Shekhawati Region of Rajasthan has recently come to tourist limelight for its opulent havelis and open air art galleries. The distinctive feature of the art is the frescoes that have remained untouched from the brutality of nature and lack of maintenance. Another interesting fact is that the Marwari, Jain or Shekhawati merchants who dealt in business of opium and spices, are no longer the owners of their lavish creation. Once they shifted to the big cities like Bombay and Kolkata , their havelis were left in hands of the caretaker’s family or were just left abandoned. The life of these caretakers took a dramatic turn after the new property laws post India’s independence. They were given the ownership of these havelis.
A beautifully painted entrance of a Haveli at Mandawa
A few havelis have been bought by businessmen and hoteliers and are converted into hotels and cafes while others are still inhabited by the caretaker’s family who allow the tourist to admire the unbelievable art of their house.
The tourism department has taken a few steps to conserve the remains of the paintings and have well-marked the paths leading to beautiful havelis.
The Shekhawati region includes a few villages of Jhunjhunu district: Mandawa, Churu, Jhunjhunu, Fatehpur, Ramgarh, Nawalgarh, Sikar, Alsisar
Hotel Radhika Haveli is one of the abandoned haveli converted into a Hotel. The interiors and the set of the rooms in Rajasthani style makes it more impressive.
You have variety of options to stay either in hut accommodations like Rajasthani villagers or a lavish Haveli transformed into hotels.
The best part is, this off beat places are not much frequented by tourists and thus you won’t face any problem in on the spot hotel check in. But, Haveli hotels are mostly pre-booked by foreigners, so, if you choose to live like a billionaire of Rajasthan, you must pre-book your royal stay.
Or you can just opt for a home stay in not so well maintained havelis by requesting the owners. (Most of them are quite friendly)
Witness the extravaganza of art in Shekhawati
The artists listened to the stories narrated by the merchants about the Chinese and the British and the painters have beautifully converted their imagination into this astounding art.
If you are an art lover or can appreciate the dilapidated royal architectures then Shekhawati villages are the best choice for offbeat historic exploration in Rajasthan. The amazing fact about the paintings is that none of the artists had seen most of the modern amenities like a train, telephone, car or dinner parties of the British. Most of the paintings are created either on the basis of detailed descriptions of the merchants or by seeing the pictures of the magazines.
The initial theme of the art work is based on the royal animals like horses and elephants, Hindu Gods, Krishna’s Raasleela (dance), floral designs and lavish lifestyle of the kings and the merchants.
Most of the doors of the villages have mirror work on it and the painting of a Persian style temple of Lord Ganesh.
When the merchants turned billionaires, the competition to show off their richness started among them. This led to the creation of their luxurious residences painted with vegetable colours by the Rajasthani artists.
Here are some places to visit in villages of Mandawa, Churu, Jhunjhunu and Nawalgarh.
The well maintained havelis of Mandawa
Among all the Shekhawati villages, Mandawa has turned out to be a favourite location with maximum well-maintained havelis in the town. Tourism department runs direct buses from Jaipur/Bikaner in their package tour on their sites. The following are the places to see in Mandawa:
It has been converted into a hotel and café. The fort’s palace resembles to the Sheesh Mahal (Palace with glass and mirror work). The interiors of the fort have beautiful frescoes resembling the wall paintings with floral designs at Junagarh Fort in Bikaner. There is an entry fee of 250 INR for both Indian and foreign tourists and it also includes the tea/coffee along with the palace tour.
Fort Mandawa is a private property and has been maintained well without retouching the original paintings of the interiors.
Snehiram Haveli and Pushkar Heritage Museum
This is one of the famous havelis that supposed to have featured in many bollywood movies. The interesting thing to see is the exhibition cum sale of vintage items in the underground room of the Haveli. Don’t forget to see a unique bullock cart kept in the courtyard outside his Haveli. No entry charge but the owner might insist you to buy some paintings or other items.
Snehiram’s Haveli does not have any great painting apart from the recently painted pictures of the kings and the merchants and a sturdy entrance with mirror work.
Snehiram’s Haveli has quite an impressive collection of antique artifacts that can be bought by any antique lovers.
This Haveli is famous for its room with gold-plated designs. Though the Haveli is not so great, the room must not be missed by an art lover. Entry Charges 100 INR (which is certainly not worth it; especially for Indian tourists). If you guide has good connections with the owners, than the charges might be waived off. Do request them for the same.
The famous golden leaf painted ceiling at Jhunjhunwala Haveli
It is a Haveli converted into a Hotel and is finely decorated with the rural Rajasthani items and furniture. This gives you an idea of home arrangements of the bygone era of the merchants.
The painted Raasleela and other stories of Lord Krishna on the walls of Radhika Haveli
Monica roof top Café
The balcony of the café is intricately painted. It shows some of the combinations of modern colours and designs.
The beautifully painted balconies of Monica roof top cafe would surely lure you to have a quick bite while cherishing the astounding art.
This haveli has become famous for its painting of a train and Jawaharlal Nehru holding India’s flag while riding on a horseback.
Mohanlal Saraf Haveli
This is another well maintained Haveli with vibrant pictures of elephants and horses on its walls. It has great mirror and mosaic work in its interiors. The famous painting here include the Maharaja brushing his Moustache. Further down on the same lane you will see Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli that also has creative paintings of the stories and acts of Ramayana on its walls.
The Havelis give you the feel of its bygone ethnic era and I swear it would make you all jealous of dwellers…..
Other famous Havelis to be visited : Binsidhar Newatia Haveli, Goenka Double Haveli (The Haveli has two sturdy gates), Chokhani Haveli and Hanuman Prasad Goenka Haveli.
The posh area of Mandawa has all its lanes decorated with the painted walls of the Havelis. Trust me, walking these lanes will make you realize how low standard your city’s posh area is.
Each wall and the corner of Mandawa seems to be the canvas of an artist…
Fix the amount before you opt for any guide. Minimum 100 INR for Indians.
Foreigners are advised to opt only for guided tours to such places provided by many travel companies. If you plan for a venture yourself, don’t fall for any attractive schemes. Prices of the goods are set a way higher than normal. Avoid buying things if not required.
If you are willing to explore the town yourself, then ask for the locations of the Havelis either to your hotel staff or the vendors at Subhash Chowk.
Once you enter the Haveli area, you would hardly see people on the lane.
Town isn’t tourist friendly yet and many a times misguide people to wrong routes for the Havelis.
Don’t fall for any scam of accepting offers of tea/coffee/food or any other guidance without fixing a price.
Ask if there is any entrance fee for the haveli before entering it. Try to negotiate if you are an Indian tourist.
Be aware of fake guides. Anyone who is just a villager may pose as a guide.
Many villagers would roam around with you stating themselves just a friend and later would ask for money. Especially be aware of a guide(villager) named Rakesh Sharma.
If you take up a guide, deal with him not to take you to any shop and force you to buy anything.
Avoid posing for the photographs with any locals; later on they would ask you for money for the same. Mandawa fort has only one main entrance to its interiors. Don’t get lured by anyone promising you to show better things in the palace for 100 INR.
How to reach Shekhawati villages:
By Rail : You can take a train to Churu from Jaipur or Delhi. Explore Churu for one/two days including Ramgarh that is located around 17 km from Churu. (Just one day enough if you take a guide in Churu)
From Churu, direct buses and taxis are available to Mandawa. If you would take a guide, Mandawa exploration just needs a day. From Mandawa , you can move 25 km to Nawalgarh.
By Road: Direct buses to Churu are available from Bikaner, Jaipur and Delhi. (Any bus going towards Delhi from Bikaner and Jaipur will stop at Churu) From Churu, direct buses to Mandawa, Ramgarh and Nawalgarh, Fatehpur, Jhunjhunu are available.
Alsisar can be reached by bus from Jhunjhunu.
By Air: Jaipur is the nearest airport.
If you love havelis, you might also love to see the mind-blowing golden havelis of Jaisalmer too.
You can see some wonderful pictures of my trips on Instagram.