In the arid land of Rajasthan lies Shekhawati, a region synonymous to beautiful palaces and havelis rich in fresco work of art. Let’s explore…
Magnificent forts and palaces, men clad in colourful turbans, women wearing chunky jewellery and bandhini odhnis, camels lazing in the desert, reverberating tunes that serenade one and all — all these visuals conjure up in front of the eyes the moment one talks about Rajasthan. The state has always been a top preference among foreign travellers and wayfarers who choose Rajasthan for its exotic setting.
Rajasthan is my maternal home and over all these years, I have extensively travelled across the state, mostly to be a part of the family functions. Though I have been to most parts of the state, some places always skipped from my itinerary and Shekhawati is among them. When this very friendly couple – Atul and Devna Khanna, invited me to come and visit their 120-year-old havelis, which are now converted into a culture hotel called Vivaana. On a rainy morning, along with my hosts, I started off my journey to Churi Ajitgarh, where Vivaana is situated. The weekend trip to Shekhawati was perfect to refresh my senses from the regular city grind.
The journey to Churi Ajitgarh, which lies at the confluence of Bikaner, Jaipur and Delhi, took not more than five hours by the road. Poised quietly inside the triangle that is made at the mini desert region of north Rajasthan, Churi Ajitgarh shares its boundaries with Mandawa and Jhunjhunu and is by far, one of Rajasthan’s best-kept secret.
While on our way to Vivaana, Atul shared some history about the village and the two havelis, which he acquired about five years ago. Churi Ajitgarh, the village was originally named Churi Jodha after the Jat Jodha who along with his family came her and settled down. According to local folklores, the ladies of Jodha’s family used to fetch water from the nearby village Ghodiwara. One day, the women of both the villages had a fight and the women of Ghodiwara taunted Jodha Jat’s family asking them, “Why don’t you ask your husband to dig a well of your own.” Jodha Jat’s ladies asked him to dig the well to avenge their insult. When he failed to dig the well, the ladies made him wear bangles (churies) around his wrist and hence the village came to be known as Churi Jodha. The village is now known as Churi Ajitgarh after the then ruler, Maharaja Ajit Singh, who also got the Ajitgarh fort constructed in the village. After this dollop on the history, I sat back and eagerly waited for the distance to Vivaana to grow shorter. Enroute to Churi Ajitgarh, we crossed Mandawa and Jhunjhunu. Maddening pace of city life, endless traffic jams, and stifling work cubicle were all conveniently forgotten at Shekhawati, where leisure of a different kind provided a refreshing escape from the metropolis.
Frescos coming alive
The region is nothing less than a semiarid dreamscape, where I was greeted by dazzling fields, fluttering fabrics, dry desert air and numerous fresco painted havelis and palaces. I noticed Shekhawati was not more than a sleepy little region except during the winter months, when it bustles with wayfarers who stop by to appreciate its laidback charm. After crossing through Sikar and Jhunjhunu, two prime Shekhawati quarters, we reached Vivaana. Upon my arrival, I stood in front of the massive iron gate of the 120-year-old haveli. The beautiful fresco paintings and typical Rajasthani architecture truly makes Vivaana a compelling place to visit and gives an unforgettable magical experience to those who visit these havelis with two courtyards.
Vivaana is secluded in the heart of nowhere, but this is what makes it different, truely! Amused and thrilled to trace a mix of local people clad in saffron attire, foreign junkies, Israeli backpackers and international tourists in this palatial haveli, I advanced towards my room. Lavishly decorated with mural paintings and colourful frescos, my room was a perfect blend of the classic and the contemporary. After relaxing a bit, I set out to explore the property. Atul and Devna accompanied me and showed me the 23 beautiful suites and rooms, the state-of-the-art restaurants and the bar along with the swimming pool.
The world at Vivaana is a seamless transition from the old-world charm to modernity. Inquisitively, I asked Atul to give me a brief backgrounder about this haveli and what made him buy this humungous structure. “After hunting around the region, we finally came across the Ram Pratap Nemani Haveli which was everything we were looking for and well worth the pain endured,” Atul said, explaining that the two havelis that make Vivaana belonged to the Nemani Family, who were the descendants of Bakshi Ram Nemani and Ram Dayal Ji Nemani, the two Seth brothers who were brought to the village by the then ruler-Fateh Singhji in the early 19th Century.
“The Ram Pratap Nemani haveli shone in the light of the solo lamp post nearby and at the first sight, we were confident that we had reached our destination. No stone was left unturned to procure the Haveli and today, it stands tall and proud as Vivaana,” added Devna, Atul’s lovely wife.
Slice of the bygone era
Continuing our tour of the property, I realised the best part of the havelis are the picturesque frescoes which bring the place alive. The frescoes all around the havelis depict mythological and historical themes. They include images of Gods, Goddesses, animals, the life of Lord Krishna and also some erotic frescoes. The techniques employed for these frescoes were elaborate, and comparable to the Italian frescoes of the 14th century. The colours were mixed in lime water or lime plaster and were then made to sink into the plaster physically through processes of beating, burnishing, and polishing. All the pigments used were prepared with natural and primarily household ingredients such as kohl, lime, indigo, red stone powder and saffron. The frescoes at Vivaana are complemented with mirror work and intricately carved wood work.
Once the hurricane tour of the property was over, I set out for a camel safari on the nearby sand dunes. Catching a glimpse of characteristic desert birds such as larks and beetles and numerous peacocks, was a glorious sight. The following morning, we went around the Shekhawati region, which got acquired its name from the erstwhile ruler Rao Shekha. While ruling the region, the Shekhawats built many magnificent forts in their thikanas, main region of their rule. Every thikana in the region has a fort and there are as many as 50 forts and palaces that were built by Shekhawat kings. And today, many of these forts and palaces run as heritage properties. The hotel manager told me that the entire Shekhavati region has time and again mesmerised millions of tourists who come here to see these beautiful painted havelis. Also, the region has aptly been dubbed as the ‘Open Art Gallery’ of Rajasthan.
Slice of royalty
As I ventured out to see some of these painted havelis, the driver told me that not only havelis, Shekhavati is also home to various small fortresses, minor castles, mosques and step wells. He told me it is best to avoid the car and take a camel safari to enjoy the beauty of this land of well-preserved havelis. Now, it is your turn to venture into the land of havelis and be a part of the bygone royal era.
- How to reach – Jhunjhunu is the nearest railway station for Churi Ajitgarh. This railhead is connected to all the cities in India by trains.
- Sanganer Airport located in Jaipur is nearly 150km away from Shekhawati.
- The Organic Kitchen at Vivaana serves a variety of world cuisines and local flavours
- Vivaana derives its name from Lord Krishna and means the ‘first rays of the Sun’
- For Reservations at Vivaana: Visit: https://vivaana.com/ email at firstname.lastname@example.org or
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