In case it wasn’t apparent in the last few posts, I had a blast conceptualising and writing the series on “The Painted Towns of Shekhawati“. The series is done for now (at least till I visit Shekhawati again in the future). I do have a couple of more posts on Shekhawati to be written, but those can wait. For now, at least. 🙂
The response to the series has been surprisingly good. I expected interest, yes, considering that this series is quite detailed, but not so much as generally people are not that interested in art. In fact, one of my friends had asked on seeing my initial photos, “Didn’t you get tired of seeing the painted havelis all the time?” No, I didn’t get tired of them; if anything, I wanted to see more of them.
And that’s what the response on the blog and shares across social media also seemed to indicate. In fact, for the first time since I started blogging, I have received so many emails and messages asking for details with regard to my trip plan, where I stayed, the itinerary, how I travelled, was it safe, etc., that it has been gratifying.
Slowly, very slowly, the idea of writing a trip planner as a blog post grew. But it was easier thought than actually written ! I struggled to put a draft together under the conventional heads of where I stayed, how I travelled, what I did, etc. One read later, the draft was trashed. It was that bad. That’s when I considered writing the Shekhawati trip planner in a Q&A format — a trip planner based on the questions I got asked in the mails and messages and my answers to them. The more I thought about the Q&A format, the more I liked it. It took a while to get written though, and after some tweaking and editing, presenting and sharing my very first trip planner.
Can I answer this question with “because it’s there?” 😉 No? Well then, do read this post where I give the details about why my Shekhawati trip happened.
Did you travel solo or in a group?
Neither. I travelled with a friend, though when I started the planning, it was meant to be a solo trip. When this friend got to hear of my trip, she asked if she could join in and that’s how the two of us explored Shekhawati together.
How did you do the groundwork and planning for your Shekhawati trip?
With Ilay Cooper’s book, Google Maps, a pen and paper. Literally 🙂
I first made a list of the painted towns I wanted to visit in Shekhawati. When I finished, there were 36 places on the list ! The next step was a painful one of paring down the list to a manageable number of towns I could cover in the 4-5 days I intended to spend in Shekhawati. Once that was done, I drew a rough map showing the places and the routes/roads linking them.
Then came the step of choosing a base for exploring the region — it was a toss-up between Nawalgarh and Mandawa. I chose the former for the simple reason that it was nearest to Jaipur, the airport I would be flying into and departing from. I then pencilled in the approximate distance of each place from Nawalgarh on the map. This little piece of paper proved to be invaluable for me.
Where did you stay in Shekhawati?
I stayed at the excellent and very comfortable Club Mahindra’s Resort in Nawalgarh. Initially, when I was supposed to be travelling solo, I did not consider Club Mahindra as I’m not a member. But once my friend came on board the trip, she suggested that we stay at Club Mahindra as she is a member. I agreed and it turned out to be a very good decision.
I found out later that the Club Mahindra property at Nawalgarh belonged to the royal family, who had leased it to them. In fact, 3 rooms in the resort are available for non-Club Mahindra members. I would have recommended the Nawalgarh Club Mahindra as the place to base your stay in Shekhawati, but unfortunately, it shut down earlier this month and is no longer operational. 😦
How did you travel within Shekhawati?
I hired a car and driver for the full duration of the trip from V Care Tours. Right from picking us up at Jaipur airport to travelling in Shekhawati to dropping us off at the end of the trip — the car was with us. if you wish to, you can always use the state road transport services, but they are not very regular and are crowded as well. In spite of the cold and rain, I saw people travelling on the bus roof tops or hanging precariously on the footboard.
What was your itinerary like?
Day 1: Mumbai → Jaipur → Nawalgarh
Day 2: Nawalgarh, Dundlod and Mandawa
Day 3: Lakshmangarh and Fatehpur
Day 4: Bissau, Mahensar and Mandawa
Day 5: Nawalgah →Lohargal → Jaipur
(I was in Jaipur for two days to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival before returning to Mumbai.)
My initial plan was to visit the 13 towns I had shortlisted. Unfortunately, a combination of rain and dense fog meant that I had to wait till late morning or afternoon for the weather to clear before setting out. This left me with very little daylight to travel and explore. Even then, I could have visited all the towns shortlisted, but then I often lost track of time at the havelis. All this meant that I could explore only 7 of the 13 towns.
Where would you recommend that I begin my exploration of Shekhawati from? What are the must see things?
I would recommend that you start your exploration in Nawalgarh, as I did, with a visit to the Dr. Ramnath A. Podar Haveli Museum. Not only does the Museum provide an understanding of the basic architecture of a haveli and its various parts, it also has 750 frescoes and murals covering a wide range of subjects. Though the paintings are not the best that one can see in Shekhawati, the sheer numbers and variety makes it the ideal place to begin.
Alternately, you could begin at the nearby Morarka Haveli Museum, whose frescoes have been cleaned, but not restored. Either way, I recommend that you begin your exploration of the region with a visit to these museums.
As for the must-sees, it is very difficult for me to choose for all the places I visited are must-sees.
What are your recommendations for places to eat and shop?
As I mentioned in this post, I found the Shekhawati towns to be incredibly filthy (with the exception of Bissau). With the exception of tea, I preferred to have my meals at the hotel I was staying in or at the café at Castle Mandawa. This was a new experience for me as I usually don’t like to eat at the hotel that I stay in, preferring to sample local food. But not this time. 😦
Nawalgarh is known for its bandhini or tie and die work and there is an entire lane of shops that sells dupattas and sarees in the local market. I also picked some clay pipes or chillums as fun gifts from the Nawalgarh market for a few friends.
Considering that Shekhawati is called the painted region and also an open air art gallery, I found it very strange that I did not come across a single shop or gallery selling prints or souvenirs exhibiting this art.
I’m not sure if I can spend time only in seeing the painted havelis. Are there other attractions in the region?
There are quite a few — the Tal Chhappar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rani Sati temple (Jhunjhunu), Balaji Temple (Salasar), Satyanarayan Temple (Dundlod), hikes and treks into the Aravalli ranges, and horse excursions, among others. Just search for “Things to do in Shekhawati” and see the options appear.
Is it safe to travel alone?
Based on my experience in Shekhawati, I would not recommend solo travel, especially if you are a woman. My friend and I were heckled at Dundlod and were followed in Mandawa and Fatehpur. While I understand that there was a lot of curiosity involved in seeing two women alone, without male companions or as part of a larger group, this reasoning did not help me feel safe. Travel with at least one other person. Better to be safe than sorry.
Was this a sponsored trip?
No, this was not a sponsored trip.
Any other tips and suggestions for Shekhawati?
1. Washroom Facilities: In just two words — almost non-existent. There are some open-air urinals for men, but no facilities for women. I had a tough time travelling in Shekhawati and in spite of knowing the risks, I had no choice but to not have water or food when I was out exploring. Do keep this in mind when you travel in this region. 😦
Though both the Poddar and Morarka Haveli Museums at Nawalgarh have washrooms, they were not clean when I went. In fact, both appeared to have not been cleaned for a long time. The washroom at Haveli Nadine in Fatehpur was decent. However, the award for cleanest washroom in Shekhawati goes to Hotel Castle Mandawa. I took a detour on my last day in Shekhawati, just so that I could use their washroom.
2. Attire: Shekhawati is a conservative and traditional society. Please do not wear shorts, sleeveless outfits or tight-fitting clothes.
3. Personal Safety: Many of the havelis are locked up and empty. Some have just been abandoned, while some have caretakers who will allow you to see them for a small fee. For your own safety, I would advise extreme caution in deciding to enter such havelis.
4. Entry Fees: Some havelis and museums have entry fees clearly stated, while others do not. Again, while most caretakers/watchmen of the havelis will ask for a token amount upfront before you see the haveli, some may not. In such cases, I would suggest that you pay them something when you leave.
5. Suggested Reading: (a) The Painted Towns of Shekhawati, by Ilay Cooper; and (b) Shekhawati: Havelis of Merchant Palaces, edited by Abha Narain Lambah
So this was my Shekhawati trip planner, and you’ll see that like most people, I have a method to planning my travels. It falls somewhere between the extremes of planning everything to the smallest detail and obsessing over everything to impulse travel with a one-way ticket. 😛
Hope this Shekhawati trip planner is useful for you. If you think, I have missed out on something, then do let me know in the comments section and I’ll address it.
Happy travelling !