Durgapur: a forgotten village with stunning haveli architecture

Posted on May 3, 2019 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

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Before coming to India, many people (who have never been to India before) were concerned about my safety traveling in India as a female, as well as food hygiene, street beggars, the list goes on. Yet during my travel, I was incredibly impressed by the friendly people I encountered, the beautiful places I visited, and the vast array of intricate traditional crafts produced by artisans in all fields. India, is like a treasure chest that I had just opened and I was enchanted by everything I saw.

One of the most surreal and memorable places of the trip is a small derelict village on the outskirt of Mandvi called Durgapur. From the photos, you might think that this is a Bollywood film set, but it isn't, it is a real village with houses, temple, post office and school. There is no online information about this village, so I am grateful that our guide brought us to this special place.

 

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Our guide told us that most of the havelis in this abandoned village are owned by the wealthy Jain community. According to the 2001 Census of India, there are around 4.2 million living in India, while Gujarat and Rajasthan have the highest concentration of Jain population. For centuries, Jains are famous as community of traders and merchants, and have the highest literacy rate in India, 94.1.% compared with the national average of 65.38%.

Since Mandvi is was once a major port of the region, it would be logical to assume that these havelis were built by Jain traders and merchants over 100 years ago. Haveli is a unique vernacular architecture form originated from Persia but flourished in the 18th and 19th century in Gujarat and Rajasthan, western India. The Persian term haveli means 'enclosed space', and they usually contain a courtyard. Judging from the architectural styles and ornaments on the facades, it is not hard to tell that this must have been a prosperous village. The most notable feature is the first floor balconies that extend outwards prominently. And when we looked closer, we could see elaborate decorations around the entrances and on the facades.

 

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As we walked around the village, we barely saw more than 5 people in the streets, it felt like an eerie ghost village. So what happened to this village? According to our guide, these are ancestral homes of the Jain community, but the younger generations no longer wanted to live in these houses and had abandoned them and moved to other cities or towns. Yet the community has refused to sell them to outsiders nor restore them, hence the havelis are now in such dilapidated state.

It is upsetting and frustrating to hear that no one has bothered to protect these hertiage homes or attempt to conserve them. Where are all the architectural conservation groups in India? Our guide said that this village is not an isolated case, there are many villages across India that are experiencing the same fate. My guess is that India already has many important issues to deal with, and architectural conservation is probably low on their list. Standing outside of these heritage buildings, all I could do was to record them before they eventually crumble into dust.

 

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While many houses were boarded up, there was a Jain temple that remained open. This is a highly ornamented temple that looks quite new or has been restored recently. Again, there was no one inside, and it seems odd to have such a decorative temple with no worshippers.

 

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Finally we heard some construction noises coming out from a building, and we went to have a peek. We saw a few builders inside and found out that they were renovating a former school. The site has a wooden roof with beams and a fascinating mural featuring a train, a ship, some angels, birds, flowers and a large clock. The builders told our guide that this mural is over 100 years old, but I presume it will be painted over eventually – what a shame.

 

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Another intriguing aspect of the architecture here is that some of the houses feature painted faces of men and women on the top of doors and windows. I guess they represented the faces of the original owners, and since the houses have no house numbers, these faces were probably used as identity codes for visitors or postal workers.

 

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Bizarrely, although there are rows of abandoned havelis, there are also a few streets of 'modern' buildings as we walked further inwards. These modern houses seem to be occupied and the streets are slightly livelier in this quarter.

 

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I was speechless and sad when we left this village. I wished that there was something I could do to save this place, but there was nothing I could do except write about it. Even our guide has tried to persuade the villagers to sell or let or restore the houses, but failed.

I sincerely hope that one day this village would be preserved and restored before it is too late.

 


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Architectural conservation, Design, India, Indian design, Kutch, Haveli architecture and was tagged with architecture, heritage, Architectural conservation, India, Indian design, Kutch, Durgapur, Jain temple, Haveli architecture

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