Shekhawati: Rajasthan's open air art gallery
We take our annual holiday in December/January, as we prefer to be out of town during New Year (not ‘cause I like it quiet, just so we don’t end up greeting the new year with a fight!). This year, we did a road trip across Rajasthan — from Delhi to Nawalgarh, Jaipur and Udaipur.
We set off for Nawalgarh at around 10:30 on 24th December — pretty late, but that was hubby darling’s brilliant idea. Ergo, we had to fight our way through numerous traffic jams till we got to Kotputli, from where we mercifully left crazy old NH8 and ventured onto roads that were quieter and free of traffic. Thanks to a few wrong turns and one missed turn, it was around 6:00ish when we reached the hotel.
Being on the road for about 7.5 hours meant that we were pretty tired and cranky by the time we checked in. But the hotel, Apni Dhani, was really nice and welcoming. It has traditional Rajasthani huts arranged in a circle around a courtyard, somewhat similar to Mandore Guest House in Jodhpur in terms of the set-up and greenery.
Main entry gate to the Goyenka Haveli, Dhundold
But where it differs is in sustainability and eco-friendliness — they grow their own wheat, barley, maize, have a vegetable garden and also some fruit trees. So a lot of what you eat is actually grown at their property. Doesn’t get more organic than that!
Meeting area, Poddar Haveli, Nawalgarh
The owner, Ramesh Jangid heads the Intach chapter for the Shekhawati region, so he was the perfect person to guide us around the havelis
and to tell us where to go and what to see. Though Shekhawati covers a pretty vast area — Jhujhnu, Mandawa, Dundold (some of the big towns) — he told us to visit the havelis of Nawalgarh and Dundold, which was just about 8 kms away, as they have some of the most well-preserved and finest examples of Shekhawati havelis
. All the havelis
follow the same basic pattern — there is a huge entrance first, with an outside area where the men could receive guests or people who came for an audience, then the main entrance (beyond which the women didn’t step out), where on the lower floor was the kitchen, water store and another drawing room where more important guests might be invited, and an upper floor that had bedrooms with a terrace on top.
Tea with a view, Goyenka Haveli, Dhundold
Made sense, so on the next day, after we were rested and refreshed, we headed into Dhundold. Our first stop was the Goyenka Haveli, which has been well-restored and is open to visitors. There’s an entry ticket of Rs. 40, and the caretaker shows you around. It had some beautiful carving — the door to the main house was made of bronze, above which was a carved wooden and ivory panel. The walls were brightly painted, with a variety of subjects, ranging from a train, to deities and scenes from everyday life.
There was a small little room where matkas of water used to be kept that had a thin door that was left open to let in air — that’s how you got cold water in the hot summer months! There was a typical Rajasthani kitchen, with a statue of a cook making rotis and serving them, and a lot of old vessels arranged in the room, including an okhli and batta. There were a lot of other statues around the haveli…a woman grinding wheat, another of a bullock cart, a third of a meeting…
Cotton sample booklets, Goyenka Haveli, Dhundold
Exploring the rest of the rooms, we saw some lovely antiques in the house, like a kid’s rocking chair and two gorgeous floor to ceiling Belgian mirrors…another room had a mini-museum, displaying old coins, 10 and 100 rupee notes (which were so much bigger than the notes today!), silver jewelry and silver candle stands. In another room I found some old codes and stamp paper, and a book of cotton samples — the owners had two businesses, selling cotton on commission and manufacturing Dundold tea. In one of the rooms a game of chausar had been laid out on the floor, and the caretaker explained how the game used to be played with shells, what the different throws meant, and how to keep count.
Wall fresco, Krishna and Radha with gopis forming the elephant, Poddar Haveli, Nawalgarh
Almost all the rooms had beautifully painted walls. Some of the paintings had recently been restored using chemical paints, but others still had the more than 100 year old original paints made of crushed stone and water.
That tour over, the caretaker told us to go visit the Goyenka’s centograph, which was typical to the centorgraphs found around the region. In fact, he said that most other centographs in Shekhawati were modeled after this one! From there, we wnet to the fort, which was pretty disappointing, as part of it had been converted to a hotel, and they rushed us in and out of there in 10 minutes flat!
We were back at the hotel for lunch, and then spent the evening lazing around…there was a classical music evening at the hotel, which was interesting (though I would have rather gone and seen at least one haveli in Nawalgarh that evening!).
Inner haveli gate, Poddar haveli, Nawalgarh
The next day was reserved for Nawalgarh. We started with the Poddhar Haveli Museum, which was absolutely mind blowing! Each and every surface of each and every wall was filled with varied frescoes, depicting everything from mythology to the kings, trains, Europeans and daily life. The guide explained it thus: In the olden days, the paintings were like TV — for instance, people couldn’t go to Bombay to see the train, so the traders who had been there described what a train looked like, how it ran, what the station was like, to the artists, who painted them on the walls of their house!
Fresco depicting a train and a kingly procession, Poddar haveli, Nawalgarh
There some really interesting paintings, like one showing a woman feeding a child and doing makeup at the same time, another showed Shiv and Parvati on Nandi from the left, and from the right, Bramha and Saraswati on a bull. There was also a painting of the head of the house that was done in such a way that no matter where you went, it looked like his eyes were following you. Very interesting!
Inner courtyard, Muraka haveli, Nawalgarh
The other interesting thing about the haveli was that it offered a virtual tour of all
of Rajasthan. A number of the rooms had been converted into galleries, which displayed everything related to Rajasthani culture, from paintings and carving of all the different regions, to wedding dresses, pagdis, all the main forts and palaces of Rajasthan, jewelry, musical instruments, marble work and miniature paintings.
The haveli just took my breath away! Imagine living in a house that was so gaily painted — I’m sure you could find a picture for any mood if you were living in such a place! At times I imagine it might have gotten a bit overwhelming, too, to live under the eyes of so many millions of paintings, but…it was absolutely fantabulous!
The crumbling Bhagwat Haveli, Nawalgarh
From there we went to the Bhagwat Haveli, which had some 100 odd year old paintings that hadn’t been restored. Though it was much simpler than Poddar Haveli, the paintings had an ethereal quality about them…some of them were fading, others were blackened by time and years of smoke coming out of the kitchen, some were peeling off a bit…but that’s the real charm, eh?
Sheesh Mahal, Nawalgarh Fort
We then went to visit the fort, which doesn’t look like one, and has only one room that is worth seeing — the Sheesh Mahal. The central dome is painted to show Jaipur on one side and Nawalgarh on the other, and the circular room is filled with mirror work and more paintings.
Fresco on an outer wall, Aath Haveli complex, Nawalgarh
I wanted to look around at a few more havelis
, they’re all so beautiful, but since hubby dearest said no can do, no could do it was! I did manage to bug him into taking me to the Muraka haveli and the Aath Haveli complex, but that was about it.
The next day was check out time. We were off to Jaipur for an overnight stay, and then onto the next leg of our journey — romantic Udaipur!