Did you know?
You can wander into the abandoned mansions of billionaires in Shekhawati!
Restored splendidly to their former glory, many of the gorgeous havelis and family mansions have been turned into hotels and museums for public viewing. Today, a small window into the world of these painted mansions is being preserved.
What a terrific win for heritage!
25% of India’s most affluent were from Shekhawati – ‘the art gallery of Rajasthan’. With the largest concentration of frescoes in the world, Shekhawati, in the Thar region of Rajasthan, has special importance in the history of India. According to BBC, some of the biggest names in the world of business today – including the likes of steel baron Laxmi Mittal, Kumar Birla of Aditya Birla Group, pharmaceutical billionaire Ajay Piramal and Nepal’s only billionaire, Binod K Chaudhary – had their origins in the villages of Shekhawati, a historical region in northeast Rajasthan. In fact, according to Forbes, almost 25% of India’s 100 richest were from Shekhawati.
History lets us know that in the 18th and 19th centuries, Marwari merchants constructed these grand havelis in the Shekhawati region. Steeped in more money than they knew what to do with, the merchants got busy outdoing others in building more grand edifices – homes, temples, step wells that were richly decorated both inside and outside with painted murals. With paintings covering nearly every inch of the grand havelis, the towns and villages of Shekhawati are home to the world’s largest concentration of magnificent frescoes in a single region. The beautiful and fascinating havelis of Shekhawati have proved to be a major tourist appeal. Today, though, they are deserted havelis where billionaires once lived.
Most of the havelis were constructed between AD 1750 and 1930 by the Marwaris, but a long period of droughts forced many families to leave the wasteland for better opportunities. Painted in hues of indigo, yellow, green and maroon, most of the havelis are also classically adorned with exquisite paintings. Frescoes were initially introduced by Shekhawat Rajputs in their forts and palaces. The towns in Shekhawati are known for their painted havelis.
Also interesting: The Shekhawats and Songaras built forts in their thikanas. At every thikana in Shekhawati, there was a fort. More than 50 forts and palaces built by Songara Maharajas. Today, many of them are hotels. The Roop Niwas Kothi Palace, for instance, was a large country house put together scrupulously by Thakur Kunwar Jagmal Singh, Thakur of Nawalgarh. Popularly known as as Jagmal Sahib Ki Kothi in Nawalgarh, it sits on over 100 acres of land. The facade appears as a dignified ochre. With stables outfitting the back, the hotel today organises delightful horse safaris. The Marwaris from Marwar were an influential business community in Shekhawati, and they prospered until the beginning of the 19th century, due to the caravan routes that crossed the area to reach the ports of Gujarat. 1820 onward, however, many left their families behind and migrated to the other main trade centers Calcutta, Mumbai and Madras.
You know now that the forgotten Shekhawati region was once home to the ostentatious wealth of India’s billionaires. Today, many of the billionaires’ grand havelis (mansions) are crumbling – the fading frescoes marking the only vestiges of the area’s vanished glory. Drenching the dusty towns in colour, Shekhawati has commonly been referred to as the ‘art gallery of Rajasthan’.