The open art gallery
A testimony to Rajasthan’s cultural tradition, Shekhawati has the world’s largest concentration of frescoes
Nawalgarh in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region stands testimony to the state’s cultural tradition and history. The region derives its name from the Shekhawat Rajput clan’s Maha Rao Shekha Ji, who established his rule in the 15th century. It was in the 18th and 19th centuries that Marwari merchants, with trading interests in the region, constructed palatial town houses, or havelis, decorated with murals.
This area has the largest concentration of frescoes in the world, with the town houses, some older than three centuries, showcasing stories of the gallantry and courage of a bygone era in murals.
I decided to explore Nawalgarh over a weekend. A train from Delhi saw me land me early in Jaipur so I could undertake the next part of the journey, 3 hours long, and still have time to spare for strolling down the streets of Nawalgarh. My first stop was the Kamal Morarka Haveli Museum, a double-courtyard haveli constructed in 1900 by an art patron, Jairamdas Morarka. More than 700 frescoes adorn the walls of this town house. Most of them were painted between 1900-30 by artists from the kumhar (potter) community.
The murals, were initially influenced by the Persian, Jaipur and Mughal schools of painting and based on mythology, hunting and everyday life. The style changed dramatically with the British, and the impact of technology. At the turn of the 19th century, motifs like cars, planes, gramophones and Englishmen started becoming visible.
Close to this town house is the Dr Ramnath A Podar Haveli, which is also a museum. It was built in 1902, and some of the paintings had deteriorated owing to the constant exposure to natural elements. In the mid-1990s, help arrived in the form of the M R Morarka-GDC Rural Research Foundation, a non-profit resource management organization that works at the grass-root level. It took up restoration work, restoring the murals to their original glory over a decade. I spent 2 hours at the museum, taking in my fill of costumes, musical instruments, turbans and models of forts.
The next day, I tried some local culinary delights. Pyaaz kachori (onion and lentil fritters) was on my list—every other shop in Nawalgarh sells this snack, and I sampled several.
Since I was spending two days in the area, I decided to visit a prominent Shekhawati town, Jhunjhunu, 40km from Nawalgarh, before heading back to Jaipur. There, the famous Rani Sati temple commemorates a Rajput woman who committed sati (self-immolation) on her husband’s death. The temple, constructed of white marble, has colourful wall paintings.
There was time enough to peek into the 18th century Khetri Mahal, with its imposing pillars and terraces. It is believed that this was the structure that inspired Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh to build the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur in the late 18th century.
Route: Take a train from Delhi to Jaipur (Train No. 19610, Haridwar-Udaipur Express; AC-2 tier, Rs779; departure, 1.40am and arrival, 7am). From Jaipur, travel by road to Nawalgarh. A taxi from Jaipur costs Rs3,000-4,000.
Stay: Koolwal Kothi (www.koolwalkothi.com), tariff, Rs6,000 for double occupancy, minus meals and taxes.
Top tip: Visit the Nand Lal Devra ‘haveli’, built in 1802 and restored by French artist Nadine le Prince.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros.
The author tweets from @thehummingnotes.
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