Thurs 17th Dec 2009
Up at 6am today a big and exciting day ahead; a road trip by taxi north of Jaipur to the sand blown towns on the edge of the Thar Desert in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan about 100 miles away.
It lays on the old important caravan route from Delhi to Sind (Pakistan). The merchant Marwari people grew rich and built ostentatious decorated havelis. In Rajasthan there is an incredible concentration of these palaces which are plastered inside and out with colourful murals built from 1777- 1930.
Our trip today was to take in about three of these villages, Nawalgarh, Dunlod and Mandawa.
A haveli (Persian for enclosed space) is typically an entrance from the street which is grandly decorated with carved doors some which are faced in solid brass, sometimes at the top of a ramp big enough for an elephant to enter – if occasion demanded!
There were two main courtyards, the first a ‘Marana’ which is where the men hung out and conducted their business and visitors were received and a ‘zenana’. This is where the women lived, this was accessed through an even more richly decorated doorway, and the women lived in purdah and had a lattice window or overhanging upper terrace for them to view the proceedings of the mardana.
Flamboyant murals decorate the interior and exterior walls with episodes of Krishna’s life and other modern day depictions of contemporary machines, fashions, early aeroplanes to Edwardian fashions of memsahib’s in big hats. Old fashioned now but in its time the modern and the only way these women and poor of the region were likely to see what was going on in the outside world.
The havelis are now still owned by the Marwari families who eventually moved to Mumbai and other cities and many bought British industries but are now empty and looked after by a caretaker. Interest is now being revived in them now as a tourist attraction and are being renovated but still some are even now presently being whitewashed over as you can see below in one of my pics, which is a crime.
We did manage a break for lunch in yet another 19thc haveli, The Heritage Mandawa hotel, we did get a peek at the rooms and they were just gorgeous with period style high four posted beds and wall paintings. After enjoying a set curry lunch of three vegetable dishes, rice and bread and a beer which was a great surprise we headed off for more havelis and the return long drive back to Jaipur.