Shekhawati – An Introduction

So What/Where is Shekhawati

Many of you might have heard of Shekhawati or seen some visuals of the region in movies like ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, ‘PK’, ‘Jab We Met’ etc which were shot here. The name might also have evoked some feelings of romanticism & breathlessness that are generally associated with viewing a ‘one of its kind’ wondrous piece of heritage. At some point in time you might have wanted to visit the area yourself but were not sure how to or kept pending it in favour of other more children-friendly destinations. So here’s a lowdown on how to plan your trip to this open air art gallery called Shekhawati before its colours are totally lost to the ravages of nature & time for want of upkeep & money.

The fading exteriors of a haveli in Nawalgarh

Shekhawati is not the name of a city or a place. It is a region broadly comprising of the towns & cities of Jhunjhunu, Churu, Mandawa, Fatehpur, Ramgarh, Nawalgarh, Dundlod, Mukundgarh etc in Rajasthan.

Map of Shekhawati region

The region is famous for its once grand & majestic havelis built by the Marwari business community which had migrated & settled in this region when it was under the rule of the Shekhawati Rajputs a couple of centuries back. The havelis in turn are as famous for their architecture as for the painted murals & frescoes. Besides the havelis there’s also a smattering of hill forts & Chattris (Cenotaphs) in the region that are worth exploring. For more detailed information on Shekhawati & all its havelis check Rama Toshi Arya’s blog post here.

When To Go

Like all of Rajasthan, Shekhawati is a winter destination. Mandawa is the hub of the area & the place where the most hotels are & where most tourists base themselves to explore the region. With it being just about 260-275 kms (about 6 hrs) away from Delhi (depending on the route you take) & Jaipur a convenient 170 kms (about 3 hrs), Mandawa becomes an ideal getaway for a 3-4 days trip which is enough to cover the region & its main havelis. Delhi & Jaipur are of course connected by air to many domestic & international destinations.

Children/Shopaholics/Elderly?

Well, this is not exactly a child-friendly destination. There are no amusement parks, swings, water parks or shopping malls in this region to keep the children & shopaholics busy. There are also no McDonald’s, KFCs or Pizza Huts around here. So unless your prodigious child has shown an interest in art & architecture & is not averse to tasting some authentic dal-bati-churma it is better to leave him at home rather than give him a holiday he’d want to forget soonest! It will also be a challenge for the elderly as almsot all the havelis have at least a few stairs to climb to access the interiors & definitely a steep flight or two to reach the upper floors. In the name of shopping one could pick up some authentic pickle, spices & Rajasthani printed bedsheets & covers from the region but don’t expect to find the likes of Zara, H&M or M&S here!

Where to Stay

Like I mentioned earlier, Mandawa is a convenient hub for exploring the region, day by day, without having to shift bases. We stayed at the convenient & comfortable Hotel Mandawa Haveli bang in the centre of the town which put us within walking distance of all the major havelis that were there for seeing.

The interiors of Hotel Mandawa Haveli

Route

There are two routes one could take for reaching Mandawa from Delhi – via Bhiwani or via Narnaul. The former is 15 kms longer but works out almost equal to the latter route time-wise which gets bogged down in the heavy traffic encountered in negotiating some of the enroute towns which do not have a bypass built around them yet.

Route from Delhi to Mandawa

Where To Eat

This is not your typical Delhi-Jaipur or Delhi-Punjab route which are dotted with roadside dhabas. For want of tourists who are still to discover the spectrum of colours at Shekhawati, you won’t find the ‘Big Daddys’ like Bikanerwala, Haldiram, Rao or Sukhdev on this axis. In fact we did not find even one worth stopping at till we had crossed Narnaul, having been misguided through the city by the car Garmin GPS which I was using at that time instead of the mobile phone google maps which on checking later showed a bypass around the city! The roadside eating joints however start making an appearance after crossing Chirawa as you’re closing in on Bagar towards Jhunjhunu. So its better to keep your dry snacks & aloo parantha rolls handy!

Getting Haveli-id

Our guide told me that there are close to 2500 havelis in Shekhawati! And after spending just 3 days exploring I would tend to believe him. It appears that living in havelis was the way of life in those days. The size, architecture & quality & quantity of paintwork on the construction reflected the prosperity of their owners. Every little street that one turns into boasted of a few havelis, big & small & in various degrees of upkeep or decay. Out here you will find some famous business families’ names like Goenka, Singhania & Poddar to name a few.

A haveli-lined street in Fatehpur. Another example of lost heritage.

You obviously can’t see all. Neither are all open for viewing with many of the havelis locked by their owners who have moved away to greener pastures in metropolitan cities for business leaving their basic maintenance to caretakers left behind as in-house residents. So you pick out a few in the main towns of Mandawa, Nawalgarh, Dundlod, Fatehpur & Ramgarh & focus your energy on those. In the process while the havelis make you gape in wonder at their magnificence, the paintings & frescoes that you encounter adorning their walls, ceilings & external surfaces leave you speechless with their artistry & intricacy.

The painted ceiling of a haveli entrance

The Plan

So, with Mandawa as the base you could cover the region in 3 days time.

Day 1 – explore Mandawa

Day 2 – Head to Mukungarh, Dundlod & Nawalgarh

Day 3 – Check out Fatehpur & Ramgarh Shekhawati

You would probably also hear of some ‘world famous’ whiskey of different flavours & fragrances being distilled in Mahansar & going by the pompous name ‘Maharani Mahansar’ & be tempted to go there for a purchase. But don’t. The whiskey has dubious antecedents, is not available openly or easily & even for a hefty sum one is not assured of the authenticity of the product as claimed.

So lets begin our discovery of the riot of colours & glorious architecture that defines Shekhawati.

P.S. I also have to take the opportunity to here thank my friend Divya Sharma without whose help & guidance I might have been a little more clueless about how to plan our itinerary. Not only did she patiently answer all my curious questions but also put me in touch with a local at Fatehpur for better assistance.

 

Now read https://ghumakkarindian.com/2022/12/11/shekhawati-day-1-delhi-to-mandawa/

 

 

18 Comments

  1. Wonderful description. It has generated the curiosity to know more about the region. I’m eagerly waiting for the next blog in the series.

  2. India is full of such heritage treasures. Though not as grand the heritage zone Pragpur in Kangra Distt Himachal boasts of such mansions which the Sood community built .

  3. This was so informative. It felt like I lived the journey. The do’s and don’ts explained so well is much needed when one travels for the first time.
    Keep up the good work Sudeep 👍

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