Business is in Shekhawati Soil and Blood

What happens when some of the richest and most influential businessmen in a country come from one region? It is called Shekhawati region of Rajasthan in India. Business seems to be running in Shekhawati blood. But if you visit the region now, all you will find is their big havelis which tell a story of once being lived-in lavishly and their rich history and culture.

Most of the affluent business families have now moved to bigger cities and some to even different countries. And what is left behind are the havelis and their caretakers. With time the new generations have lost touch with their roots and havelis and the caretakers’ have become more and more powerful.

There is more to Rajasthan than Temples and Forts

I always thought of this part of Rajasthan with religious significance because of places like Churu, Jhunjhunu and Salasar till I recently visited Shekhawati region and went to Mandawa, Nawalgarh and Dundlod. I am sure there would temples of huge significance here too but the places are more popular for their Havelis and film shoot locations.

As part of the 2-day trip, I learnt some interesting things about the region, its people and history. And some things are my observations. So, listing them down all here, in no particular order of importance –

  • We got off at Churu Station and took an auto rickshaw to reach Mandawa, almost 45 km away. I think that’s one of the most memorable part of the journey. We got the true flavour of sandy Rajasthan travelling in an open vehicle.

General observations about Shekhawati

  • Haveli means a place where ‘hawa’ or breeze reaches all parts of the house and on all floors and in Rajasthan, havelis became an integral part of architecture to combat the hot weather. They are an architectural marvel till date.
  • The influx of foreign tourists was visible in the food, language, hotel designs as well as written English. Toilet becomes Toilette in Mandawa.
  • It was heartening to see social messages across walls and sensitive people. People seemed to respect them.
  • The Shekhawati cuisine is spicy and full of ghee, so not for weak palettes.

Haveli Culture of Shekahwati region

  • Most havelis charge an entry fee between Rs. 50 to Rs.100. Not sure if the money is charged by caretaker or by the original owners.
  • The havelis are given for film and TV shoots and if the film is a hit, then such spots make an important part of guided tour. Now I will have to watch PK and Bajrangi Bhaijaan all over again to identify these spots.
  • The guides speak 4 to 5 languages apart from their native language such as Hindi, English, Spanish, French and more. And interestingly, most of them have picked up the languages as kids listening to the tourists visiting the region. And now they speak very fluently with right foreign accent.
  • All the havelis are designed very similar. And what makes them stand out from havelis in other parts of India are the frescoes that are found all over the havelis. The designs include stories around Gods, folklore, rulers of the region and even some foreigners have found space on Rajasthani walls. Most of the havelis were constructed during British Rule and the English influence is visible.
  • All havelis had their personal kuan or well. All wells could be identified by two minarets on the well structure.
  • When the havelis were made, there was no electricity and fans. Therefore they had manual fans which had to be moved by people so the rich people sit comfortably without sweating. Since similar fans were used in business areas too, so especially deaf people were hired for this work so they couldn’t hear the business conversations.

Unique features about some Havelis

  • Some havelis we saw were double haveli showing that our ancestors were quite forward-thinking. Chokhani double haveli of Mandawa is an example of the same as the haveli has been into two equal and identical halves to avoid conflict between the two sons.
  • One haveli in Mandawa has a room made with 3.5 kg of gold and therefore there is a ticket of Rs.100 to see that. We were excited to see that but when we went in, we were told most of the gold is looted and only parts are left. Some of the yellow parts are repainted. Even the designs were fading. We were quite disappointed.
  • Goenka Haveli of Dundlod has a Chhatri, which is the final resting place of the Ram Dutt Goenka, patriarch of the Goenka family. The concept of Chhatri is similar to Mughal culture of making tombs in honour of their royal family.
  • Poddar Haveli Museum in Nawalgarh was a welcome change. After seeing similar-looking multiple havelis, Poddar Haveli Museum came as a good concept. It gives an insight into the entire Rajasthani culture in a well designed manner.

While the trip was fun and a great learning experience, it was great to see havelis becoming a mode of income for people still living there. Unfortunately, most havelis are being converted to hotels now so the people in the region need to come up with another business idea before all havelis are taken and tourism becomes extinct.

  • The Shekhawati cuisine is spicy and full of ghee, so not for weak palettes.

But that’s not an area of worry… after all Business is in Shekhawati Blood and soil.

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2 comments

  1. Amazing write up. U covered the essence of trip so well. Loved it. U have captured the main highlights of the place so well

    Like

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