Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shekhawati and Churu

The second northern road (NH11) leads to the painted towns of Shekhawati and Churu and further to Bikaner.

En route, the first recommended stop 20 miles (31 kms) from Jaipur is Samod, a palace hotel set among steep hills. It doubled for Afghanistan in the shooting for The Far Pavilions. Its durbar hall is painted with frescos, among the most delicate in Rajasthan. One can stop at this charming spot or drive on through Sikar to Nawalgarh - the first stop is Shekhawati.

Shekhawati was once subordinate to Jaipur. In 1471, Rao Shekhav asserted his independence, giving Shekhawati his name. His successors maintained their independence for nearly 300 years. Shekhawati was fortunately located on the caravan route from the Gujarat ports and from Central India to Delhi. Trade in opium, cotton and spices flourished. The wealthy merchants built palatial havelis or mansions for themselves, cenotaphs in memory of their ancestors, and water reservoirs, temples and caravanserais for the welfare of the people. Most of these buildings are covered with frescos painted between 1760 and 1920. The havelis were fortified houses which walled in the secluded life of the women who spent most of their days in the zenana (ladies' apartments) built around an inner courtyard. The men conducted their business sitting on the white cotton mattresses of their sitting rooms.

Nawalgarh's streets are lined with the richly painted facades of havelis and the market bustles with activity. A garden palace on the outskirts provides a cool stopover. From Nawalgarh the road leads on to Dundlod and Mandawa, the rugged forts of which are now well-stocked hotels of a rare medieval charm.

Fatehpur too offers a wealth of painted havelis. A road to Bikaner starts from there, but one can make a detour to roam in the fascinating towns of Ramgarh and Churu, where the architecture and the art of the region are at their best, before linking up again with the Bikaner road.

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