While traversing any part of India one tends to get the feeling that we must get prosperous fast. The poverty coupled with its underlying root causes has really reduced the Indian culture to a shadow of what it was. When prosperity is firmly in place - the educated and honest kind, the community is ready to don the next level of refinement which typically is realized in the form of philosophy, logic, literature, painting, music, etc. with a "wow" experience attached.
In September 2013 I made a solo trip to Bikaner and was supposed to cover some of the interiors of that area. Driving from Delhi I had to drive through the entire Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. It is a region in the northern belt of Rajasthan comprising of many towns and villages like Sikar, Mandawa, Fatehpur, Jhunjhunu, etc. The region is claimed to be world's largest open air art gallery! It so happened that many families from this region saw an opportunity in Calcutta becoming the capital of British India and migrated there, forming many businesses. They prospered in Calcutta and even today some of the biggest industrial houses of India owe their origin to Shekhwati. Some of the notable names are Aggarwal, Bagari, Bajaj, Banthia, Bharatia, Bhuwalka, Birla, Chamaria, Daga, Dalamia, Dhanuka, Dudavewala, Ganeriwal, Garodia, Goyanaka, Jaipuria, Jaju, Jalan, Jhanwar, Jhujhunuwala, Kankaria, Kanodia, Kejariwal, Khetan, Kothari, Lohia, Malpani, Modi, Mohata, Muraraka, Nevatia, Parasrampuria, Patodia, Poddar, Ruia, Rungata, Sabu, Saravagi, Seksaria, Singhania, Singhi, Somani, Surana, Taparia, etc.
It is amazing how a small area of India is the source of such big industrial houses and it cannot be anything else but their own culture that enabled them. An interesting outcome of this "prosperity" saw Shekhawati become what it is famous for today. These business families sent back home a lot of money and built magnificent havelis in their towns/villages. As a status symbol they had it painted intricately and profusely with frescos ranging from religious to erotic. The best looking and painted havelis obviously belonged to the higher ups. As a result of this culture even a hut in this region would have some sort of art work donning its walls.
I had visited Alsisar village in Shekhawati which is 20 Kms north of Jhunjhunu in March 2012. Pictures in this album are from that trip when I covered Alsisar village and Jhunjhunu (partially).
The incident that I was coming to was on my drive to Bikaner in September 2013, where I had to cross the town of Fatehpur to take the Bikaner highway. The GPS of my car for some reason wanted me to go through the town, though such routes are often avoidable. Being the driver and navigator myself, in that split second I decided to trust my GPS and take the suggested route. Very soon I was cursing my decision as my car was occupying the entire lane and I had no idea what I would do if there were any oncoming traffic. But wait, it was all deserted, there was no oncoming traffic! It almost appeared that I was in a ghost town and at that moment I started noticing the magnificent havelis around me. If it had not been for the decay that had set in, it would have been akin to being transported hundreds of years back in time. The havelis were obviously locked and uninhabited, perhaps were being visited only few days in a year. I can never forget that drive through Fatehpur and resolved to make a stop on my way back. That was not to be as I had to return back from Bikaner the next day due to an urgent situation at home and to keep the schedule I bypassed Fatehpur on my way back to Delhi.
Thanks to my car's GPS a new trip is definitely on the cards. Back home I fished out the book I had bought during my last trip to Alsisar and it has a wonderful account of Fatehpur. The book is called "The Painted Towns of Shekhawati" and the author is an Englishman, Ilay Cooper. He stayed on in the area for many years in 1980's and documented the entire Shekhawati region on a shoestring budget. He travelled all around Shekhwati on a bicycle!
While researching Fatehpur I came across an interesting account about a French artist, Nadine Le Prince, who has bought a Haveli in Fatehpur, which was built in 1802 by a rich family of traders, the Deoras, who were also officers at the court of the local Maharaja. Since 1999, Nadine Le Prince has entirely restored the palace and all the frescoes. She is also doing much to preserve and restore the heritage of havelis throughout Shekhawati, working with other associations to give the havelis a second life. She has opened a cultural center, which she created to exhibit French and Indian modern artists, and to confront old and contemporary art. More details on Nadine can be found at nadine-leprince.com/, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatehpur,_Rajasthan and some great pictures of the restored haveli at google.co.in/search?q=Nadine+Le+Prince+Fatehpur
I already have in mind a trip that entails staying at Mandawa, most likely at one of the original forts and exploring Shekhwati from there.
Anyway, hope you enjoy the photos ... don't miss the photos of the exquisite dining hall of Alsisar Mahal with real gold-leaf work all around :)