Shekhawati - World's Largest Open Air Art Gallery!


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 :)


Front courtyard of Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Front Courtyard of Alsisar Mahal.

Living room of a suite at Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Living room of the turret suite.

Octagonal bedroom of the turret suite, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Octagonal Bedroom housed in a turret suite.

Dining Room Courtyard, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Dining room courtyard at the rear of the palace.

Gallery to the bar, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Gallery leading to the bar of the palace.

First courtyard after entering Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

First Courtyard after entering the palace. Way to the swimming pool is also through this courtyard.

Temple's garden, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Beautiful garden in the temple complex of the palace.

Reception Courtyard, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Reception courtyard of the Alsisar palace.

Reception Verandah, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Reception Verandah of the palace.

The throne of the erstwhile diwaan-e-aam, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

The throne of the erstwhile diwaan-e-aam, This is now the palace's reception area with exquisite gold-leaf work.

Reception, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Reception of the palace.

Gold-leaf work in the reception area, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Gold-leaf work in the reception area of the palace stands out amongst all the other attractions in Alsisar Mahal.

Bar Lounge, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Bar lounge next to the dining hall courtyard.

Another view of the bar lounge, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Another view of the Bar lounge.

Awe inspiring dining hall of Alsisar Mahal with gold-leaf work, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Awe inspiring dining hall of Alsisar Mahal. Gold-leaf work all over along with flawless miniature paintings.

Wide angle shot of the exquisite dining hall of Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Wide angle shot of the exquisite dining hall.

Private dining area, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

A private dining area extending from the main dining hall.

Painted ceiling of the dining hall, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Art work on the ceiling of the dining hall.

Rooftop view, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Rooftop view of the palace.

Front inner courtyard of Alsisar Mahal. The octagonal turret houses a suite.

Front inner courtyard. That octagonal turret houses a grand suite.

Swimming pool of Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Palace's swimming pool.

A courtyard at dusk, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

One of the courtyards at dusk.

Another courtyard at dusk, Alsisar Mahal, Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Another courtyard of the palace at dusk.

Beautiful door at the entrance of Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Beautiful door at the entrance of Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar village.

Inner courtyard of Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Inner courtyard of Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar village.

Painted ceiling of one of the rooms, Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Ceiling of one of the painted rooms of Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar village.

Painted room, Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Painted Room of Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar village.

Another painted ceiling, Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Another painted room's ceiling, Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar village.

Daily use items of yesteryears, Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Daily use items of yesteryears at Jhunjhunwala haveli, Alsisar village.

Laxminarayan temple at Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Laxminarayan temple at Alsisar village.

Chatris (cenotaphs) of ancestors at Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Chatris (cenotaphs) of ancestors at Alsisar village.

A chatri (cenotaph) at Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

A Chatri (cenotaph) at Alsisar Village.

Water well with its signature four minarets at Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Ancient silk route passes through the Alsisar village. There are water wells throughout this region identified by the signature 4 minarets.

Exquisitely painted ceiling of Sati Temple, Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Exquisitely painted ceiling of Sati Temple, Alsisar village.

Door of a village house, now in ruins - Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Door to a village house, now in ruins, Alsisar village.

Road to the desert, Alsisar Village, Rajasthan

Alsisar village is a semi arid region. Further west to Alsisar and on this road (not the highway) lies the Thar desert.

Entrance of Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Entrance of Modi Haveli at Jhunjhunu.

Baithak (lounge) of Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Baithak (lounge) of Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu.

Entrance to inner courtyard, Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Entrance to the inner courtyard of Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu.

Grand door frame of inner courtyard, Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

This grand door frame is a splendid work of art, carved out of a locally available and single piece of wood. Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu.

Intricate carvings on the grand door frame, Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Close-up of the carvings on the door frame, Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu.

A painted ceiling of Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Painted ceiling at Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu.

Access corridor to the rooms of Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Access corridor to the rooms of the haveli, Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu.

Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Modi Haveli, Jhunjhunu.

Now diminishing, painted outer walls of Tibrewal Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Now diminishing, painted outer walls of Tibrewal Haveli, Jhunjhunu.

On its way out, old painting remains of Tibrewal Haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

On its way out, old painting remains of Tibrewal Haveli, Jhunjhunu.

A timeless haveli in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

A timeless haveli in Jhunjhunu.

Tulsian haveli, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Tulsian haveli, Jhunjhunu.

One of the many havelis in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

One of the many havelis in Jhunjhunu.

Rungta haveli (now a college), Jhunjhunu Dist., Rajasthan

Rungta haveli. This was earlier a hospital and now is a college, Jhunjhunu district.


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