If Navalgarh is Rajashthan’s open art gallery then Mandawa is the royal art exhibition. For one, budget travellers like me cannot afford to stay here and second the haveli’s here are more artistic and well maintained as compared to the other parts of Shekhawati.
Indian tourist spots are known for touts and the way they approach you the moment you step out of the bus. It was 8 in the morning when I reach Mandawa. A number of guides and agents, surrounded me, offering cheap stay. (must have guessed from my backpack) Refusing politely I moved away.
Mandawa is a small town that is best explored in random. A lot of havelis have entrance fee, otherwise you can simply wander around taking a glimpse of the local life, painted walls and tiny lanes. There is a story hidden everywhere in this small town. A lot of Havelis have been turned into hotels who charge fees ranging from 50 to 500 bucks if you wish to take a look inside.
Hanuman Prassad Goenka Haveli is one of the more beautiful and well preserved havelis in the region. The outer walls of the building are painted with beautiful images. Portrait of an elephant on each side, is as if they stand there to welcome you inside. The walls are carved with intricate designs and glass panes on windows are filled with lovely patchworks. The Haveli’s caretaker was happy to show me around and personally guided me through each room telling me stories about it. At the end of the tour he offered me a glass of lassi in kulhad that I sipped sitting in the courtyard pretending to be a rich trader from the Arabian lands.
The main market of Mandawa is filled with a number of havelis with painted and carved exteriors. Even the SBBJ building here looks like an old heritage building. This is also the part that is filled with a number of tourist guides who’ll approach you for no reason. I was amused at their marketing skills, offers telling about special services inside havelis, jaan pehachan ka malik (personal touch with the owner) and one even told me that ‘bina guide ke andar jaane nahi denge’(they won’t let you enter without a guide). Although they are more interested in foreigners and milking money. The trick is to be polite as long as you can or just show them an eyebrow and move away. I wondered how it would have looked from inside. Later I visited Jhunjhunwala Haveli, Ram Pratap Nemani Haveli that is converted in a hotel and ended the tour with an unnamed haveli in the corner of the market whose caretaker brought hot masala tea and pakodas for me.
Paintings of Shekhawati region are larger than life. A lot have gone through harsh times, through ages. The effect can be seen through ruined colours and worn out patches from one place or another. Today Mandawa is a centre spot for high profile marriage events and as a host for foreign delegates who want to experience India. For a solo traveler Mandawa is a perfect transit if you are traveling to Jaipur, Delhi or Bikaner.
Check out my rest of Shekhawati experience here