It was not the fairytale-like Taj Mahal, the holy Ganges or the beautiful Indian desert cities that were the highlight of my India trip. The highlight turned out to be a group of small, little visited villages in northern Rajasthan named Shekhawati. These villages of Shekhawati are known for their beautifully painted haveli’s (‘mansions’).
Built by rich merchants
The grand havelis were built by rich merchants for their families in the 18th and 19th century. A haveli typically has two courtyards, an outer one for the men and an inner one for the women. Walls are decorated with colorful fresco’s with mythological and historical themes. Being in Shekhawati feels like walking in an open air art gallery.
A 3-hour hop from Jaipur
Shekhawati is a short 3-hour hop from Jaipur. From Jaipur you can take a local bus or train to Nawalgarh. Beware of the fact that the buses are often Indian style (which means completely packed including passengers on the roof).
The two main villages of Shekhawai
There are two main villages in Shekhawati: Nawalgarh and Mandawa. Nawalgarh has many accommodation options and hundreds of painted haveli’s including a few museums. It also houses a vibrant bazar and a fort. Peaceful Mandawa is much smaller than Nawalgarh (and more village like), but also has some good accommodation options. I stayed in ‘Hotel Shekhawati’, a budget accommodation in Mandawa and I absolute loved this hotel with its rooftop breakfast, absolutely gorgeous rooms and friendly staff. Recent 2013 experiences on tripadvisor are also positive. Both Nawalgarh and Mandawa are good places to start when exploring the region.
Fatehpur and Nadine Le Prince
Fatehpur is definitively one of the villages that should be part of your itinerary. This sleepy, but incredibly charming town has many haveli’s including the haveli of the French artist Nadine le Prince. Her 19th century haveli houses the most beautiful murals in the region, an art café and a cultural center that organises art exhibitions and regional walks. Other good places to see include the villages of Mahansar, Dunlod and Mukundgarh.
For an Indian village life experience
Unfortunately, more and more tourists have discovered Shekhawati. Even in this remote region, ‘touts’ wander the streets offering you tours and hotels. Despite this, it still remains one of the least visited regions of Rajasthan, giving you that feeling like you’re visiting something unique, hidden and authentic. For all you art lovers out there and for those who would like to experience Indian village life in Rajasthan, I would highly recommend to visit slow-paced beautiful Shekhawati.
– Wander the streets outside the ‘main center’ and experience the peaceful village life.
– Remember that not all haveli’s are open for tourists and many of them are homes. Therefore, always ask permission to enter and/or to take photo’s.
– Visit Shekhawati for at least two days to really experience the region.
– Bring enough cash money (there is only one ATM that doesn’t always work).
– In general for India travellers: check out the excellent India travel forum ‘India Mike’