The Havelis of Shekhawati

Since a lot has already been written about the painted frescoes in ‘The largest open air art gallery in the world’, I will skip the introductions to Shekhawati and let my pictures do the talking.

Havelis are huge mansions built by wealthy marwari merchants around 100-150 years ago.

Welcome to the land of the Maharajahs
Welcome to the land of the Maharajahs

Did you know? : More than seventy-five percent of India’s business families hail from Shekhawati and almost ninety-five percent of Marwari business families have their roots here.

Royalty on the street in Nawalgarh
Royalty on the street in Nawalgarh

Discovery of Shekhawati

As with other ‘offbeat’ destinations, Shekhawati seems to have been discovered by the French, going by the plethora of signboards proudly mentioning ‘listed in Inde du nord Routard’, which I later found out was a famous travel guide from France.

It may also be due to the fact that a French artist, Nadine Le Prince purchased a Haveli in Fatehpur some years ago and effectively made everyone known that the art of restoration could make this a viable business proposition. Her story is a beacon of shining light for Shekhawati.

An intricately carved door at the entrance of a haveli
An intricately carved door at the entrance of a haveli

 

Care to look up?! A typical ceiling in the Haveli mansions
Care to look up?! A typical ceiling in the Haveli mansions

Current state of Tourism

Typical tourists hoping for a quick glance of this region choose to visit Nawalgarh and Mandawa, being the most famous towns of them all. Although I won’t dispute the fact that it is a convenient idea for time bound travellers to skim through for a sample of the riches on offer; in reality Shekhawati is being bundled like an add-on for tourists on the road trip from Bikaner to Delhi. They are booked in expensive heritage accommodation of which a lion’s share is kept by the travel operator.

Riches of Dundlod at Dundlod 'Thikana"
Riches of Dundlod at Dundlod ‘Thikana”

What you should see

I have been around Shekhawati several times and yet can’t say to have explored the region in its entirety. It is not only the painted frescoes that must be seen, but also the step wells, cenotaphs and huge forts that have a different style of architecture. It is a vast area comprising the districts of Sikar, Jhunjhunu and parts of Churu. Some of the lesser visited towns with marvellous Havelis include Dundlod, Fatehpur, Ramgarh, Mahansar, Bissau, Jhunjhunu, Sikar, Mukundgarh, Bagar, Alsisar.

Artistic doors such as these are increasingly being taken away to be sold as antiques
Artistic doors such as these are increasingly being taken away to be sold as antiques

 

Family disputes have resulted in these colossal mansions to become sad, neglected structures
Family disputes have resulted in these colossal mansions to turn into sad, neglected structures

The decline of heritage 

There has recently been a court order from the Government of Rajasthan to preserve these structures. I had heard stories of shopping malls replacing Havelis. On one of my trips to Nawalgarh, I actually saw one Haveli being razed to the ground. The administration in India makes sure we will be lamenting about the lack of conservation in ten years time.

How beautiful it must have been, to look at life through those lovely, tall French windows!
How beautiful it must have been, to look at life through those lovely, tall French windows!
'Sarson ke khet', lush mustard fields in the desert
‘Sarson ke khet’, lush mustard fields in the desert of Rajasthan

 

Time seems to stand still in these painted towns of Shekhawati
Time seems to stand still in these painted towns of Shekhawati

Foodie Delights

There are various culinary delights in Shekhawati. Mukundgarh is famous for its ‘milk pedha’, Rajgarh for its ‘rajbhog’, Nawalgarh for its ‘Ghewar’, Jhunjhunu for its ‘laddoo’, Chirawa for its ‘pedha’ and Mahansar for its quirky varieties of flavoured alcohol.

A painting from one of the well maintained Havelis in the region
A painting from one of the well maintained Havelis in the region
A jewel from Mukundgarh
A jewel from Mukundgarh

When to go

This part of Rajasthan can get really cold in the winters, especially when the sun decides to disappear behind the clouds and fog takes over. Contrary to what tourists might think, there are basic guesthouses to stay in these little towns and are an excellent way to gather local information and walk to the recommended Havelis with awesome frescoes. Summers are too hot to even think about visiting Shekhawati.

Grandeur and opulence on the street
Grandeur and opulence on the street
A view of the courtyard of a Haveli
A view of the courtyard of a Haveli

Happy Homecoming

It was a pleasant surprise for me when I was told that Nawalgarh was home to three Havelis of ‘Mansingka’ family. I was given a royal welcome and invited for a sumptuous lunch there.

Close-up of a beautiful door, an essential feature of the Havelis of Shekhawati
Close-up of a beautiful door, an essential feature of the Havelis of Shekhawati
Some havelis have been restored and converted into museums
Some havelis have been restored and converted into museums

Accessibility from Jaipur & Delhi

Shekhawati can be accessed by both road and train from Jaipur and Delhi. It is hardly two-three hours drive away from Jaipur and around four hours from Delhi. If you are really lucky, a traditional performance called ‘Dhap’ can be witnessed in which men dressed as women dance in a private gathering.

From the little known town of Surajgarh, a Haveli converted into a Heritage Hotel
From the little known town of Surajgarh, a Haveli converted into a Heritage Hotel
The Chokhani Double Haveli in Mandawa
The Chokhani Double Haveli in Mandawa

The rise and fall of Tourist numbers

Five years ago, foreign tourists were making a beeline to visit this unknown part of rural Rajasthan. The story has changed since. Rich marwari merchants have been pouring money into Shekhawati making it a rapidly growing area. Tourism in a real sense has dwindled. Touts abound near the famous haveli-turned-museums waiting to pounce on rich Europeans and can become a nuisance. The share of domestic tourists is rising and is mostly of the weekend variety. They are hardly interested in the history and frescoes and seem be simply crossing an item off their bucket list.

Get treated to authentic Organic farm fresh Rajasthani food in the villages
Get treated to authentic Organic farm fresh Rajasthani food in the villages
Fit for a prince and a princess!
Fit for a prince and a princess!

Come soon before the Havelis disappear

If you have time to spare and are keen to let your eyes feast on this architectural grandeur, come to Shekhawati and learn the secrets of the famed merchant community of the marwaris and listen to first-hand stories of how they made their fortune even when the British had started dominating the trade.

I have been asked by my readers on twitter and instagram to write an article on Shekhawati for quite some time now.

I had replied then ‘I have no words to write about home!’ 

16 Comments Add yours

  1. pc73 says:

    From being non-existent on my travel list, this place moves to the ‘must-visit-soon’ list.

    P.S.- I love all the pictures

    Like

    1. Yes, you must soon Pooja. Thank you so much for the continued support.

      Like

  2. Kriti says:

    Lovely pictures. Will plan to visit next year February. Hope you had fun 🙂

    Like

    1. February is a really good time to go there. Have fun 😀

      Like

  3. Neelima V says:

    Spent 4 days here 5 years ago and Shekhawati still remains as one of the best places I have ever explored. My guide initially suggested I spend time only in Mandawa and Nawalgarh like most do but I told him I want to see all sorts of ruins, “Khandahar” type crumbling buildings in remote corners. After 30 minutes of discussion he said he understood exactly what I wanted and took me to all the places you’ve mentioned. Best time ever! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe, I remember telling you years ago about Shekhawati. I read your comment and wish to be transported to one of those obscure towns right now! 🙂

      Like

  4. manishkmr says:

    Nice pictures.. these places can not be covered in one go if one wants to delve in the life of people and culture.

    Like

    1. Thank you, Manish. Yes, I agree these places should be covered in phases to have the most informative trip. Have you been there before?

      Like

  5. Nice pictures…planning a visit soon…

    Like

    1. Thank you, Prasad. You must come here soon. Inform me, I live in Jaipur. :))

      Like

  6. charukesi says:

    Nice post! I love Shekhawati – despite all the ruin and damage, there is something magical about the place.

    Like

    1. Thank you Charukesi. I agree, there is something magical about Shekhavati. Come around sometime, there is so much to see in these dusty parts. 🙂

      Like

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