Stop 2 – Nawalgarh
We reached by four in the evening and were soon lost in the maze of the Nawalgarh market. Thank you, Google! We had to call up our hotel and they sent their staff to guide us. Fortunately, we ended up in a lane with a Haveli which was open to tourists. The sun was going to set in an hour and we didn’t want to miss out on visiting a haveli on our very first day in Nawalgarh. So until the hotel staff arrived we decided to check it out.
The word haveli is derived from an Arabic word hawali which means an enclosed space. But the havelis in Shekhawati region of Rajasthan are so much more than that. The havelis in Shekhawati belong to the merchant families who were quite prosperous since the area was on the silk route. Later they moved to other popular centres like present-day Kolkata and Mumbai. Some of the havelis are still being maintained by the families. However, a lot of them are facing vandalism and apathy.
The havelis have huge arched gateways and elaborately carved wooden doors. I was so fascinated that I ended up taking pictures of almost every haveli door. And even though they may look alike the paintings in havelis are different. Elaborate murals adorn all the walls. It is highly unlikely that you will ever come across any bare wall.
A haveli usually has two courtyards and is a double-storey structure. However, some grand ones have up to six courtyards and are even three-storeyed. The outer courtyard is for the visitors and male guests. There is a room on one side of the courtyard called the baithak. The one with three-arched gateways is also called tabara. This courtyard leads to another courtyard inside often called the zenana. The zenana houses the bedrooms and kitchen and stairways that lead up to the rooms above. Most of the activities of the women of the family are restricted to this area.
This grand haveli was renovated and converted into a museum. The murals have been restored and it is one of the best-maintained havelis in town. It is being maintained by the Poddar family. One can find elaborate murals on the walls depicting life during the colonial rule and also a blend of mythology and Indian culture. The famous train mural is on the two opposite walls of the first courtyard. Also, the caretaker will proudly point out the wooden carved door that leads to the inner courtyard which has been featured on the in-flight magazine of the Indian Airlines. The museum throws light on the culture and lifestyle of different regions of Rajasthan.
The haveli has been conserved after being neglected for a few decades. However, it is in good condition. The colours may have faded a little but the beauty certainly hasn’t. In this haveli along with paintings of the Indian gods, you can also spot a painting of Jesus. Secularism isn’t a new concept!
Morarka Uttara Haveli
This haveli too was built by the Morarka family. Since most members of the family had moved out of Rajasthan this one was used for visiting relatives and hence came to be known as Uttaron ki haveli. That’s what we were told and I couldn’t make any sense out of that. The entry ticket is Rs.70 per person. In some parts of the haveli, restoration work was being carried out and they requested us not to take pictures of those portions of the haveli. We saw the sunset from the roof of the haveli and as the sun set one could see the walls of other havelis in the vicinity glow and life seemed to slow down for a bit.
This haveli belonged to the Koolwal family. It is being maintained but still, the outer facade has begun to fade away and the plaster has come off. The ceiling of the porch has paintings of the members of the Koolwal family. The entry gate is adorned with paintings of Indian and European nobles. The paintings inside the haveli are quite intact. The roof of the haveli offers a beautiful view of the Hotel which is a blend of Indian and colonial architecture.
There are many more havelis in Nawalgarh and the best way to explore this open-air art gallery is on foot. We were told there are about 700 havelis but I don’t believe it. However, there ARE a lot of havelis and I feel that one day isn’t enough to take in all the art.
There aren’t many options to stay in Nawalgarh. We stayed at the Welcome Heritage Koolwal Kothi which is a heritage hotel. The colonial style haveli has been converted into a hotel. Other options of stay are the Roop Niwas Kothi and Hotel Roop Vilas.
- Start early and be back at your place of stay by evening.
- If you want to take a guide along with you then the Kamal Morarka haveli is the place to go. That is the point where you will find most of the guides. If you do decide to take a guide make sure you finalise the price beforehand and also bargain as they sometimes quote really high prices.
- You can explore the town and the havelis without a guide. All the havelis have similar architecture and after a point, nobody has anything new to tell you. So I would suggest exploring the town by yourself.
- If you have paid for an entry ticket to the haveli then do not pay any tips to anyone. There are some people who might start chatting with you, tell you a few facts, pretend to show you around and then ask for money. Just ignore such people and avoid interaction.
- Many of the havelis are not open to tourists. In some of these, families are residing who may be kind enough to let you in and others may ask you for money. Also, there are some which are at the mercy of the whims of their caretakers. So make sure you ask before stepping in their house. Although the people are nice and friendly its better to be safe. If you are a solo traveller avoid going alone inside deserted havelis.
- Tourist Helpline – 1800-11-1363
It is a toll-free number and supports 12 languages. If you are travelling to India this should be saved in your phone.
Next week we are exploring another famous fresco town of Shekhawati.