One of the two things that repeatedly came up during background research on Jhalawar, before my Hadoti trip in November 2016, was the nearly 100-year old Bhawani Natyashala (the other was the Government Museum at the Gadh Mahal or Palace). The brief descriptions of the Natyashala was varied — it was a theatre, dance hall, performance hall, royal audience hall, etc. Even though the descriptions didn’t agree on what the Natyashala was, they all agreed upon one thing — that it was beautiful, one of its kind, and worth a visit.
But once in Jhalawar, I found out that the Bhawani Natyashala was closed and out-of-bounds to the public — something that none of the websites that touted it as a must-see bothered to mention ! Mahijit ji, my host in Jhalawar, told me that I could still see it from the outside and that’s what I decided to do. But luck had other plans for me.
The Bhawani Natyashala is located in the premises of the Gadh Mahal, and after my friend and I finished the tour of the museum and the painted rooms, we asked the museum attendant who was taking us around, for directions to the theatre. He offered to not only take us there, but also open it up and show it to us since he had the keys with him. A short walk later, we were in front of the Bhawani Natyashala.
In the busy Zaveri Bazaar area of Mumbai, near the Mumbadevi Temple and at a road intersection stands this multi-storied building.
At first glance, the greyish brown facade is quite unappealing and unimpressive to look at and gives no hint of its importance or the history associated with it. A passerby might just walk past the building or maybe, just maybe, glance at the large signboard which says ‘Jewel World’ before walking on.
It is only when one looks up and sees a relief panel (the band behind the white board) running around the building and understand the narrative it depicts that things become clear. The band depicts the story of cotton and this building is, or rather was, Mumbai’s Cotton Exchange.
One place that everyone I spoke to in Shekhawati said I must visit was Lohargal. And all gave different reasons for visiting it.
It is our hill station, said one. You get the best pickles in the world there, said another. It is a holy place and a dip in the tank will remove your sins, said the third person. There is an ancient sun temple there, said the fourth. The mention of the sun temple got me intrigued. Then another person said, “There’s a stepwell at Lohargal. If you’re interested in history, you must go there.” The stepwell was the clincher to visit Lohargal.
That’s how on my return journey to Jaipur from Nawalgarh, at the end of my Shekhawati trip, I took a detour to visit the stepwell at Lohargal. It was an hour’s drive from Nawalgarh through steady rain, narrow roads skirting the Aravali ranges, and some beautiful scenery.
When we arrived at the stepwell, which is on the road, the rain had lessened to a light drizzle.
Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawati set me off on an extraordinary trip to that extraordinary place in January this year. I had to wait for nearly 6 months, though, before I felt ready to write about it — so overwhelming were my thoughts and emotions. This post on Bissau is the seventh 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 dive straight into the post.
When I set out for Bissau on my third day of exploring the painted towns of Shekhawati, I had no idea of the surprises awaiting me.
The first was the drive to Bissau from Nawalgarh. Gone was the flat landscape (with an occasional hillock breaking the monotony) that I had seen on my previous days in the region. Instead, there were stretches of gentle, undulating sand dunes.
The second was Bissau itself or rather the state the town was in — it was clean with recently swept roads, no rubbish heaps or plastic bags lying around. After having seen filthy towns like Nawalgarh, Bissau came a pleasant and welcome surprise.
The next surprise was the first painted monument I visited in Bissau — the Sarkari Chhatri. It turned out to be a school, an open air school in fact, with the chhatris serving as classrooms for different grades. A PT class was in progress when I arrived and though I wanted to explore the monument, I baulked at disturbing the students. But the school teachers assured me that it was fine and I went ahead to the accompaniment of curious stares and many giggles from the students.
And the last surprise were the frescoes themselves, at least some of them. But more about that later on in this post.
Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawati set me off on an extraordinary trip to that extraordinary place in January this year. I had to wait for nearly 6 months, though, before I felt ready to write about it — so overwhelming were my thoughts and emotions. This post on Fatehpur is the sixth 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 dive straight into the post.
The door to the haveli was shut. A signboard (in Hindi, English and French) requesting visitors to ring the bell if they wished to tour the haveli greeted me instead. I rang the bell and waited. And I waited and waited some more… Just as I was getting ready to ring the doorbell again, I heard footsteps approaching the door.
The door opened and I found myself face to face with a young man, a Westerner, who said in a distinctly French accent, “Hello ! Sorry I took so long to open the door. I was in another part of the haveli. Are you here to see it?
“Yes, please, ” I said.
“Great ! My name is Jonathan and I’m an art history student. I’ll take you around the haveli. Would you like the tour to be in Hindi, English or French?”
I gaped at Jonathan and said, “Umm… English please.”
I first heard of Sidhpur about 6 months back when I shamelessly eavesdropped on a conversation while commuting to work by bus. In my defence, the conversation, which was between two women from the Dawoodi Bohra community (as was evident from the colourful ridas they wore) in Gujarati and English, was really loud.
It was an animated conversation in which they spoke about their ancestral homes in Sidhpur and the holidays spent there. They spoke of chandeliers, Belgian glass windows, wooden antique furniture, fine linen, tableware, feasts, parties, and antiques among other things. There was gossip, as well as an element of ‘my-ancestral-house-is-grander-than-your-ancestral-house”, but it seemed to be in good fun.
The “conversation” on ancestral homes in Sidhpur intrigued me to look for more information on the Internet. Thanks to my good friend Google, I found in Sidhpur mansions with distinctive European style architecture, each one grander than the other. This information was enough for me to include a visit to Sidhpur when I toured North Gujarat in December 2014.
It was a little after 4 pm when I arrived at Sidhpur. While asking for directions from a local tea stall, I learnt that the Bohra houses were called Vohrawads and also that I needed to go to the Najampura area, which had the best and maximum number of such houses. A short rickshaw ride later, I was standing in front of the house that you see in the photograph below.