Friday, August 16, 2013

Wandering through the painted mansions of Shekhawati region : February 2013

For general tourists, a sight-seeing trip to Rajasthan would mean visiting the popular tourist circuits like Jaipur-Pushkar-Udaipur-Chittorgarh and Jodhpur-Jaisalmer-Bikaner. When I told  some relatives and friends of mine that I have finalised a sight-seeing trip with my family to Shekhawati region, they were bewildered. They had never heard of Shekhawati region which is a part of Rajasthan state comprising mainly Jhunjhunu and Sikar districts and some eastern parts of Churu districts. The region is famous for its hundreds of painted havelis (mansions) the prosperous Marwari traders built during 19th and 20th centuries.  

In the recent period, Shekhawati region has gained the importance as a separate tourist circuit of Rajasthan though it has not yet become as popular as that of Jaipur-Pushkar-Udaipur-Chittorgarh and Jodhpur-Jaislamer-Bikaner circuits. The genesis of the Shekhawati painted havelis has a connection with the success of hard-working and genius Marwari traders (rather Shekhawati traders) who hitherto were outsmarted by their counterpart in the region of Jaipur royalty. What they did was to convince their Shekhawati chieftains to reduce the tax on the goods passing through their regions compared with the similar tax levied by   Jaipur royalty, to divert the business to their region. So the business flourished during 19th century and they become prosperous. Later many of the wealthy businessmen migrated to cities like Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkatta) and Madras (Chennai) and became more prosperous channelling a part of their wealth to their native villages in Shekhawati region. To showcase their wealth, larger havelis were constructed which were  decorated with frescoes and murals on the walls and ceilings.

Day-1 : In Jaipur

We reached Jaipur in the afternoon by Mumbai-Jaipur Super-Fast Express and checked in RTDC’s Swagatam (Rs.1300/- non-A/C double with breakfast) which is located at a walking distance from the railway station. The room was clean and the bathroom and toilet were functional with 24 hours hot water. The hotel has a restaurant with limited menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most of the prominent places of Shekhawati painted havelis are within 3-4 hours drive from Jaipur.

Since we had already visited Jaipur in February 2007 for sight-seeing, there was not much for us for sight-seeing in Jaipur. However, we had heard of Kanak Vrindavan Valley garden, which is about 10 kms from Jaipur close to Amer Fort and Nahargarh. After freshening up followed by lunch in RTDC’s restaurant, we hired a Tavera for visiting Kanak Vrindavan Valley in the afternoon. It is one of two gardens built by Sawai Jai Singh about 300 year back, the other being Sisodia Rani Garden. To me, the place looked more like a picnic spot than a tourist sight. There are two temples adjoining the garden – Natwarji temple and Radha-Madhav temple (Govind Devji temple) which are worth visiting. These temples were constructed in the 18th century in haveli type architecture without having a prominent temple spire. In the night, the garden as well as temples were  lighted with spot lights giving a different perspective. There is a cafeteria near the gate of the garden which serves fast food. We returned to our hotel after a short break on the way to see Jal Mahal and Birla temple under floodlights. 
View of Kanak Vrindavan Valley Garden as seen from Natwarji temple

Natwarji temple in the background seen from Kanak Vrindavan Valley Garden.

Govind Devji (Radha-Mohan) temple at dusk.

The intricate jali (latice) work on the marble in Govind Devji (Radha Madhav) temple complex.

Zoom shot of Jal Mahal in the night

Day-2 : Jaipur To Jhunjhunu via Sikar

Jaipur-Sikar        : 123 kms
Sikar-Jhunjhunu  : 72 kms

We had decided that Jhunjhunu would be our base for making day trips to Shekhawati painted havelis in around Fatehpur, Mandawa, Nawalgarh, Bissau, Churu, Dundlod, Ramgarh, Mukundgarh etc. All these places are within 1-2 hours drive from Jhunjhunu. At one point of planning the Shekhawati trip, I was contemplating Mandawa as the base as this place, apart from being in the centre of Shekhwati region, was supposed to be an atmospheric place for tourists as compared with Jhunjhunu. But what worked in favour of Jhunjhunu was it was comparatively cheap in terms of hotel tariffs and cost of food even in the hotels' restaurants than in Mandawa and Nawalgarh as reconfirmed by us during our visits to these two places.  

Since two of my relative couples  were keen to see City Palace & Museum and Samode Palace respectively, we decided to postpone our departure to Jhunjhunu from morning to the afternoon. Unfortunately,  Samode Palace was out of bound for tourists on that day due to booking of the hotel exclusively for a marriage party. Samode Palace which has now been turned into a super luxury hotel is a favourite place for marriage of high net worth family.

After lunch, we started from Jaipur for Jhunjhunu (195 kms) at around 3.30 p.m. in Tavera which we had hired for our rest of the trip. The idea was to cover some of the interesting places in around Sikar before ending our day’s journey at Jhunjhunu. The road journey was smooth except a couple of places where traffic movements were slow due to ongoing flyover works and the annoying speed breakers at many places. We reached Sikar at around 5.30 p.m. The sun was almost on setting mode and by 6.30 p.m., it would be dark. So we hurried up visiting Biyani haveli, Krishna Satsang Bhavan, Madan Mohan temple, Govindji temple and Gopinath temple. By the time we completed Biyani haveli, it was already dark and by the time we completed visits to all the places, it was 7.00 p.m. We resumed our onward journey to Jhunjhunu and on the way, it started raining heavily slowing down the driving on the wet road. We reached Jhunujunu  by 8.45 p.m.  and checked in Hotel Shiv Shekhawati (Rs.1000/-per double room). Being a new hotel, the room was clean; the bed sheets were new and we had  24 hour hot water. The food was prepared on order which was tasty but the service was very slow probably the cook was performing multi tasks. 
Frescoes on the arch of the main entrance door to outer courtyard of Biyani haveli, Sikar

Mural on the wall of the outer court of Biyani haveli, Sikar

A high ceiling hall with colour glasses's windows in Krishna Satsang Bhavan, Sikar

One of the arch door with colour glasses in Krishna Satsang Bhavan, Sikar

One of the frescoes on the wall of Gopinath temple, Sikar
Deities of Krishna and Radha in Madan Mohan temple, Sikar

Day-3 : Mahansar-Bissau-Churu-Ramgarh

Jhunjhunu-Mahansar   : 40 kms
Mahansar-Bissau        : 10 kms
Bissau-Churu             : 18 kms
Churu-Ramgarh          : 17 kms
Ramgarh-Jhunjhunu    : 51 kms

Today was our first day of painted haveli hopping in Shakhwati region in real sense as we were to cover most of the well known painted havelis  in the next three days. We had not made the listing of painted havelis to be visited as we were not sure as to how many of them would be available for visits. Also, we had no idea as to how much time was required for viewing these havelis which largely depended on size of the haveli and number of frescoes and murals. All we knew was that we had three days in our disposal to cover as many painted havelis as possible. On the basis of the recommendations in some of the travel websites, we had made a list of ‘must see’ painted havelis  like ‘Sone Ki Dukhan’ in Mahansar, Nadia Le Palace haveli and Singhania haveli in Fatehpur, Anandilal Poddar haveli & museum in Nawalgarh, Jhunjhunwala haveli in Mandwa etc.

The overnight heavy rains had made road in front of our hotel waterlogged which remained so till the time we left Jhunjhunu after completion of our painted haveli trips. The fact is that heavy rains in this part of the state is a rare phenomenon.  Light rains continued in the morning also. This put a dampener on our today’s trip and we were  in ‘go slow’ mode  in getting ready for departure. The slow and delayed service in serving breakfast also resulted in delay of our departure. Fortunately, rain stopped and it was sunny day throughout thereafter.

1. Mahansar

It was almost 10.00 a.m. when we started our journey to Mahansar, the first destination of the day. At Bissau junction, a single lane road diversion to the left goes to Mahansar. By 11.00 a.m., we were in a sleepy looking town of Mahansar. Our first visit was Sone Ki Dukan located in a small Poddar haveli known for frescoes on the walls and ceilings in real gold colour. The haveli was locked. We went to inquire about the haveli in the temple which was located on the haveli premises. Luckily, the priest of the temple had the keys of the haveli which he opened for us. The major fresco works in real gold colour are only on two rooms. The frescoes are fairly in good conditions. These exquisite frescoes depict the stories from Ramayan, Mahabharat and other mythological stories. Let the pictures below shot by me speak for Sone Ki Dukan.

The frescoes on the first room as we entered Sone Ki Dukan in Mahansar. The room has three dimensional ceiling. Frescoes on the left, middle and right of the ceiling depict the stories from Ramayana, Vishnu Avatars and Krishna leela respectively.
The other part of Sone Ki Dukan, Mahansar

Sone Ki Dukan, Mahansar : Frescoes on the wall
Fresco paintings around one of the windows of the room in Sone Ki Dukan, Mahansar
Sone Ki Dukan, Mahansar - Ceiling fresco depicting some stories relating to Krishna.

Sone Ki Dukan, Mahansar - Fresco of Krishna carried in a doli made up of gopis - again an imagination of the painter.

Sone Ki Dukan, Mahansar - Fresco depicting the painter's imagination of Krishna on a horse .
Sone Ki Dukan, Mahansar : Some Sanskrit shlokas written in the real gold colour. 

Our next visit in Mahansar was Tolaram Haveli located about 200m from Sone Ki Dukan. The haveli is presently occupied by either a tenant or a caretaker who demanded Rs.50/- per head for viewing the haveli rooms. From the outside, the haveli looks quite run down with most frescoes on the walls badly damaged. So not expecting much to see inside the haveli, we offered him Rs.25/- per head which he agreed. Once inside the inner court yard, the frescoes were fairly in good condition. The frescoes, mainly on the walls are based on the mythological stories though some relating to day to day activities and the portraits of Indian and foreign men and women are also the subject matter of the fresco paintings. 

The main attraction of Tolaram haveli is its dancing hall with high ceiling skirted by jharokas (window balconies) on all the four sides enabling the women folks of the family to watch the dances and other entertainment programmes. The hall has modern paintings of European school and colour glass chandliers.  

Tolaram Haveli, Mahansar - The main door from outer courtyard leading to inner courtyard.

Tolaram Haveli, Mahansar : The close up of frescoes of the door to inner courtyard

Tolaram Haveli, Mahansar : Windows with faded frescoes overlooking the outer courtyard of the haveli.
Tolaram Haveli, Mahansar : Ceiling view of the entertainment room. Windows (Jarokhas) on both sides of the room were meant for the women folks of the family to watch the programme.

On our return, we visited the 19th century Raghunathji temple. Unless one read the obscure board on the top of the structure, one would get an impression that it is a haveli with canopies on the top floors. Even inside, it has architecture of a haveli with central courtyard and pillared passageways. The walls are decorated with fresco paintings. From the terrace of the temple, one can have a bird’s eye view of Mahansar town. As the name of the temple suggests, the main deity is Ram but in this temple, he is with all his four brothers and Sita.
Raghunathji Temple, Mahansar
Raghunathji temple idols - Shri Ram with his three brothers and Sita

Raghunathji temple, Mahansar - View of inner courtyard and the terrace.

Mahansar : This fresco appears to be an imagination of a painter based on Draupadi Vastraharan story. Note in this painting, the ghagara clad woman with her dupatta being pulled . This fresco was below the balcony of a shop opposite Raghunath temple.

2. Bissau

We saw two  havelis in Bissau - Girdharilal Sigatia haveli and Didhwani haveli. There was one more haveli named as Mohanlal Sigatia haveli opposite to Girdharilal haveli (probably belonging to two Sigatia brothers). But it was closed and we could see frescoes on the outer wall of the haveli from outside. The theme of the fresco paintings were more or less the same – mythological stories, day to day activities, the portraits of some rajput noblemen. Some of the paintings looked restored if one goes by the freshness of the colours. There were a few novelty frescoes like Lord Ganesh in dancing pose playing a musical instruments, a Rajasthani woman with western cap etc.

Sigatia Haveli, Bissau - Lord Brahma with Rajput mustache.

Sigatia Haveli, Bissau - Five headed Lord Shiva with Rajput mustache.

Sigatia Haveli, Bissau - Dancing Ganesh playing a musical instrument

Sigatia Haveli, Bissau - Ceiling  frescoes.
Sigatia Haveli, Bissau - Ceiling frescoes.

Sigatia Haveli, Bissau - A Rajasthani lady with bob cut hairs and western cap.

View from Sigatia Haveli probably of chatris.

Didhwania Haveli, Bissau - The arch main door frescoes.

Didhwania Haveli, Bissau - Protraits of some foreigners

Didhwania Haveli, Bissau - Wall fresco depicting teej festival of Rajasthan.

3. Churu

Before driving to Churu, we had a look at Bissau Fort from outside which is almost in the centre of the town as the security staff allowed us only to see a temple inside the fort and other areas were out of bound for the tourists. After crossing the railway line, we reached Churu city. First, we visited Malji Kothari haveli which has now been converted into a heritage hotel renamed as Malji Ka Kamra. We were not sure whether the hotel management would allow us to enter the hotel. The haveli from outside looked very impressive and its architecture was out of sync with the other important havelis we had seen so far.  

Fortunately, the man at the reception permitted us to see the hotel from inside and he deputed a person from the hotel to show us the paintings and rooms. The hotel had 13 rooms some of which are still under restoration in terms of interior decorations. We were shown a couple of rooms which were offered to the guests. Rooms were of high ceiling with the restored wall frescoes and murals. The window and door frames were skirted by the colourful ornamental designs probably made up of terracotta. This haveli was constructed in 1920 and its architecture was greatly influenced by the French and Italian palaces.

Our next visit was to double-story Surana haveli. This was one of the largest havelis of Shekhawati. Unfortunately, the haveli was closed and we had to satisfied with whatever we could see from outside.

Malji Kothari Haveli, Churu - This haveli has now been converted into a hotel 'Malji Ka Kamra'.

Malji Ka Kamra, Churu - The 'designer' open balcony with each pillar having the statues of men and women.

Malji Ka Kamra, Churu - Flowery design probably made up of terracotta skirting the window of a room.

Babulal Surana Haveli, Churu - The door to inner courtyard was closed.

Babulal Surana Haveli, Churu - Frescoes on the outer wall of the haveli.

4. Ramgarh

We left Churu for Ramgarh and by the time we reached the place, the sun was about to set and light was fading. Our first priority was to visit Goenka Haveli which houses a museum of antique collections typically used in the old Sekhawati havelis. Unfortunately, the person who was to show us the haveli was in his shop and he would return only after closing his shop at around 7.00 p.m. So until then, we made visits to two temples in the vicinity – Shani temple and Ganesh temple which had some frescoes and mirror works. 

At around 7.00 p.m., Manoj Johri returned from his shop and took us inside Goenka haveli to show the collections and the rooms which have been kept in use in the same way as it was being used in early 20th century. The collections are small in number but they are unique giving a feel of the bygone era. In one room, there was a bed made of wooden planks. Generally, one would guess that below these planks would be the storage places within the bed. But it was not so. After removing a couple of wooden planks of the bed, we saw at the base of the floor, a ladder to reach a secret room where the cash and other valuables were kept in the olden days. In those days, a lot of robberies used to take place in havelis of prosperous traders.

Since it was already dark, we missed seeing Ram Gopal Podar Chatris with its famous painted domes. We returned to our hotel in Jhunjhunu and ordered dinner. Naturally, with slow service, we finished our dinner very late but it was worth waiting as the cook-cum-server-cum room service attendant was a marvelous cook and a pleasant person. Later we came to know that he had completed a diploma course in hotel management from one of the colleges in Pune and he was working in the group’s mid-range hotel on the front desk. He was deputed here for a week as the regular cook of the hotel was on leave.

Ramgarh - Shani Temple's inner court with murals and mirror work. Shani temple was built by Khemka family in 1840.

Ramgarh - Shani temple - Mural of Radha-Krishna with blue colour mirror borders.

Ramgarh - Sanctum sancotrum of Shani temple with mirror work

Ramgarh - Lord Ganesh with his consorts in Ganesh temple.

Goenka haveli, Ramgarh - An decorative hanging oil lamp.

Goenka haveli, Ramgarh - One of the bedrooms having chandeliers (only one is visible in this picture). This was the bedroom of the newly wedded couple of the family and its wall had erotic paintings earlier which are now replaced with paintings of gods and other family portraits.

 Goenka haveli, Ramgarh - Chandliers in the bedroom.

Goenka Haveli, Ramgarh - Frescoes on the ceiling.

Day-4 : Fatehpur-Mandawa-Mukundgarh-Dundlod

Jhunjhunu-Fatehpur       : 47 kms
Fatehpur-Mandawa        : 20 kms
Mandawa-Mukundgarh    : 15 kms
Mukundgarh-Dundlod     : 07 kms
Dundlod-Jhunjhunu        : 33 kms

1. Fatehpur

After a late breakfast as usual, we commenced our day’s journey from our hotel around 10.00 a.m. The first stop was Fatehpur which we reached by 11.00 a.m. There were clusters of about half-a-dozen painted havelis as we entered the town. First. we alighted at the gate of worn out looking Saraf haveli. Having spent the previous day in haveli hopping, the experience told us that what is seen from the outside need not necessarily be the same inside the havelis. The reason is that the frescoes and other paintings on the outside walls of havelis get vandalised since they are bordering the road. Also they are first to get damaged due to direct exposure to sunlight and humidity. So we decided to have a look inside Saraf haveli. The caretaker of the haveli stays with his family in the outer courtyard. He took us to the inner courtyard. There were some exquisite frescoes particularly on the ceilings and the top portion of the walls as they did not get as much damaged as those in the lower walls.

 Saraf Haveli : Typically both the main entrance door and the door to Women's court yard have intricately carved wooden door frames with peacock motifs on the top of which is painted arch.

Saraf Haveli : Frescoes on the ceiling with dancing gopis and Krishnas.

Saraf Haveli : Typically all haveli windows have an arch around them with paintings.

The next was the well known Nadine Le Palace ( formerly Nandlal Deora haveli) which was constructed in 1802. In 1998, a French lady Nadine Le Prince, an artist,  bought this haveli and since then she has been painstakingly getting the frescoes of the haveli restored. The entry to the haveli is from the side street. The main gate as well as the smaller gate within the main gate was closed. However, there is a bell outside which we rang and a young man opened the small gate.  The man was the son of Nadine Le Prince who during his India visit helps her mother by working as a guide for the visitors to the Palace. The entry fee is Rs.100/- per head (guide included) with a minimum of Rs.1000/-, that is, one has to come with a group of at least 10 persons or collect the tourists to make it a group of minimum of 10 persons.

But once we were inside, the haveli was immaculately kept clean and the frescoes were well restored on the ground floor of all the rooms, walls and ceilings The work of restoration of the frescoes on the first floor was going on. On the backside of the haveli courtyard, there a row of rooms in which the contemporary paintings by Nadine Le Prince and the tribal paintings are on display. The photography in these rooms are prohibited.
Nadine Le Prince Haveli : The outside wall of the haveli facing the road. Much of the frescoes on the top two layers of the wall have been restored during the last 15 years. Nadine herself selected the artists from the Shekhawati region for the restoration work. Note that all frescoes at the bottom of the wall have been badly damaged probably by vandals.

Ladine Le Prince Haveli : The backside of the haveli with fully restored frescoes.

Nadine Le Prince Haveli : The main arch gate with frescoes. This gate is from a side street.

Nadine Le Prince Haveli : The inner court yard with the door leading to another court yard. Typically, both sides of the inner court yard have 6 to 8 rooms with richly carved wooden doors of which two are kitchens and two are drinking water storage places. Rests are store rooms

Nadine Le Prince Haveli : The painted archway with intricately carved top of the wooden door frame with peacock motifs.

Nadine Le Prince Haveli - Wood carved window frames with frescoes.

Nadine Le Prince Haveli : Ceiling frescoes with Radha-Krishna in the middle.

Nadine Le Prince Haveli : A richly carved palanquin (doli or palki).

The next in visit was Jagannath Singhania haveli, a walking distance from Nadine Le Prince Haveli. This was the largest haveli we had seen so far in this trip having three main archway gates facing the road. Unfortunately, the haveli was closed. But viewing the frescoes on its outer wall itself took almost 30 minutes because of the length of the haveli. Even with a wide angle, I could not shoot the entire haveli in one frame. Perhaps one may have to climb on some other havelis on the opposite side to take a full frame picture. I have been told that inside the haveli there is a feast of well maintained frescoes on the walls and ceilings depicting mainly the mythological stories.

We decided to move to Mandawa, our next destination as it was already 12.30 p.m. On the way, we saw  from the road side, Mahavir Prasad Goenka haveli which was closed. 
Jagannath Singhania Haveli seen from the road side with two of three main gates visible.

Jagannth Singhania Haveli - Left part of the haveli seen from the road with wall frescoes in excellent condition.

Jagannath Singhania Haveli - Middle part of the haveli seen from the road side.

Jagannath Singhania Haveli - The right side of the haveli seen from the road side.

Jagannath Singhania Haveli -  Fresco on the arch of the main gate depicting the coronation.

2. Mandawa 

As we parked our SUV in an open space very close to Fatehpur-Mandawa road, we saw three havelis very close by – two Goenka’s havelis and Murmuria haveli. First, we visited Dayaram Goenka haveli followed by Vishwanath Geonka haveli. Both these havelis have some unusual frescoes. Probably, they were as a result of fresco artists’ imaginations. For example, in Dayaram Goenka haveli, we saw a fresco showing the meeting of Shiva on the bull and Vishnu on an elephant with the animal’s common face. It is either bull’s or elephant’s face depending upon as to how one looks at it. We also saw a fresco in Vishwanath Goenka’s haveli which shows a Mughal nobleman meets Krishna and Radha and a woman from the British royalty standing by the side of Radha. Murmuria haveli was locked and we could not locate its caretaker. One gentleman told us that the caretaker and his family had gone to a nearby village to attend  a marriage. We were particularly interested in visiting Murmuria haveli whose frescoes and other paintings were said to be mainly influenced by Italian contemporary paintings. We could see some glimpses of Italian paintings on the outer walls of Murmuria haveli.

Murmuria Haveli - Frescoes on the outer wall of the  haveli.

Murmuria Haveli - Fresco depicting a European couple outside a hut.

Murmuria Haveli - Frescoes below the balcony on the outer wall of the haveli. The three pictures appeared to be connected. The first one shows a man standing as a guard on the bank of a river observing the movement of a tiger. The second one in which the tiger is spotted and the third one depicts a hunter aiming his rifle towards the tiger.

Dayaram Goenka Haveli - Fresco of Mahisasurmardini.
Dayaram Goenka Haveli - Fresco showing a woman doing a balancing act on a rope.

Dayaram Goenka Haveli - Wall fresco showing the arrival of Shiva and Vishnu on the bull and elephant respectively. Note the common face of both the animals.

Dayaram Goenka Haveli  -  Fresco on the backside wall of the haveli. Note that elephant has lion legs and warrior on the right is made up of man, horse, camel (right in blue colour) and peacock ( left in blue colour also substituting another leg of this strange animal).

Vishwanath Goenka Haveli  -  Fresco of Radha Krishna on the outer wall of the haveli. To me the picture looks like an imagination of the fresco painter as one can see on the right a Mughal nobleman and on the left probably a lady from the British royalty!

Vishwanath Goenka Haveli - Frescoes depicting stories of Radha Krishna on the outer wall of the haveli at the base of  the balcony passage.

The next stop was Jhunjhunwala haveli which is famous for its gold leaf painted room in the outer courtyard. The haveli looked run down and probably the caretaker with his family was staying in a room in the outer courtyard. The gold leaf painted room was locked. A lady from the family demanded Rs.100/- per head with printed tickets but on the ticket, the amount of fee was not mentioned. After some bargain, she agreed for Rs.500/- for 7 persons. The room was opened. Effectively, it was a single room in which fresco paintings with gold leaf adorned the walls and ceilings. Barring a couple of paintings, rest were well maintained. The frescoes mainly depicted the gods. Other than this room, there was nothing much to talk about the haveli as most of the paintings on the walls have either damaged or plasters have peeled off.
Jhunjhunwala Haveli, Mandawa - Gold painted ceiling fresco with Radha Krishna. 

Jhunjhunwala Haveli, Mandawa - Fresco of Radha-Krishna between two windows of the room.

Jhunjhunwala Haveli, Mandawa - Ceiling fresco with Sun God in the middle.

Jhunjhunwala Haveli, Mandawa - Wall fresco of Shiva, Parvati and Ganesh.

Puppets on sale opposite Jhunjhunwala haveli, Mandawa.

Next, we visited Ladia haveli. I am not sure which of two Ladia havelis we visited – Gulab Rai Ladia haveli or Sneh Ram Ladia haveli. Both these havelis are on a walkable distance from Jhunjhunwala haveli. Ladia haveli has some of unique frescoes like an elephant made up of other animals with monkey as mahout, an elephant with multiple trunks, a warrior with 20 hands etc.

It was already 2.00 p.m. when we took a lunch break in the restaurant at  Pawanna’s haveli which is  now a heritage hotel. We ordered thalis in order to cut the waiting time. But in this restaurant, everything is prepared after the order is placed. Since it was going to take some time, we visited the adjoining haveli type Raghunath temple after placing the order for thalis. The temple was closed and would open only at 4.00 p.m. There were frescoes on the outer walls of the temple depicting day to day life. The arch of the temple door was intricately painted. 

Ladia Haveli, Mandawa - Elephants with multiple trunks.

Ladia Haveli, Mandawa - Elephant made up of other animals with monkey as mahout

Ladia Haveli, Mandawa - A warrior with 20 hands.

Raghunath Temple, Mandawa.

Raghunath Temple porch with frescoes.

Raghunath temple wall fresco depicting Krishna tying Radha's hairs while she holds a mirror. 

3. Mukundgarh
A drive of about 15 kms from Mandawa took us to Mukundgarh. Due to paucity of time, we confined ourselves to Saraf haveli. There are two unusual features of this haveli. First, the elevated entrance has ramps on both sides. Second, the haveli has frescoes of portraits of the leaders who participated in India’s independent movements. The arch of the main entrance door is full of such portraits. In the outer courtyard, the upper portions of the walls are adorned with frescoes of some of the important historically famous personalities such as Maharana Pratap, Shivaji etc. The walls of inner courtyard have the frescoes depicting the mythological stories.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh. Note the ramps on both sides of an elevated entrance.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh - Protraits of prominent leaders of India's Independent movements.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh - Frescoes on the arch of the door to inner courtyard.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh - Portraits of some of the prominent personalities in the Indian history under a passage balcony in the outer courtyard.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh - Inner Courtyard.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh - Frescoes depicting mythological stories in the inner courtyard.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh - Frescoes of important historical personalities in the inner courtyard.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh - CEiling fresco of Radha-Krishna in the middle surrounded by raas leela.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh - Wall fresco depicting Vishwamitra and Menka.

Saraf Haveli, Mukundgarh - Wall fresco of Dattatreya.

4. Dundlod

We reached Dundlod, the day’s last destination in the evening. First, we visited Seth Arjun Das Goenka haveli where some restoration work was in progress. The owner has attempted to recreate a merchant’s life in the haveli. For instance, in the outer courtyard, there is a reception room on the left showing replicas of merchant negotiating a deal with businessman guests and his munimji (accountant) is writing the terms of the business deal. One attendant is seen to pull-in and push-off the string attached to a ‘pankha’ (fan) made of cloth to give some breeze to the merchant and his guests. There are some old vessels kept on display in the inner courtyard. All in all, this haveli is well preserved thanks to the initiative taken by its present owner. The entry fee is Rs.40/- per head but we paid Rs.140/- for 7 persons. The problem with entry fees in some of the havelis in Shekhawati is that the rate is determined by the caretaker or the tenants and there is no official receipt. Hence it is very difficult to know the correct entry fee.

There was one more Goenka haveli very close to Seth Arjun Das Goenka haveli. The second haveli was, more or less, constructed in the same design as the first one but it lacked in paintings. So we just went inside the haveli to have a cursory glance and walked towards Satyanarayan temple near Dundlod Fort. The sun had already set in and there was no time to see the Fort as it is opened for visitors from sunrise to sunset. So we completed the today’s circuit after having darshan of the deities of Ram and Sita in Satyanarayan temple and returned to our hotel in Jhunjhunu. 

Seth Arjun Das Goenka Haveli, Dundlod - Reception room in the outer courtyard showing the replicas of merchant (in the middle) with munimji in the left and the business guests on the right. The person in the foreground is pulling the thread attached to cloth punkha (fan) to give breeze to the merchant and his guests.

Goenka Haveli, Dundlod - The door leading to the inner courtyard.

Goenka Haveli, Dundlod - The inner court yard and the old vessels on display.

Goenka Haveli, Dundlod - Close-ups of frescoes in the inner courtyard.
Goenka Haveli, Dundlod - Wall frescoes in the inner courtyard.

Goenka Haveli, Dundlod - Mixed murals on a wall of inner courtyard. From the bright colour, one can assume that this is restored paintings.

Goenka Haveli, Dundlod - Frescoes depicting Krishna stories beneath the balcony passageway.
Frescoes on the arch door of Satyanarayan temple, Dundlod.

Deities of Ram and Sita in Satyanarayan temple, Dundlod.

Day-5 : Nawalgarh-Jhunjhunu

Today was our last day in Shekhawati. For the first time, we could finish our breakfast by 9.00 a.m. and ready to start our journey. It was not a hectic day as we had lined up only two places to cover – Nawalgarh and Jhunjhunu. Nawalgarh  is about 40 kms from Jhunjhunu and we covered the distance in less than one hour, thanks to the good road condition.

1. Nawalgarh

The main attraction of Nawalgarh is Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum. Of all the painted havelis we have seen so far, I rate this haveli the best maintained among all with Nadine Le Prince haveli coming to the second place. There is a professionalism not only in maintaining the haveli but also handling the tourists. At the entrance, there is a ticket counter. The entry fee is Rs.75/- per head for Indians and Rs.100/- per head for foreigners. The cost of ticket includes a service of a professional guide who can speak both Hindi and English. There is no separate fee for cameras.

As soon as we purchased entry tickets, we were joined by a handsome guide who first explained to us the basic concepts of paintings in Shekhawati havelis. Broadly, the paintings are divided into two categories – frescoes and murals. He explained that fresco paintings require a wet layer of plaster on the surface to be painted and they require the natural colours made mostly of vegetables and gum from a local tree was used as a binding agent. Once plaster dries up, the painting remains in good condition for a long time. Murals are paintings on the dry plaster where all types of colours are used which need not be the natural colours. The longevity of mural paintings are lower than fresco paintings. Obviously, the fresco paintings are a long drawn affair.

There are about 750 frescoes in the haveli and all of them have been restored to the original paintings. The outer and inner courtyards are full of fresco paintings and there is not a vacant place for painting. The rooms surrounding the inner courtyard as well as on the first floors have been converted into museum displaying various aspect of Rajasthani culture. In all there are 16 galleries which includes musical instruments, bridal costumes and turbans of various regions of Rajasthan, miniature paintings, gem and jewellries  marble art, Rajasthani carts etc. One would need at least 3 hours to fully appreciate the frescoes and displays in galleries. 
Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum, Nawalgarh.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Outer wall frescoes seen from the road side.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Musuem - A close up of peacock motifs on the wood carved door of the inner courtyard.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Frescoes based on Geet Govindam on the walls of an alley.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Frescoes on one of the walls of the inner courtyard.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Frescoes on the another wall of the inner court. Note the stream engine train.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Window frescoes.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Radha and Krishna on an elephant made up of gopis.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Fresco of Krishna dancing with Radha and Rukmini. Two gopis on left and right of them are playing dafli and violin respectively.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Radha and Krishna playing holi with two gopis joining them.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - View of the inner courtyard from first floor. Our guide (in read sweater).

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Staircase from inner courtyard for going to the first floor.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Inner courtyard with first floor. Another inner court can be seen from the arches of the first floor.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Painted passageway of the inner courtyard.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Frescoes on the walls probably of Indians in foreigner's attires.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - A sofa chair with painted backrest.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Painting of procession of Ganesh Chaturthi festival.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - Painted marble lantern.

Ramnath Podar Haveli Museum - A lady with painted marble veil.

Mustard field in Nawalgarh.

After spending about 2 hours in Podar Haveli Museum, we moved to  Morarka Haveli Museum. This haveli museum is not as great as Podar Haveli Museum as apart from smaller in dimension, most of its frescoes are not in good condition because they have not been restored. In a way, they retain the old charm. From the outside, the haveli looks worn out with most of its outer wall frescoes damaged. But once inside, the frescoes are interesting. The entry fee is Rs.50/- per head.

Morarka Haveli Museum

Morarka Haveli Museum - Main door arch frescoes.

Morarka Haveli Museum - Wood carved main door frame with ornate brass doors with nails to withstand  even an elephant force.

Morarka Haveli Museum - Inner courtyard.

Morarka Haveli Museum - Window frescoes in inner courtyard.

Morarka Haveli Museum -Frescoes above a tiny window door frame. The two portraits at the lower end appear to be of foreigners.

Morarka Haveli Museum - Ceiling frescoes.

Morarka Haveli Museum - Frescoes underneath passage balcony over inner courtyard.

Morarka Haveli Museum - Partly damaged fresco of Jesus Christ on the ceiling.

Morarka chatris seen from the terrace of Morarka Haveli Museum.
After completion of the visit to Morarka Haveli we took a lunch break at Down the Earth Organic Cafe, a family run guest house and restaurant located in a bye lane away from the hustle bustle of tourist places in Nawalgarh. There is no menu card but the owner’s wife prepares vegetarian lunch as per the vegetables available in their organic farm located behind the guest house. The food was very tasty. 

2. Jhunjhunu

We have been staying in Jhunjhunu in the last two days but we had no time to visits its temples and havelis as we returned to Jhunjhunu after sunset in these two days. So after the completion of our lunch at Nawalgarh, we return to Jhunjhunu in the afternoon and visited a couple of havelis like Modi haveli and temples. Jhunjhunu is a district head quarters of the same name and it is unlike other Shekhawati tourist places like Fatehgarh, Mandawa, Nawalgarh, Ramgarh  which are town with village atmosphere. The havelis and temples are located in around crowded locality of Jhunjhunu’s main market area. Hence, the place does not give a tourist atmosphere. We visited two havelis belonging to Modis in Jhunjhunu and none of them was as impressive as havelis of other Shekhwati region. However, two temples that we visited – Banke Bihari temple and Rani Sati temple were worth a visit.

We also visited Khetri Mahal located away from the market place which can be reached by winding through by lanes. The abandoned mahal is in a very pathetic  condition probably vandalised by the locals and other visitors. Probably, the palace is also used by the local shepherds  for resting their folks of sheeps and goats if the large quantity of their droppings are of any indication. An unique feature of this palace is that there are no doors or windows but the rooms are connected with beautiful archways. This palace is also called hawa mahal as due to open archways on all sides, there are natural cross ventilations. The upper floors of the palace have access through semi circular ramps on both the sides but they are like dark alleys as they are covered with walls on both sides. One needs to have a torch to walk on the ramps. From the terrace of the Khetri Mahal, one can view Jhunjhunu Fort, the spire of Banke Bihari temple and a mosque.

Rani Sati temple  is a very impressive temple. No visit to Jhunjhunu is complete without visiting this temple. Photography inside the main temple complex is prohibited but one can click on the outer complex. The big main hall of the temple has some beautiful murals and mirror work probably depicting the story behind Rani Sati temple. The temple has a very high spire but it has no deity inside the sanctorum. Instead there is a suhagan’s face fitted in a trident which is worshiped.  There is a line up of 12 spires parallel to the main hall representing 12 other sati temples.

What I also liked about the main temple complex was that a huge open area has been maintained as a garden with geometrically planned pathway. In the middle of the garden is a huge statue of Shiva in the sitting posture. We saw a number of peacocks moving freely inside the main temple complex. Overall, the atmosphere in the main temple complex was very serene.
Ishwar Das Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu - Frescoes on the archway of the inner courtyard door.
Ishwar Das Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu - Frescoes on the inner courtyard. 

Jhunjhunu Fort seen from Khetri Mahal terrace.

Deities of Krishna and Radha in Banke Bihari temple, Jhunjhunu.

Banke Bihari temple, Jhnujhunu - Ceiling fresco on the archway of the main door.

Banke Bihari Temple, Jhunjhunu - Murals on the ceiling.

Banke Bihari Temple, Jhnujhunu - Another set of murals on the ceiling.

Rani Sati Temple, Jhunjhunu - View of the temple from outside.

Rani Sati Temple, Jhunjhunu - View from outer courtyard.

Rani Sati Temple, Jhunjhunu - View from outer courtyard of opposite side towards the main entrance from the road. In this courtyard, there are many rooms for pilgrims to staying.

Rani Sati Temple, Jhunjhunu - Ganesh made up of marble rest on the rat made up of black stone in the fountain of the second outer courtyard. Here also there are rooms for pilgrims. Behind this is the door leading to the main temple complex where photography is strictly prohibited.

Day-6 : Jhunjhunu-Jaipur-Mumbai

After the morning chorus and a cup of tea, we checked out from the hotel and commenced our return journey to Jaipur at around 7.00 a.m. as we had to board Jaipur-Mumbai Superfast Express scheduled to depart from Jaipur at 14.10 hours. The Jhunjhunu-Jaipur distance of about 195 kms was covered in about 5 hours and 30 minutes including half-an-hour stoppage on the way for breakfast. We reached Jaipur at 12.30 p.m. and immediately had our lunch at Kanji Rawat very close to the Railway station. By 1.30 p.m., we were in  Jaipur railway station. After settling the SUV hire charges, we stepped into the station to notice that our train was already on the platform. The train left Jaipur on schedule and reached Mumbai early morning on time.

With this, one more region from my list of 'must visit places' got ticked off.   

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