The dust of time hung heavy over Mandawa in northern Rajasthan. So much so the feeble winter sun found it hard to trickle through. As the morning warmed up sufficiently, the locals, wrapped in shawls slowly emerged from the cold confines of their houses. Women and children gathered on the sunny street corners, men basked in the sun with their morning papers on the stairs of their house, some gathered around the local tea stall to apprise themselves of the latest gossip of the town. The owner yawned, and rolled up the shutters. Stocked with crate full of fruits and vegetables, the stained and fractured walls of the warehouse revealed the most exquisite set of murals. This was a usual winter morning in Shekhawati.
A trip to the region is well worth it, not only for its fresco-painted havelis, for which it is famous, but for a taste of unspoilt Rajasthan. This semi-arid region is often touted as India’s open air art gallery and is dotted with many small towns (Fatehpur, Mandawa, Jhunujhunu) famous for painted mansions (havelis) that line their narrow streets.
The havelis are beautifully frescoed from head to toe. Inspired by frescoes from the Amber Fort, the merchants commissioned intricate paintings on every inch of the mansion walls – including exteriors, interiors, and ceilings. Themes for the fresco are varied and range from mythological stories, to historical events and even scenes from everyday life.
Founded by the Rajputs, Shekhawati owes its prominence to its strategic location on the caravan trade route. Wealthy Marwari and Bania merchants trading in opium, cotton, and spices made this region their home. Eventually, as trade shifted to rail and sea routes, the merchants followed suit and Shekhawati’s havelis were slowly abandoned.
Most towns of the region such as Fatehpur, Mandawa, Jhunujhunu lying between 4-5 hours by road from Delhi / Jaipur, make for an ideal weekend getaway from these places.