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  Shekhawati  
 
     
 
     
 
Shekhawati : This is a semi desert region in north Rajasthan and is situated entirely within the triangle formed by Delhi-Bikaner-Jaipur. Shekhawati represents a region and not just a town or fort. It derived its name from its ruler Rao Shekha. Shekhawati means the garden of Shekha .  
The towns of Shekhawati region are known for their amazing painted havelis. So varied and architecturally
rich are  the havelis that this region is dubbed as the "open art gallery of Rajasthan". The plethora of painted Havelis in rich artistic tradition makes them fascinating. Most of the buildings are dated from 18th century to early 20th century. The Shekhawati region is dotted with so many havelis that tracking them is something akin to a treasure hunt. Various forms of fine art adorn the walls and the ceilings of these structures as a contrast to the otherwise flat and barren land. The havelis are noted for their frescoes depicting mythological themes and huge animals. Some later day frescoes reflect British influence in the form of steam locomotives and trains depicted on them.

There are also forts, minor castles, mosques, step-wells (called ‘baoris') and chattris. The Rajputs mostly depicted the themes of historical events, personage, folk-heroes and prominent war scenes, while the Marwaris concentrated more on religious themes. However, with the passage of time and advent of the British their motifs too began change.

As the authority of the Mughal empire weakened following the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 AD, the descendants of Rao Shekha grabbed the territory west of Aravali Range . The chieftains of the region still acknowledged the suzerainty of Amber ruler who conferred the title of Tazmi Sardar on them. It was probably their exposure to the royal court in Jaipur that piqued their interest in the art of frescos.

In the beginning of the 19th century, with the establishment of Major parts like Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Bombay (now Mumbai) by the British, the focus shifted from the ports of Gujarat , thus adversely affecting the commercial activities of the region. In the meantime, the contact between Jaipur and Shekhawati became tenuous and commerce on this route came to a standstill. In due course of time, the Shekhawati trade route was almost abandoned. This shattered the once flourishing economy of the region. This seasoned Shekhawati merchants were thus constrained to migrate to greener pastures like Calcutta and Bombay , where they established themselves and earned huge wealth by dint of diligence and business acumen. They repatriated this wealth to their home towns where it was utilized for building havelis and schools, promoting social welfare, digging wells and constructing reservoirs.
 
 

SIGHT SEEING

 
 
NAWALGARH :
Founded in the 18th Century by Nawal Singh, it has some of the finest frescoes in the Shekhawati region. A huge fort with a colourful bazaar and numerous havelis with elaborate architecture make it an interesting destination. There are a few prominent havelis like Anandilal Poddar Haveli, Aath Haveli, Hodh Raj Patodia Haveli, etc., which are to be visited, as also the two forts. The palace hotel Roop Niwas is a beautiful heritage
 
property and is provided with modern facilities. The palace offers spacious painted rooms, luxurious interiors, graceful hospitality and thematic evenings with sumptuous cuisine.
The painting in their Art Gallery is a great visual treat.
 
     
 
HAVELIS :
To the west of the fort are a group of havelis known numerically as ‘aath' havelis, aath meaning eight. The frescoes on these havelis are indeed not of the best quality as they represent  the transition in painting styles; the pure traditional style of painting started showing elements associated with modernity. One of the paintings depicts a steam locomotive while others show mammoth images of elephants, horses and camels. Opposite
these havelis is situated the Moraraka Haveli, which have some very fine paintings including miniature paintings from the legends associated with Lord Krishna. The haveli has no occupants and the courtyard is usually locked. It is opened for important functions. To the north is Hem Raj Kulwal Haveli. Built in 1931, the haveli depicts portraits of the Kulwal family at the entrance as also those of Indian leaders like Gandhi and Nehru. The windows are bordered with colourful architraves. An ornate silver gate leads to the inner courtyard which has some fine paintings mostly on religious themes. Quite close to it is the Khedwal Bhawan which features some striking mirror and blue tile work at the entrance to the inner courtyard. Some frescoes depicting a locomotive engine crossing a bridge and a woman on a swing enjoying the Teej Festival are seen on some of the walls. Also depicted is the story of legendary lovers Dhola Maru on an outside wall. Morarka Haveli threw open its doors to public only recently on payment of entry fee. The haveli displays some very well preserved paintings of incidents mentioned in the Ramayana. Other notable havelis are Bhagton ki choti Haveli, Parusrampuria Haveli, Dharni Dhakra Haveli, Chhauchharia Haveli, Hira Lal Sarowgi Haveli and Geevrajka Haveli. Dr Ramnath A Poddar Haveli Museum (admission Rs. 40), actively maintains and adds new wall paintings.
 
     
 
NAWALGARH BALA QUILA :
The fort founded in 1737 has largely been disfigured. Only one room in the south eastern section of the fort retains beautiful mirror work and paintings of scenes of old Jaipur and Nawalgarh. To reach there, you have to gain access through a sweet shop that charges Rs. 10 to allow passage. A huge fruit and vegetable market and two banks use the rest of the fort.
 
 
     
 
DUNDLOD :
Lies in the heart of the Shekhawati Region about 7 km from Nawalgarh. It was founded in 1750. The fort is a blend of the Rajput and Mughal schools art and architecture. The Diwan-e-khas (Hall of Private Audience) has stained glass windows, fine antiques and an impressive library.  
The ‘zenana' quarters are on the first floor featuring exquisite decor and
furniture. The fort has been converted into a cosy and comfortable abode. Here the dress code and the royal hospitality accorded to visitors and guests are specially attractive. The Goenka Haveli is worth a visit for its beautiful frescoes, fine mirror work above the windows and features of florets and birds in the outer courtyard. There are better-preserved paintings in a few other havelis and chattris. A peep into the village on a camel safari is rather interesting. Fine breeding of horses has been a passion with the royals and the tradition continues. These studs are available for riding and horse safaris. A 1 day / 1 night stay over at the resort lets you sample an enchanting lifestyle. There are thikana kansamas (chefs) to dole out delicious cuisine.

One can stay at the Dundlod Fort, which is a fine heritage property. The fort also organizes horse and jeep safaris. You can hire a camel for sightseeing and even hire an English-speaking guide.
 
 
Close to the fort lies the Chhatri of Ram Dutt Goenka with a well adjacent to it. Built in 1888, the dome has floral motifs with banners extending from the centre. The dome is encircled by frieze showing Krishna dancing with the ‘gopis', interspersed with musicians and peacocks. The paintings around the inner base show war panorama of the Mahabharata. The
 
Bhagirath Mal Goenka Haveli is a fine example of mirror work on the windows of the upper walls of the inner courtyard. Also notable are the delicately preserved paintings mostly in round frames. 
The Satyanarayan Temple built by the Goenka family is also worth a visit. On the wall of the temple is a huge fresco with modern trappings showing British men and women on bicycles and cars. It also shows a long train with a backdrop of telegraph wires. A painting under the roof in the upper space shows nobles at leisure either smelling flowers or reading books. Another painting shows a turbaned man holding a bird while yet another portrays a woman admiring herself against a mirror.
 
     
 
MUKUNDGARH :
Built around a temple square, a few kilometers from Nawalgarh, Mukungarh has a magnificent fort, which is now converted, into a resort hotel with all modern amenities. There are a few prominent properties here in the form of havelis of Kanoria and Ganriwal, which carry fine examples of fresco paintings.
 
     
 
MANDWA :
Founded in the mid 18th century Mandawa skyline today is dominated by an imposing fort, now a heritage hotel that is maintained in classic medieval style with modern luxuries. The archway is painted with interesting forms of Lord Krishna and his cowherds. The sprawling architecture houses different themes in different wings. The spacious rooms are adorned by intricate interior wall paintings and mirror work with
 
an open terrace that offers a panoramic view of the whole town. The women folk of the Mandawa family who lived in a royal style once used this floor.  The Mandawa family has a unique collection of their preserved paintings and antiques that adorn the main huge hall in the centre of the castle, originally the durbar hall and now an exotic lounge. The ceremonial costumes of the family collection and the precious arms with handles of jade and beautiful curios brought by the British as gifts for the nobles are well placed like showcases of a museum. The hotel is well equipped with modern facilities in an ethnic set-up. A night's stay is an experience in itself with thematic evenings and oriental and medieval cuisine. The warm hospitality is touching. 

HAVELIS :
Hanuman Prasad Goenka Haveli has a depiction of Indra on an elephant and Lord Shiva on His Nandi Bull. Right across it is the Goenka Double Haveli with two gates. The haveli has a monumental facade of elephants and horses. Some of its frescoes are in bad shape. Nearby, the Murmuria Haveli has a train with a crowded level crossing. It also shows a low flying crow above the train. The haveli also has an imposing picture of Nehru on horseback holding the national flag. The Jhunjhunwala Haveli has an impressive gold leaf painted room and charges an admission fee of Rs. 10. The Mohan Lal Saraf Haveli has an impressive picture of a Maharaja stroking his moustache. The Binsidhar Newatia Haveli, Lakshminarayan Ladia Haveli, Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli and Chokhani Double Haveli are some other havelis in the area. FATEHPUR :
The Muslim Nawabs established Fatehpur in 1451 AD but the Shekhawat Rajputs took over in the 18th century. The opulence of the local merchants is evident from the richly painted havelis of Poddar, Choudhuri and the Ganeriwala families. The town is also a good base to visit nearby towns of Lakshmangarh and Mandawa. 
 
     
 
HAVELIS:
Mahaveer Prasad Goenka haveli built in 1885 is believed to have some of the best frescoes showing a perfect match of colour and design. Geori Shankar Haveli is a good example of mirrored mosaic ceiling. Haveli Nadine is a haveli purchased by a French artist Nadine Le Prince. It retains some good paintings in predominantly red and blue shades. In the Choudaharia Haveli efforts are on to restore the paintings. The
Choudaharia Haveli though in an extreme state of deterioration deviates from usual themes to an erotic painting. The Jagannath Singhania Haveli has some fine paintings of Radha and Krishna and shows some British men holding guns. The other notable havelis are Harkishan Das Saraogi Haveli and Vishnunath Keria Haveli .
 
     
 
JHUNJUNU : Jhunjhunu is the biggest town in the Shekhawati region and has the district headquarters for the region. It is located 180 kms from Jaipur and 245 kms from Delhi . The Kayamkhani Nawabs founded the town in the 15th century. The Rajput ruler Sardul Singh took control of the town by 1730. The town is approachable by train and road from Jaipur and Delhi . The town has decent accommodation and can be an ideal base for exploring the Shekhawati region.
 
 
     
 
HAVELIS :
Modi Haveli
 is in parts opposite each other. The painting shows some modern trappings with a lady sitting in front of a gramophone while the other shows some soldiers on horses escorting a train. Kaniram Narsinghdas Tibrewal Haveli shows a goods train laden with livestock crossing a passenger train. Narudin Farooqi Haveli has only floral motifs in Muslim style in dominant blue colour. Mohanlal Ishwardas Haveli (admission, Rs. 10) has paintings showing the legend of Krishna stealing the clothes of gopis. A train is also painted here.
 
     
 
PILANI :
Once a small village, it is now famous for being the hometown of the premier business and industrial family, the Birlas. The town is also known for The Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS, Pilani), an all-India Institute for higher education. Its engineering college is reputed to be among the top ten colleges in India . Late Mr G.D. Birla - an eminent industrialist and an associate of Mahatma Gandhi founded the Institute.
Other places of interest are The BITS Museum, Shiva Ganga, Saraswati temple and the Pachwati. Pilani is connected by road from Delhi and Jaipur. Its nearest railhead is Chirawa. Pilani also has good hotels.

BISSAU :
Is another small town of fluctuating fortunes. Keshri Singh founded the town. It fell into anarchy when his grandson Shyam Singh extorted huge sums of money from the local merchants. The merchants packed up and fled the town and the local Thakurs indulged in looting and theft. However, after the death of Shyam Singh, his heir restored normalcy and the merchants were encouraged to return.
 
     
 

PARASRAMPURIA : It is a tiny village 20 kms southwest of Nawalgarh. It boasts of some of the oldest and the best preserved Shekhawati paintings in the region. The Shyamji Sharaf Haveli and 18th century haveli located near the bus stand have well preserved paintings. Paintings show a grandmother having her hair attended, women on a spinning wheel and an English woman in polished boots holding a parasol. Another frieze depicts Europeans in a car. Other frescoes depict gods and goddesses.

BAGGAR : Is a small town known for the Piramal Haveli, which accepts guests in its eight rooms on prior booking. The Hotel serves pure vegetarian food.
 
     
 
     
 
     
     
   
     
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