Shekhawati region of Rajasthan is one of the less visited and lesser-known regions of heritage rich Rajasthan. Shekhawati is in the Northen part of Rajasthan, approx 260 Km from India’s capital Delhi and approx 100 Km from the city of Jaipur. This region is full of art and history, there is something in every lane, it’s kind of open art gallery where you come across something beautiful at every nook & corner. It is still a sort of offbeat place because of the low tourist inflow.
Unlike main popular cities of Rajasthan, this region is not well connected by public transport. There is no Volvo bus service if one doesn’t want to drive, only state Transport’s local buses ply on this route. Train service is also limited or one has to get down at a Jhunjhanu or Churu stations, which are 20-40 Km away.
I have been planning to travel to Shekhawati for quite some time and finally, I decided to go solo because I could not manage to travel with anyone. As per my routine before traveling, I google researched and I came to know that Mandawa town is most visited and very touristy place. It was the first town developed for tourists in this region and also it’s on the way to Bikaner & Jaisalmer if traveling by road. After checking all options, I had decided to skip Mandawa and instead explore Nawalgarh. I was traveling solo, so driving was not a good option for me and taking a taxi for 4 days was not making sense to me. Secondly, I prefer to interact and get the feel of place instead of restricting myself. The bus was not a good option, as it was taking too long so, I decided to travel by train to Nawalgarh.
The direct train started running on this route twice a week, few months before my travel. I booked my tickets on IRCTC, few days before travel. I boarded the train from Sarai Rohilla station In Delhi and soon I realized that my compartment was almost empty. There were only two other passengers in my AC 3 compartment, I felt very uncomfortable, lonely and unsafe. So I decided to change my compartment and shifted to Sleeper class, it was also half empty but at least there were some people with families. I occupied one empty side lower berth next to an elderly couple. They were warm people and traveling to their hometown Sikar during our journey they told me about local traditions and culture. My time passed fast-talking to them and enjoying the scenery around me. The weather was pleasant and I could see the landscape from my open window and soon I realized that I reached Nawalgarh.
From outside the station, I took an autorickshaw for my resort. I had advance booked Apani Dhani Eco Resort for my Nawalgarh stay. I was traveling during the mid of the week and there were no other guests during my stay. The place is owned and maintained by a local family, it is little out of the main city on the highway and quite peaceful. They cook and serve food in their kitchen if you order in advance, which was simple yet, tasty. There were lots of open areas as well as the farming land around rooms and due to this there were lots of house sparrows, squirrels & birds, which we hardly or never see in our cities.
After settling in the resort, I decided to explore the Havelis of Nawalgarh after lunch and took a guided walking tour guide from my resort to conveniently locate/explore the Havelis. During my 4-hour tour, I visited Murarka Haveli, Chokhani Haveli, Bhagat Haveli, Morarka Haveli, Chudi wali Haveli, 8 Haveli and Sheesh Mahal room. I saw few Havelis, which were open to the public though some of the Havelis were closed as the families moved to bigger cities or due to an ownership dispute. There was a minimum ticket price to enter these Havelis, which was very nominal. The art and design inside and outside these Havelis were eye opening and I felt sad that these are not getting their due appreciation. May be some of these will disappear over the year due to poor or no maintenance. Rich Marwari merchants in late 19th and early 20th century built these Havelis, these merchants were richer than the kings of their states. I decided to return to the resort, as it was getting dark.
In middle of the Nawalgarh town was an old haveli in which the occupants of haveli had done lots of construction and it was nothing like its old structure. In this building, they have kept one round room intact, which was decorated with thousands of colorful mirrors on its walls and roofs. It shows the beautiful designs of modern cities on its roof.
I also saw a couple of temples during the walking tour (I forgot the name of these).
Next morning after breakfast I decided to explore the area on my own as I got familiar yesterday. I went to the town to see a couple of Havelis again, which I liked the most during my previous visit. The best-maintained haveli in the area is Poddar Haveli. The paintings of this Haveli are in strong colors, and have the most vivid frescos in town, although some historians point to the fact that they have been simply repainted rather than restored. They have maintained the look of the frescos and there was an in house guide to explain the history of Haveli as well as show the museums made in rooms.
I returned to resort and checked out. I have to travel to Ramgarh and I took a bus for Fatehgarh, where I had planned to visit one place. But by the time I reached there, it was afternoon and most of the market was full of people who were waiting for Muharram procession. The police have blocked & restricted entry to some roads. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit any place in Fatehgarh.
Since I could not do anything there so, I started for my next destination Ramgarh. I boarded another bus but it drove at medium pace because half of the highway road was occupied by devotees walking towards Salasar Balaji (Hanuman Temple) to attend a function at the temple next day. In some parts of Rajasthan, people consider it good karma if a person goes walking to temple. There were hundreds of people on road walking toward the temple. After moving at slow pace, finally, I reached Ramgarh.
I hired an auto rickshaw for “Ramgarh Fresco” where I have planned to stay, it was previously known as Khemka haveli.
The Haveli is located in the inner lanes of the city. Again I had the whole place to myself, as there were no other guests :-). They had given me a nice and spacious room.
It was late afternoon and I have some free time. So I decided to explore one side of town and went to see the temples, which were closer. Except for Shani temple, all other temples are located in one part of town. These temples are not well maintained due to fund crunch or people sold valuable items from them but still, I can marvel at the beauty and architect. There were beautiful frescos on the walls and roofs.
In the compound of these temples, I saw a platform with four pillars, which was a well and these pillars next to it were made so that travelers can spot a well from distance in earlier days.
These wells also served as get-together areas for local people, I saw a well with fresco painted Chhatris around it. These places were used as resting place in earlier days for village people and travelers.
While I was returning back, I have to stop as the market was full of people and a Tajia procession was coming from opposite direction to commemorate the Muharram. I never saw a procession like this before and it was a learning experience. People were beating drums and moving in rhythm. There were many Tajia’s and all were decorated beautifully.
Next day morning, I went to see the Ram Gopal Poddar Chhatri. It is one of its own kind in the whole Shekhawati region. It’s a big cenotaph and was built in 1872 by Poddar family. It can pass for a small palace, the murals/ frescos in the dome of this are the special attraction of this monument. These cenotaphs were built to commemorate the dead heroes of Poddar clan. There was a small staff to maintain these cenotaphs but it needs better maintenance.
My next stop in Ramgarh was Shani Temple.
The town of Ramgarh is full of ancient Havelis (As per my information maximum in whole Shekhawati region) but unfortunately almost all are closed. These Havelis were built during the glorious era of 1830’s to 1890’s when the trader families of this region were doing good business and have immense wealth. They made these grand Havelis and temples to show their wealth & prosperity. Poddar, Ruies, Khemkas, Surolias and Surekha families made the most famous Havelis. Though most Havelis are locked from outside but from the facade and sidewalls I could see how beautiful these Havelis were at one point in time. In some Havelis, I saw broken windows or walls from where plunderer made a small entry into haveli to take out valuable items. According to local people, plunderers had looted the material from Havelis slowly slowly. In some Havelis owners had appointed guards or caretakers long time back, when the owners didn’t return than generation of guards had taken over these haveli’s illegally. They also built or renovated some parts of Haveli in a way that they destroyed the beauty of original structure and also destroyed the frescoes. In some of the Havelis guards or caretakers don’t allow the visitors due to the instructions of owners.
It is very unfortunate that a town, which is full of history and heritage, is dying a slow death. There is so much to see and preserve but nothing happening. If the situation remains like this then I am sure in next couple of decades these towns will lose everything ancient.
Ramgarh is also famous for the business of Handicrafts and furniture, there are more than 2 dozen handicraft industries.
I decided to explore the Churur town before leaving for Delhi. Churu is 20 km from Ramgarh town. Next day morning I booked a taxi and left for Churu, my return train was also from there same evening.
I decided to first visit Sethani Ka Johara in outskirts of the city before going to the Churu town. It is in middle of nowhere, there were no population or village close to it. Bhagwan Das Bagla built this water reservoir during the terrible Chhapan Akaal, the famine of 1956. This place is fairly new in terms of construction but due to no maintenance, it is turning in to ruins. I came to know people come here to watch the sunset, though I am not sure how this place will look special during sunset.
At one point in time, there were many Havelis in Churu but I could only find one such haveli, where the owners were getting the renovation work done. Again they were getting it repainted and it was not the restoration.
There are few Haveli’s in Churu town with original fresco paintings but again most of them were either closed or converted into a hotel or are in process of becoming a heritage hotel. There was hardly anything to see in town. I had lunch at one of such haveli called Malji ka Kamra, which is converted into a heritage hotel. They have maintained the place well and the staff was courteous.
I came back to the narrow lanes of town, where I knew I could see at least one place i.e. the Golden temple of Jains. It is small but beautiful temple hidden in the small lanes of Churu. It is not well known among people, we (I and my driver) had great difficulty finding this place but the place was worth the effort. The interior of the temple is decorated with glass and paintings, this place was the highlight of my brief Churu visit.
I did some shopping of Ker, sangri and couple of other items from the local market before boarding my train to Delhi. It was a short trip but I came across lots of new things and heritage structures, which are unique in character and I had never seen anything like this before.
Things to remember while visiting Shekhawati region of Rajasthan –
Best time to travel between October to March, April to September is not a good time because the area is hot and arid like most of the Rajasthan.
If traveling by train then Churu and Jhunjhanu are two closet stations with maximum frequency.
Nearest airport of Jaipur is 100 Km.
Wear comfortable shoes because walking is the best way to explore this area.
Ramgarh is famous for it’s “Lac” Bengals and they can make as per your requirement in few hours notice.