Art is not what you see, but what you make others view. Shekhawati region of Rajasthan is home to such unparalleled art forms, wall paintings, and architecture. Tucked away in the northern area of Rajasthan, a less explored tourist destination is the Shekhawati region. It is a forgotten paradise of Murals and Frescoes which will leave you gasping. The region is also named as the largest open-art gallery due to its jaw-dropping art ideas & creations.
Thus I planned a weekend trip with mom, since Shekhawati exploration was her choice of place. Since we were discovering Haveli’s so I wanted to stay in one too, and I booked The Piramal Haveli in Bagar. To make an overview of the Piramal it is a rustic Marwari Haveli with stunning Italianate structures & open gardens built in1928. And the two pillared courtyards painted with colourful frescoes. Though you choose other options to stay from a price range of Rs 1000 to Rs 10000.
The drive from Gurgaon till Bagar was comfortable since it was a bright sunny morning and white fluffy clouds floating across the sky. It was a 4 hrs drive, and we took the Rewari-Kanina-Mahendragarh road (approx 200.2 km). Since it was February month the weather was pleasant, as the temperature in summer gets up to 50 degrees & zero degrees in winters. The climate is extremely harsh here as it lies in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. Since we reached Bagar late evening, hence decided to explore the Haveli post a cup of tea.
Around this region, the word Shekhawati originated from the ‘Garden of the Shekhas’, established in the 18th C, along the caravan trade route & was ruled by the Shekhawati Rajputs. It had been the cradle for India’s richest families like Birla, Poddar, Bajaj, Piramal, Goenka, and many more. Nevertheless, the wind of fortune dispersed these families diaspora across Rajasthan, but the marvel remains to molder away in the Shekhawati awaited to be identified. The Shekhawati was originally split up into 33 Thikana or Pargana, each with at least a Kuccha mud fort.
Rao Shekha from Dhundhar was the founder of Shekhawati, who established his independent kingdom with the capital at Amarsar. There are also strong pieces of evidence of Shekhawati in the MaruKantar Desha period of Ramayan. As per many historians, Shekhawati was also held by the Nandas of Magadha. Yet, on the other hand, in the ancient period, it was split into several Janapadas known as the Matsya Kingdom. Shekhawati was also ruled by the Gupta dynasty & Kaimkhanis before Rajput took over.
Shekhawati region is spread over around 100kms, so I settled to visit Mandawa which is centrally located & Nawalgargh whose murals & frescoes are still well maintained & colourful. The night was cold, merely after a lavish dinner, we were soon asleep. Following morning we drove towards to Mandawa. Now talking about fresco this word can be found in Michelangelo’s “The creation of Adam”, it is described as the art of paintings executed by natural and wet plasters. They used the natural materials for their art like red stone powder, saffron, yellow clay, lamp black, lime, and plaster. And you get to witness them in traditional form in Mandawa which is also known as the fort town of Shekhawati.
Thus we started to explore the fascinating, colourful & even slightly bizarre painted Haveli’s built to represent social status. We started with the star attraction, Golden Haveli or Jhunjhunwala Haveli famous for gold etched in the frescoes. The inspiration for these paintings was mythology, especially, Krishna, & this art fills your senses. These Murals & Frescoes walk you through the pages of history, like the Lakshmi Narayan Ladia Haveli, where you see an innovative retelling of India’s famous fable and epics. Walking past the bylanes of Mandawa I stopped to gape at the murals of locomotive painted to bring alive a rail journey experience or an aeroplane with a caption of Odin Wala Jahaj on the ramparts & ceilings of Mohan Sharaf Lal Haveli.
I also saw many frescoes influenced by the Mughals art form, & to its contrast where the rare version of the Hindu trinity as a goddess at Goenka Haveli. However, Murmuria Haveli offers European architecture of marble murals with hot air balloons, cars, gramophones, or war paintings. Most Havelis were built in between 1830-1930, and I saw paintings of Aeroplan on Belgian glass, along with modern pattern ornaments of god with Lapis Lazuli & gold.
The imagination of the artist was vivid & expressive which was portrayed through the frescoes & murals. You can also visit Haraklal Well, Chokhani Haveli, Akhramka Haveli, where some of them are sadly dilapidated. While returning to Bagar we explored Jhunjhunu the old capital & largest town in the region. I explored the Ishwardas Modi Haveli in Jhunjhunu which has 365 windows and is the largest, but you can also visit the Khetri Mahal the air system works similarly to Hawa Mahal. However, the major attraction is the Rani Sati Temple, which is grand and magnificent. The rest of the evening was spent leisurely soaking in the silence of Piramal Haveli.
The Next morning after a wholesome breakfast we headed to Nawalgarh. It is a vibrant town with the finest frescoes. Nawalgarh was founded by Maharaja Nawal Singh in 1674 AD and was used as a Tazimi Thikana of Jamal Ji ka Songara. At that place are many attractive has few are the Aath (eight) Haveli complex, Jodhraj Patodia Haveli, Bansidhar Bhagat Haveli, Chokhani Haveli, Morarka Haveli, and Poddar Haveli.
We set out with the Morarka Haveli, where I explored some amazing paintings, intricate murals, and artefacts of the Rajput dynasty. The Haveli showcases the various muftis prevalent to the frescoes.
On the other hand Poddar Haveli has vibrant murals, built-in 1920. It has fresco paintings that depict the modern railways, the Wright Brother’s flight, and the Hindu god and goddess. The Haveli has been converted into a museum. I noticed one common fact in all Haveli that they share a common layout that is influenced by Mugal work. Most were two levels, upper floor designed as an open balcony. Aside from this, I saw the elevated ramp and heavy decorated doors at the entrance.
Another interesting Palace was the Roop Niwas palace where I saw the blend of European styles with Rajput architecture. This palace was utilized by the Thakur of Nawalgarh but now converted into a luxurious hotel. We end our tour with Sheesh Mahal, a minuscule part of the fort still alive, showcasing the mirror work of Rajput craftsmanship. I was astounded to see the ceiling designed with the map of Nawalgarh and Jaipur.
Apart from the places I chose to explore you can visit the below destination too as per your plan.
1.Fatehpur: It was known as the house of royal families and this city was decorated or designed by the royal Nawabs of Rajasthan. It was also the cultural capital of Shekhawati, with many ancient synagogues. You can visit some famous places like the Dholi Sati Mandir, Nadine Cultural Centre, Jagannath Singhania Haveli, a must-see is the Saraf Haveli the oldest Haveli in the country, built 200 years ago. Crafted walls with murals and oil paintings and carved wooden doors will give you an insight into our traditional lifestyle.
2.Ramgarh: This was in one case one of Shekhawati’s wealthiest towns. The temples are especially interesting and provide a variation from the Havelis.
3.Dundlod: It’s famous for the rich culture, colours and cuisines, along with the courageous stories of prince & soldiers. You can start with Badalgarh Fort built by Nawab Faizal Khan now converted into a luxurious hotel. Fort of Dundlod is the best example of Mughal and Rajput architecture. However, a major part of this fort used by the royal family and rest parts is converted into a heritage hotel. Another attraction is Tuganram Goenka Haveli, where you find paintings that depicted the famous love story of Dhola-Maru.
4.Mukundgarh: This town is a renowned craft centre. In addition, you’ll see one of the biggest Haveli in the region there, as well as a fort.
5.Mahansar: The lovely small town was located by the prosperous Podder family who dealt in opium and chintz. The two primary attractions are the Mahansar Fort, which a heritage hotel now, and the Sone ki Dukan (Golden Shop) with its gold-painted murals that tell the stories of Hindu mythology.
4.Alsisar: It is known as the temple town of Shekhawati. Alsisar Mahal was made by the Shekhawat Thikanedars and Thakur Gaj Singh Ji is the present owner of this Mahal. Rajput architecture designed with fresh paintings is the most attractive voice of this fort and you can experience Rajput hospitality in this hotel. You can also explore Kataruka Ki Haveli, Shri Lal Bahadur Mal ki Haveli, Ramjas Jhunjhunuwala ki Havelis, Lakha ka ki Havelis, Arjun Ram Khetan Havelis and Cenotaph of Thakur Chhotu Singh and lots more. More or less of these Havelis are temple too.
While driving back from home, I realized that every beautiful facade seems to conceal rot & ruin that I could almost see. Though the Rajasthan government has banned to sell these Havelis and taken them under the Heritage Development Council for Prevention and Restoration Department. But lack of restoration of these ancient arts, is decreasing the remaining legacy & history of that era.The old beauty of Shekhawati is the fading way with passing years.
How to reach :
The nearest airport is at Jaipur nearly 150 km off. Taxis can be hired from Jaipur airport to reach Shekhawati.
There are direct coaches from Delhi to Shekhawati. Buses for Shekhawati originate from ISBT (Kashmiri Gate), Sarai Kale Khan, or Dhaula Kuan in Delhi. All Shekhawati cities (Sikar, Churu, and Jhunjhunu) are well connected to other urban centers.
Trains are available from Delhi and Jaipur. Access to Shekhawati is easiest from Jaipur or Bikaner. Sikar and Fatehpur are in Jaipur–Bikaner road. Churu is on Delhi–Bikaner railway line, while Sikar, Nawalgarh, and Jhunjhunu are in Jaipur and Delhi.