Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawati set me off on an extraordinary trip to an extraordinary place in January this year. I had to wait for nearly 6 months before I felt ready to write about it — so overwhelming were my thoughts and emotions. This post on Mandawa is the fourth of 8 posts in the series on “The Painted Towns of Shekhawati”. If you haven’t read the introduction to Shekhawati’s history (and the series), I recommend that you do so now, before proceeding further. If you have already done so, then get ready to visit Mandawa. 🙂
Prior to my Shekhawati trip, Mandawa popped up everywhere that I looked around on the Internet. Whether it was looking for hotels to stay or making a list of havelis to see, or probable itineraries, or traveller tips and suggestions, or even blog posts — Mandawa was the Shekhawati town that featured prominently.
But historical records say that Mandawa wasn’t always like this. It used to be a sleepy, nondescript little village till it came under the rule of Nawal Singh, who inherited it. Yes, the same Nawal Singh who founded Nawalgarh. He laid the foundation for a fort in Mandawa in 1756 and also extended invitations to traders to settle down there. His grandsons, Padam Singh and Gyan Singh, moved to Mandawa at the end of the 18th century and continued with the work that Nawal Singh had started.
The 19th century saw Mandawa growing in size, economy and importance. Some of the prominent trader families in Mandawa were the Dhandhanias, Harlalkas, Ladias, Chokhanis, Sonthalias, Sarafs and the Goenkas. Mandawa became so prosperous that in 1828, the joint forces of Amer (Jaipur) and Sikar besieged it. However, the combined forces of Mandawa and Nawalgarh managed to hold out and the threat was overcome.
When I arrived at Mandawa from Dundlod at around 3.30 in the afternoon, it was to the fort that I headed towards.