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he area of Shekhawati covers several villages and towns in north eastern Rajasthan, which can be approached from Bikaner, Jaipur and Delhi comprising of the Shikar and Jhunjhunu districts. Small towns dot these two districts and contain within themselves some of the most elaborate havelis, step wells, and temples. When traveling around this region, you will stumble across some truly marvelous treasures.

Even today, the entire region of Shekhawati is known for its exquisite frescoes popularly called the ‘open art gallery’. No other region, anywhere in the world, has such a large concentration of frescoes. This is even more interesting as the landscape here is totally bare, flat and colorless.

Rao Shekha, the founder of Shekhawati, came to power at the young age of 12 and established a reign that lasted 43 years. The Rajput nobles who ruled over the small thikanas, or fiefdoms, became great patrons of art and financed the frescoes on their havelis. Up to the early 19th century the themes were largely religious. Other historic events, personages, battle scenes, and folk heroes were also painted in great detail. These paintings were a record of those times. By the end of the 19th century, there was a slight change in the patronage. Marwaris, the business community, found itself in a position of strength.

When the East India Company began to make its presence felt in this part of Rajasthan, it opened several avenues for the hardworking and enterprising Marwari. Volume of trade increased and the Marwaris began to spread their braches across the country. Even after spending several years away from their homeland, these now successful and wealthy businessmen remained true sons of the soil. While they lived austerely in their adopted cities, they sent back huge sums of money to their families. Spending large sums on the welfare of their community, wells, reservoirs, schools, colleges, dharmashalas and gaushalas were financed.

Most of them had left their families behind and they returned to build some huge mansions for them. They were in a position to show off their new status and there was no better way of doing this than commissioning the most intricate frescoes on their havelis. Very soon it became customary to have a painted haveli and the artists were kept busy moving from one village to the next. The demand for these painters kept growing and very soon unskilled painters and masons too began to get involved in the paintings, reflecting those times and very soon the purely mythological themes gave way to western influences. Cars, trains, airplanes, ships, telephones, foreigners in hats, suits and gowns began to appear on the walls with scenes from Lord Krishna’s life.
Most of the villages of Shekhawati have kept their rustic charm intact making a drive around these painted towns a wonderful experience. While the painted mansions are certainly the focal point here, don’t miss the unique architectural style of the havelis. They are marvels of good design. Several courtyards and inner chambers were designed to keep the women folk safe and comfortable yet segregate them from the outside. The havelis looked like huge blocks but were so ingeniously planned that they provided adequate protection from the harsh summers. Other monuments to look out for are the step wells, four-pillared wells, temples and dharmashalas.

Some of the important towns that should not be missed are Sikar, where the temples of Gopinath, Raghunath and Madan Mohan are interesting as are the biyani havelis with their unusual blue and white colors. Two other important temples in the vicinity are the Harsh Nath temple and Jeen Mata temple. The fort of Lachmangarh is one of the most impressive and imposing in Shekhawati. Try to get a bird’s eye view of the town below , it has been designed to resemble the planned city of Jaipur. Ramgarh is famous not only for the havelis of Poddars but also for its rustic wood furniture. Fatehpur has some beautiful frescoes in Indian as well as western styles. Particularly noteworthy are the Chamariya and Singhania havelis.

Khatu Shyamji is more famous for its temple of Shri Shyamji and draws devotees throughout the year. People walk several miles to offer homage at the temple from all over India.

Nawalgarh is home to some of the leading merchant families of the country. This is also the place to find some of the finest frescoes in the entire region. Look for Roop Niwas, Poddar haveli, Saat Haveli, few old temples, forts and heritage hotels. The Goenka havelis are also famous. The fort of Mandawa dominates the town and it was one of the earliest heritage hotels in this area. The Chokhani, Ladia and Saraf havelis should be seen not only their frescoes but also for their design. A temple dedicated to Shiva is also worth a visit.

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