a small verandah where people would remove their shoes before entering.
Toilets are located close to the main gate, far from the living areas. Most houses have an open courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard there are two or three rooms, sometimes interconnected so you can only enter one room via another. The courtyards are bright and sunny, but the rooms admit little or no sunshine.
In the newer areas, courtyards and smaller windows are standard, and residents are very aware of the climate that allows pleasant evenings even at the height of summer.
Though real estate rates vary between Rs6,500 and Rs50,000 per sq yard, people prefer to own houses rather than apartments. Dora says: “We provide only about 600sq ft built-up area, with space for expansion. Multi-storeyed buildings are still not popular. Unlike in places like Gurgaon or Chandigarh, we do not make large glass windows here. The openings are smaller. Even the thinner walls are at least 9 inches, so they facilitate insulation.”
It’s not just the humans who feel the heat. All around the city, in upper-class neighbourhoods such as Paota Polo Grounds or Shastri Nagar, and inner city areas such as Sojati Gate or Ratanada, bungalows come with a water receptacle along the boundary wall.
These little tanks are filled with water so that cows left out to graze in the heat have water to drink. With the city becoming friendlier to tourists that throng Rajasthan, the municipality is getting strict about not having any cows on streets. Dr. Purohit says: “Cows which roamed freely around Jodhpur would come and seek water. Not only water, but all organic waste from the house is channelled there.”
Jodhpur’s Water Problems
Water plays a very important role in Jodhpur. Earlier the city was water-starved especially in the months preceding the monsoon when Kayalana Lake, which supplies water to the city, would dry up. Now the reverse is true. Jodhpur faces an alarming situation of a rapid rise in groundwater level that has started seeping into houses.
The groundwater level has been rising for more than a decade in at least 40% of the land area in the city, and in some areas it is barely a few centimetres below the surface. Government machinery as well as many locals pump out a large amount of water from wells and the basements of houses and shops on a regular basis.