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 Mahensar is the last 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.
Mahensar is well-known for two things — the paintings inside a place called Sone Chandi ki Dukaan (or the Gold and Silver Shop) and a liquour made from saunf or aniseed. I knew about the first, having read about it in Ilay Cooper’s book, but was completely ignorant about the second, till the manager of the hotel I was staying in told me about it.
According to him, no Rajput wedding in the Shekhawati region was complete without this particular liquor being served to the wedding guests. Why, it was popular across Haryana, Punjab and Delhi and was also more famous than the frescoes of the region and with heritage value as well !
So when I arrived in Mahensar from Bissau at around 2 on that January afternoon, I was expecting to see more of the famous liquor around instead of the frescoes. And I probably would have, if had not been a local election day at Mahensar and, therefore, a dry day. There weren’t too many people around and the few frescoes visible were faded and located high up on the haveli walls.
I thought of heading towards the Mahensar Fort, but my bad luck with Forts in Shekhawati continued — the Fort was now a hotel and out of bounds for the casual visitor. As I was looking around for a possible direction to head towards, a man came up to me with a large bunch of keys and said, “You must have come to see the Sone Chandi ki Dukaan. I’m the caretaker of that place. Come, I will open it up for you.” Continue reading “The painted towns of Shekhawati-7: Mahensar”
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.
Continue reading “The painted towns of Shekhawati-6: Bissau”
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.
Continue reading “The painted towns of Shekhawati-3: Mandawa”
I am usually inspired to read about a place after a visit there; I have also been known to pick up something to read once I have decided to visit a place. As for packing my bags and heading to a destination after reading about it? Never, though I have added a destination to a mental list of places to visit.
Did I just say never? Actually, that has now changed to ‘just once’ when I visited the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan after reading a book about its painted havelis or mansions in January this year. The Painted Towns of Shekhawati by Ilay Cooper was a serendipitous find, and I want to first share how I found the book with you before telling you what the book is all about.
It was a rainy August day in 2014 and I was feeling quite sorry for myself at that time. All my travel plans were falling through for some reason or the other, which meant that I hadn’t travelled anywhere that year.
A casual twitter conversation with a friend on the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) got me thinking about attending the festival in 2015 and maybe combining it with some travel to places around Jaipur.
A simple Google search threw up Shekhawati as a possible place to visit. A little deeper search and book on The Painted Towns of Shekhawati popped up. Though I was aware of the painted havelis in Shekhawati, I was more than a little sketchy on the details. The book intrigued me enough to place an order and the book was in my hands a few days later.
The first thing I did after reading the book was to apply for leave at work, write out a tentative itinerary, and book the hotel and flight tickets (not necessarily in this order). Yes, I had decided to go to Shekhawati after reading the book.
So what was in the book that got me all set to travel to Shekhawati?
Continue reading “Book Review: The Painted Towns of Shekhawati”