Shekhawati had been really offbeat. I had visited there last year when hints of spring had been around the corner and it had been perhaps the best time to explore the open air museum towns of the region. For an immensely popular tourist state like Rajasthan, Shekhawati was surprisingly quiet and relatively unexplored. Although, I no longer remember how I had come across the intrepid jewel, but my impromptu Jaipur morning decision to hire a car to drive there, had been a very good one. My destination had been Mandawa, one of the better known villages of Shekhawati region and it had taken me around 4 hours to reach there by road. The drive had been quintessentially Rajasthani, with unending stretches of semi arid landscape dotted with camels, wobbling turbans and dazzling neon coloured veils and it had looked very windswept.
Being located in the non touristy north western part of Rajasthan, the road conditions had been intermittently bad and slowly the rural arable land had given way to windblown undulating sandy dunes which had been covered by only khejri trees. The roads had gotten worse with huge craters and potholes, as I had ventured deeper into the Shekhawati region, yet the spring prettiness had calmed me down. The thorny, scraggly trees had been flowering at that time and masses of orange blossoms had covered them like shady umbrellas. They had lain scattered on the ground like small carpets of petals and occasionally tiny hutments had been visible between them. Thorn woven boundary walls had run neatly around the mud huts and skippy goats had rested in shades. Here and there camels had sat stooped under the thorny branches and women carrying pots of water on their heads had walked past them.
It had been an arid, inhospitable land, cruel in summer and freezing cold on winter nights and more than once, I had wondered if my drive had been worth it. Famous for being a magnificent open air museum, Shekhawati region had the largest concentration of frescoes in the world. Although a “lost kingdom” aura had dominated the scene today, once upon a time it had been a bustling caravan route which had connected Delhi and Sindh (now in Pakistan) with the enterprising Gujarat ports. A part of the erstwhile kingdom of Dhundar (Jaipur), Shekhawati had been ruled by descendants of the 15th century Rajput lord, Rao Shekha and the name had probably derived from his lineage. Shekhawati’s importance as a trading outpost had peaked from 17th to 19th centuries and early 20th century had seen money pour into its towns.
Having grown affluent on trade and taxes, Shekhawti’s Marwari merchants and landowning thakurs had been very busy during that golden era of commerce in outdoing each other in building grandest mansions (havelis), stepwells, cenotaphs and temples. These architectural gems had been their homes and offices and they had spent huge sums of money decorating them with murals from outside as well as inside. The result had been a gorgeous network of little, dusty, almost forgotten towns whose single track roads had been crammed with grand, ostentatiously painted mansions, most of which are now in sad derelict state. The region of Shekhawati had been quite large and had comprised of Jhunjhunu and Sikar districts. Although seemingly unimaginable, both the semi arid districts had held treasure trove of architectural gems and Mandawa, Fatehpur, Nawalgarh, Alsisar etc had been their most prominent towns. Among all the Shekhawati spots, Mandawa had been most tourist friendly and I had stayed at an old restored haveli at the 18th century settlement.
It had been late noon, by the time I had checked into the big, nearly empty Hotel Heritage Mandawa and dying sun rays had dimly lit up its painted interiors. An old caretaker with a massive hearing aid and foggy, cracked glasses, had opened the lock of the Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Room) with trembling hands and in the fading light, I had wondered at what I had gotten myself into. The eerie lyrics of Eagles’s famous song, “Hotel California” had run through my head, when the sparkling diamond like interiors of Sheesh Mahal had reflected me a thousand times. I had fallen in love instantly and having thrown my bags at a corner had explored the ornate, restored hotel to my heart’s content. A 2 storied beautifully decorated haveli, Hotel Heritage Mandawa had been all about ornamental pillars, gorgeous heavy carved doors and colourful murals. Sunlit courtyards had held rooms in rows and a lovely little marble fountain had tinkled at the center.
Also Read : 17 photos that may tempt you to visit Shekhawati
It had been too picturesque for words and a perfect trailer of my next 2 days in Shekhawati. That night, as I had lain under a million glass shards, a lonesome peacock had called from somewhere and clucking noises of a camel driver returning home had rung through the air. A quiet peace had come over me like a softly falling veil and I had been lulled to a long, restful sleep. It had felt good to be there and calm, vintage and mostly forgotten, Shekhawati had seemed like a dream; too good to be true.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE