The painted towns of Shekhawati-4: Laxmangarh

Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawati set me off on an extraordinary trip to an extraordinary place in January this year. I had to wait for nearly 6 months, though, before I felt ready to write about it — so overwhelming were my thoughts and emotions. This post on Laxmangarh is the fifth of 8 posts in the series on “The Painted Towns of Shekhawati”. If you haven’t read the introduction to Shekhawati’s history (and the series), I recommend that you do so now, before proceeding further. If you have already done so, then dive straight into the post. :)


When I arrived at Laxmangarh on that bitterly cold January morning, it had just stopped raining and the sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. Thankful that the rains would not play spoilsport, I headed straight for the Fort, which is built on a hillock overlooking the town.

Laxmangarh Fort dates back to the early 1800s when the town was founded by Laxman Singh, the Raja of Sikar, to take advantage of the rise in caravan trade at that time. He built the Fort and a walled fortification with nine gates to protect the town. Today, only the Fort remains.

Laxmangarh, Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Fresco, Art Gallery, Painting, Heritage, Travel, Rajasthan

The entrance to the Lakshmangarh Fort and the sign warning people not to enter it.

To my surprise, I found that the Fort was now private property having been bought by a trader in Delhi, who had, in turn, leased it to a telecommunications company to construct cell towers. There is a temple inside the Fort and visitors are allowed only till that point in the Fort. I tried to look inside the door leading up to the top of the Fort and almost got told off by the priest of the temple for daring to do so !

Disappointed with not being able to see a Fort the second time around in Shekhawati, I  set off to explore the town instead.

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The painted towns of Shekhawati-3: Mandawa

Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawati set me off on an extraordinary trip to an extraordinary place in January this year. I had to wait for nearly 6 months before I felt ready to write about it — so overwhelming were my thoughts and emotions. This post on Mandawa is the fourth of 8 posts in the series on “The Painted Towns of Shekhawati”. If you haven’t read the introduction to Shekhawati’s history (and the series), I recommend that you do so now, before proceeding further. If you have already done so, then get ready to visit Mandawa. :)


Prior to my Shekhawati trip, Mandawa popped up everywhere that I looked around on the Internet. Whether it was looking for hotels to stay or making a list of havelis to see, or probable itineraries, or traveller tips and suggestions, or even blog posts — Mandawa was the Shekhawati town that featured prominently.

But historical records say that Mandawa wasn’t always like this. It used to be a sleepy, nondescript little village till it came under the rule of Nawal Singh, who inherited it. Yes, the same Nawal Singh who founded Nawalgarh. He laid the foundation for a fort in Mandawa in 1756 and also extended invitations to traders to settle down there. His grandsons, Padam Singh and Gyan Singh, moved to Mandawa at the end of the 18th century and continued with the work that Nawal Singh had started.

The 19th century saw Mandawa growing in size, economy and importance. Some of the prominent trader families in Mandawa were the Dhandhanias, Harlalkas, Ladias, Chokhanis, Sonthalias, Sarafs and the Goenkas. Mandawa became so prosperous that in 1828, the joint forces of Amer (Jaipur) and Sikar besieged it. However, the combined forces of Mandawa and Nawalgarh managed to hold out and the threat was overcome.

When I arrived at Mandawa from Dundlod at around 3.30 in the afternoon, it was to the fort that I headed towards.

Mandawa, Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Fresco, Art Gallery, Painting, Heritage, Travel, Rajasthan

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The painted towns of Shekhawati-2: Dundlod

Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawati set me off on an extraordinary trip to an extraordinary place, and I had to wait for nearly six months before I felt ready to write about it — so overwhelming were my thoughts and emotions. This post on Dundlod is the third of eight posts in the series on “The Painted Towns of Shekhawati”. If you haven’t read this introduction to Shekhawati’s history (and the series), I recommend that you do so now, before proceeding further.


The gates to the Dundlod Fort are locked when I arrive at 2.30 in the afternoon from Nawalgarh.

“How can a Fort be locked at this time of the day?” I grumble, looking around for some information on the Fort timings. I don’t find any and instead start looking around for someone who can help me, but there is no one around and all the shops are shut — Dundlod appears to be practically deserted.

Dundlod, Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Fresco, Art Gallery, Painting, Heritage, Travel, Rajasthan, Goenka

I see a tea stall that is open and walk towards it. The tea stall owner guesses what I’m going to ask him and says: “The Fort is shut. They have gone horse riding.”

“Who are ‘they’?” I ask.

“The owners of the Fort and their foreign guests. You come after some time,” is the reply.

I decide to explore the town instead and as I’m wondering which direction to head towards, the tea stall owner points me towards a haveli (mansion) and says that the caretaker-cum-watchman will open it for me to see.

That’s how I end up at the Shubhnarayan Anandram Goenka Haveli. Continue reading

The painted towns of Shekhawati-1: Nawalgarh

Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawati set me off on an extraordinary trip to an extraordinary place, and I had to wait for nearly six months before I felt ready to write about it — so overwhelming were my thoughts and emotions. This post on Nawalgarh is the second of eight posts in the series on “The Painted Towns of Shekhawati”. If you haven’t read this introduction to Shekhawati’s history (and the series), I recommend that you do so now, before proceeding further.


Nawalgarh was my base for exploring the Shekhawati region and also the first of the towns I visited. Named after Nawal Singh, its founder, Nawalgarh was built in 1737 on the site of an earlier settlement.

Nawal Singh followed an active policy of encouraging traders and merchants from Jaipur to settle down in Nawalgarh. The Patodia and Murarka families were the first to arrive on his invitation and seeing them grow and prosper, other merchants soon followed. By the mid-1800s, Nawalgarh had become a large and prosperous town with three forts, city walls, bastions and four gates to protect it.

I arrived in Nawalgarh on a cold and rainy winter’s day in January, in time for a late lunch at my hotel before heading off to explore the town. It was a leisurely stroll through the town’s markets, lanes and bylanes with the purpose to get a feel of what had brought me to Nawalgarh (and for that matter the Shekhawati region) in the first place — the painted havelis or mansions.

Nawalgarh, Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Fresco, Art Gallery, Painting, Heritage, Travel, Rajasthan

Entrance to the Sheth Anandram Jaipuria Haveli. Unlike other havelis where the background colour is beige, the walls of this haveli are green

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The painted towns of Shekhawati: Past and present

Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawati set me off on an extraordinary trip to an extraordinary place, and I had to wait for nearly six months before I felt ready to write about it — so overwhelming were my thoughts and emotions.

Presenting the first of eight posts on the painted towns of Shekhawati. It is a brief account of the region’s history (an introduction to the series really), in order to understand the region’s past and present, in the context of the Shekhawati Series.


Shekhawati is one of the four regions of Rajasthan, the others being Mewar, Marwar and Hadoti). Spread over Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu districts of Rajasthan, it is best known for its grand and palatial havelis (mansions). It is also known for being home to many of India’s well-known business families — Birla, Poddar, Bajaj, Jhunjhunwala, Khaitan, Oswal, Piramal, Ruia, Singhania, and Goenka, among others are from this region.

One would think that this would automatically mean a lot of visibility and tourist footfall in the region, but this is not the case — compared to the other regions of Rajasthan, Shekhawati is less visible. Which, in my opinion, is really surprising as the history of the region is quite unique and distinct from the rest of the State (at least in the context of the series that I’m writing).

Take the famous painted havelis of Shekhawati, for example, and how they came to be built. Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Nawalgarh, Poddar Haveli, Continue reading

Reading India with #TSBC

About a year back, I stumbled across Ann Morgan’s fabulous blog, A Year of Reading the World. I was completely blown away by what she had written there and with good reason too !

In 2012, Ann Morgan had embarked on a year-long journey of the literary kind. She read a book from every independent country in the world, which meant that she read a total of 196 books that year. Ann then went on to write Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer, a book which talks about this literary journey of hers — the stories, the research, the people involved — and how it changed her thinking and her perception of the world.

Reading Ann’s literary journey first on her blog and then in her book, got me thinking about reading my immediate world that is, India. Reading India’s diversity and sub-cultures through her 29 States and 7 Union Territories. Reading India one book at a time would be a literary journey with a difference, a reading challenge with a difference.

I was so inspired and excited that I discussed this idea with my co-founders at The Sunday Book Club (TSBC). The result of that discussion was the introduction of this unique India-centred reading challenge on TSBC. And that’s how the hashtag #TSBCReadsIndia was born in February 2015.

So, how does #TSBCReadsIndia work? Continue reading