The fame of the open air museum of Shekhawati had set me off to this extraordinary place and this post on Nawalgarh is the third of 4 posts in the series on “The Painted Towns of Shekhawati”. I suggest that you read the introduction to Shekhawati here to get an in depth idea of the fantastic obscurity of this region. I had based out of Mandawa, one of the better known Shekhawati towns and had stayed at the gorgeous Mandawa Heritage Hotel. My first day had featured Mandawa and the gorgeous Sona Chandi ki Dukan at Mahansar and the 2nd day had been spent exploring the gorgeous Nadine Haveli at Fatehpur. Shekhawati being quite a large area, my short itinerary of 4 days had made me select only a few of the best known sites. I strongly believe in saving the best for the last and my final Shekhawati visit to Nawalgarh had been a very good idea.
Located midway between Jhunjhunu and Sikar towns, Nawalgarh had been the crown jewel of Shekhawati region. It had also given rise to some of India’s biggest industrialists’ families and had the most ostentatious of all painted mansions. They had been in very well preserved condition too and a few of them had been professionally run by trust funds. Many consider it as the Golden City of Rajasthan and after seeing the beautiful golden glow of the old havelis, it had not been hard to understand why. Founded by a Thakur Nawal Singh Bahadur in 1737 AD, Nawalgarh had been fortified with high walls which had been surmounted by 4 gates or Pols. Iron gates had made the gates nearly impenetrable and the Bala Kila Fort had occupied the center of the town. Fatehgarh Fort had stood outside it and the well laid out lanes interspersed with markets and havelis had made it one of India’s early planned cities. Nawalgarh had also been one of the youngest Shekhawati towns and it had had the perfect balance of quaint with modern styles.
Since Nawalgarh had been kept for the last day, I had been guilty of not devoting much deserving time to it. It had been a lazy Sunday, when an unusually cold morning had kept me in bed longer than I had wanted. My mirror encrusted Sheesh Mahal room had been wonderfully cozy and the beautiful block printed Jaipuri quilts had reflected a million times, making me get enveloped in its unique floral daintiness. Finally, after a late breakfast and sharing of tea with the in house peacock, I had unwillingly left the Mandawa heritage hotel and happily bade the town goodbye. I had quite disliked Mandawa and had found Mahansar to be charming. Fatehpur’s opulence had been bewildering and I had wondered how Nawalgarh would fare in the Shekhawati travel meter. Despite the seemingly familiar styles of painted havelis and string of obscure frescoed towns, upon closer inspection and time, fine differences had emerged from the pattern. While Mandawa had glowed with delicate pastel shades and Indian portraits in exquisite garbs, Mahansar had been all about rich colours and semi precious jewel tones. Fatehpur had more modern with more preference given to Indo Western styles of clothing and European elegance.
The other intermediate Shekhawati villages and towns had resembled exotic ghost towns and crumbling cenotaphs, dilapidated mansions, broken stepwells and skeletal remains of forts had dotted the windswept sandy landscape. Life too had seemed to have paused there forever and veiled women in dazzling skirts or black somber burqas had swayed past with babies at their hips. Men had practiced age old ancestral professions and nearly the entire generation of young people seemed to have abandoned the painted towns for the cities. A few farms had struggled against the extremities of nature and the tawny coloured camels had blended in with the golden yellow of the undulating sand. Shekhawati had been a strange forgotten time warped place where tourists were nearly nonexistent and curious eyes had tried hard to peek at my face through the tinted windows of my car. All these Shekhawati strangeness had run through my head like snippets from a movie when Nawalgarh had arrived. It had been early evening and I had been quite late.
Nawalgarh, nonetheless had looked exquisite and grander than all the Shekhawati towns that I had explored. The dying sun had filtered long rays through old ornate lanes and golden light had shed like oozing honey. Passing footsteps and wheels had risen dust in the golden air and they had created a magical veiled aura about the town. It had been so heart stoppingly beautiful that I had walked about aimlessly until the famous Poddar Haveli had loomed in front of me. An excellently restored haveli famous for its intricate frescoes, Dr Ramnath A. Podar Haveli Museum had been a professionally maintained building with its own trust fund. Built in 1902 by Mr Anandilal Podar, the 2 storeys of the massive haveli had held many galleries which had featured different aspects of Rajasthani culture. Turbans, local dances, schools of art etc had brought alive the vibrancy of exotic Rajasthan and then there had been the beauty of the painted Podar haveli. True to its architectural tradition, Podar haveli had 2 open courtyards around which sets of rooms had encircled and beautiful woodwork had embellished its doorways. The heavy gates and doors too had been ornately studded with metal ornamentation and the gorgeous Baithak (Sitting Room) had been complete with plush velvet carpets, cushions, chandeliers and frescoes.
Everything about Nawalgarh’s Podar Haveli had smelled of old money and the frescoes though freshly repainted had stuck to their original Shekhawati themes. Bejeweled elephants, Hindu deities, opulently dressed men and women, horse carriages, trains, cars etc had covered every inch of the mansion and the checkered marbled floor had balanced the over the top frescoed effect. The haveli’s 2nd floor had been incidentally more westernized than the first and European influences had been prominently visible in the arches, ornamental pillars and lacy iron grills. It had been the perfect finale for my Shekhawati trip and perhaps the loveliest place to catch a desert sunset. Being open courtyards, the gorgeous interiors had been flooded generously with deep colours of the setting sun and violet shadows had flickered on the grooves and arches.
I have always considered the sun to be particularly benevolent on certain places on earth and Rajasthan has some of the world’s most vivid sunsets. That evening too had been quintessentially Rajasthani and the sun too, had been a huge show off. It had changed colours, deepened and wilted at will and finally with a massive shower of golden light had disappeared quickly somewhere in infinity. The golden shower had been the most gorgeous Shekhawati moment and the old haveli had seemed to rejoice in its beauty. It had been loved and every part of the mansion had shown traces of care put into its restoration. The owner’s pride in his heritage had been nearly palpable and Nawalgarh’s Podar haveli had shown some hopes of revival for the region’s incredible legacy.
Shekhawati is truly incredible and it is time the gorgeous painted havelis and their Silk Route history are brought to attention. May they see some more love and pride in likes of Nadine, Mr Kantikumar Podar (owner of Podar Haveli) etc and the region gets a new lease of life.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE
Many travel bloggers have chronicled their Shekhawati travel experiences beautifully and they have explored the region better. Their work has done more justice than my meager 4 posts on Painted Towns of Shekhawati and I am sharing some works of my favourite travel writers. I am sure you will enjoy them as much as I did.
https://thatandthisinmumbai.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/travel-rajasthan-the-shekhawati-trip-planner/ (This is a treasure trove on Shekhawati travel information)
http://charukesi.com/itchyfeet/haveli-hopping-in-shekhawati/ (This post provides glimpses of Shekhawati beyond its painted havelis)
http://www.whiskaffair.com/2015/01/travel-blog-shekhawati-region-nawalgarh-dundlod-mandawa-fatehpur-rajasthan.html (Evocative photos, lovely write up, this post brings Shekhawati alive)
http://beyondlust.in/2013/06/24/shekhawati-nawalgarh/ (Beyondlust does true justice to the beauty of Shekhawati)