Published: April 18th 2005April 8th 2005
Nawalgarh Podar Haveli Museum
Completely restored facade with impressive paintings
We were going roughly the same way as our Swiss friends Cynthia and Laurent, so we decided to take the same bus. It was empty for Indian standards and we had a nice time passing through several cities full of painted havelis
. We were doing sightseeing from the bus, by sitting higher we had the chance to see the incredible paintings almost at eye level, and furthermore the bus was moving very slowly through the crowded streets. A high percentage of the havelis these days are occupied by different people than the ones who had them built and they do not really care about their lodgings’ value. For this reason, the lowest part of the painted wall is faded or plastered with posters, and from the bus we saw the better conserved parts. There is always a kind of projection between the upper and the lower storeys, thus protecting the section beneath perfectly against the rain. We passed through the towns of Fatehpur
and enjoyed ourselves a lot by this unusual kind of tourism.
Then we came to Jhunjhunun
, where Cynthia and Laurent would spend their last days before flying back, and we had to change bus in
Detailed paintings of hunting and camel riding
order to get to our final destination, Nawalgarh. We said goodbye to our friends at the bus stand, kissing each other, a usual thing for Europeans or Americans, but not so for Indians. When we did so, a crowd of maybe 20 people was gathered around us and stared at us in disbelief, that day they had something to talk about with their friends! We tried to leave the luggage at the bus stand, but there being no cloak room, we left it in a nearby hotel. It was lunchtime and we desperately searched for a restaurant, without any success. We walked by quite many havelis, some in a very poor state, on others the paintings were still shining in vivid colours. Nice buildings, but still no place to eat! We had almost given up, when we finally got to an obscure hotel, where they served us their set meal, a thali. A thali is usually very cheap, you get rice and several kinds of Indian bread (roti, nan or chapatti) and different kinds of sauces. We normally try to avoid it because with the time you find it boring, but from time to time it is all right and
Even the part of wall under the balustrade is full of paintings
it fills you up. Somebody had offered us his service as a guide and we could by no means get rid of him. But he was quite good, led us into the havelis, pointed special paintings out to us and also showed us a temple with attractive frescoes. Some of the havelis in Jhunjhunun were a century older than in the other towns we had passed through, which explains their state of neglect. As a whole, we did not like the city very much, it was very dirty and crowded, so we tried to get away as soon as possible.
We took another bus to Nawalgarh
, which was so crowded that we took seats in the driver’s cabin for the first time. The visibility from there was excellent, but the seating position far from comfortable. Well, you can’t always have everything! As already mentioned before, the roads in Rajasthan are comparatively good, but only the interurban ones. Once you come to a small city, they simply cease existing. So the bus would drive rather quickly between the cities, but almost come to a standstill in them. In spite of all the unpleasantness we arrived safely and had to
Indian style versus Victorian style
take an auto-rickshaw to the other end of the town. We were shaken so much that we seriously feared for our backs! We had planned to stay in a better hotel for Klaudia’s birthday, but when we came there, they treated us in a very unfriendly way, it seemed they had specialised in tourist groups and were not interested in individual travellers. On our way there, a tout had entered the rickshaw and wanted us to stay in the hotel he worked for. You have to be very firm because these guys are really obnoxious. If it is not them, then the rickshaw driver tries to drive you to a hotel owned by a “friend” or “relative”. You even have to be impolite, otherwise you can’t get rid of them! This being the low season we had no problems finding another hotel, where we were the only guests. The place belonged to a very nice lady who spoke excellent English. She was very self-assured and much aware of her talents. We talked to her a bit about the situation of women in India and she was unhappy about certain rigid and strict rules of behaviour towards the family-in-law. When she
Our guide had many interesting things to say
learned about Klaudia’s birthday, she even gave her roses and a beautiful diary as presents. Klaudia was overwhelmed by so much kindness. We had dinner at the hotel because the town centre was quite far and the food was highly praised in our guidebook anyway. There we were joined by two girls studying art in London, one Swiss and one French/Spanish. We had a nice conversation while enjoying the tasty home-cooked food.
Next morning it was time to se the havelis, which seem to be the best restored in Shekhawati. We first stopped at the Anandil Peddar haveli
, where the ground floor has been turned into a museum. The exterior wall has been completely restored, while the paintings in the courtyards are still original. A guide service is included in the entrance fee, and this guide was very knowledgeable. We learned that most havelis date from the period between 1870 and 1920, that there are havelis also in other parts of India, but the only painted ones are to be found in the Shekhawati region. “Haveli” is a Persian word and has the following indications: the house must be very big, it must have a lot of doors and
small windows, must be airy and equipped with at least two open-to-sky courtyards. The region where the havelis are to be found lies on the spice route, where salt, cotton and spices were traded and these houses were abandoned at the middle of the 20th century because the trade moved to the coastal areas. In the first courtyard we were shown around a room where scale models of Indian musical instruments were on display; we also saw bridal costumes, jewellery and a display of important Indian festivals. Then we saw a room that was formerly used as a trade room. It consisted of two low storeys, in the lower storey the merchant was in the centre, welcoming all sorts of vendors and concluding all kinds of deals. The upper storey was reserved for the clerks and accountants, who were busy scribbling everything that was spoken on the lower storey. In case there were several traders present, the merchant used a special means of discussing prices without speaking, using the different phalanxes, one phalanx counting for ten. Astonishing! Here we also saw a hand fan, which was always moved by a deaf boy. The boy had to be deaf so that
he could not overhear any business talk. As the boys got good food and lodging, this was considered a good job and parents made their boys deaf on intention. Unbelievable! The first floor of this haveli, which these days is used as a school, is painted in Victorian style, the turquoise colour forms a stark contrast to the paintings on the ground floor dominated by the colour blue. Thank God, the current owner of this wonderful house invests a lot into it and by paying a small entrance fee we can contribute to its conservation.
Then we moved on to the next beautiful building, the Morarka Haveli Museum
. The curator here had a different approach, appealing against restoring the paintings and only repairing the haveli’s structure. He thinks it better to conserve the frescoes in their present state and even studied this skill for a long time in Rome. Again we saw wonderful frescoes depicting among others the 10 incarnations of Vishnu, tales from the Ramayana (the story of Rama), the story of Krishna, folk tales, historic events and the daily life in Shekhawati, together with portrays of the British and their ways. We saw several other havelis, in
Only the haveli's structure was restored, the paintings were conserved in their present state
another striking one we were shown around by an old man in an impressive red turban. It went upstairs, downstairs again, further up to the rooftop and we saw a dance hall, several bedrooms and different other kinds of rooms, all painted in a fascinating way.
Nawalgarh has very much to offer a tourist on the cultural plan, but hardly any amenities to facilitate one’s life, like restaurants. It took us almost an hour to find anything to eat which was not prepared in the streets, because we still wish to watch over our stomachs. Unfortunately there is a stupid competition going on between the different cities in Shekhawati, they should better get united and market their region as a major tourist attraction. If the havelis were in Italy or France, they would immediately attract the crowds.
Villages and small cities in India are extremely different from the corresponding places in Europe or the US. Never in our lives have we seen so many people, hand-drawn carts, carts drawn by bullocks, donkeys or horses, auto-rickshaws, cars, buses, bicycles, motor bikes etc. on the streets as in India. Everything is sold or made there, fruits, vegetables, all kinds of
Nawalgarh Bagarh Haveli
The old man and the haveli
food and drinks, there are tailors, shoe-makers and -polishers, book stores, garment shops, and if people can’t afford a shop they simply spread their products out on a cart or a cloth. Due to the high temperatures, street life in India is very vivid, colourful, extremely chaotic, sometimes maddening, but always fascinating for a foreigner.
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