Mandawa Magic!

Steve Gillick • April 5, 2017

Detail of a restored fresco in one of the Mandawa Havelis (photo by Steve Gillick)

Detail of a restored fresco in one of the Mandawa Havelis (photo by Steve Gillick)

Straying inside of India's Golden Triangle

India’s Golden Triangle, including the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, is usually a traveller’s first exposure to this fascinating and diverse country. But the rewards of getting off the beaten track can be great and the town of Mandawa, in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, is a prime example.

Shekhawati, literally ‘the garden of Shekha’, was named after a 15th century ruler who, through a series of conquests, founded the old capital of Amarsar. Today the entire Shekhwati region is known as an open air art gallery with Mandawa being one of the principle showcases.

The town lies about 230 km west of Delhi or 168 km north of Jaipur. The dusty main street is a photographer’s dream with camel-drawn carts and herds of goats blocking the honking cars while the facades of colourful shops grace the road sides.

We checked into the Castle Mandawa Hotel for a taste of luxury and old-world charm.  The entrance can be a bit intimidating as the large wooden door is armed with vicious, menacing spikes aimed at deterring unwanted visitors. Thankfully the spikes were at elephant height rather than people height, and so we had no problem passing by the friendly, costumed guard to enter the Castle compound. Built as a Fort in 1755 and converted 220 years later into a hotel, I was given a taste of luxury in the three-story Royal Suite with its marble staircases, wonderful views and a bathroom the size of a small condominium. For the record, the ‘standard’ rooms were also quite impressive.

One of the Mandawa Havelis (Mansions) decorated with frescoes (photo by Steve Gillick)

One of the Mandawa Havelis (Mansions) decorated with frescoes (photo by Steve Gillick)

While the hotel may be a destination all to itself, the dusty town of Mandawa is an eye-opener with a number of traditional havelis; mansions dating to the 18th century, with walls and ceilings adorned with frescoes.  And many of the paintings have retained the original colours of red, green, yellow, brown and blue as they depict Hindu deities, elephants, horses, notable persons, battles and even erotic scenes that have been subtly censored with daubs of paint.

Inside the courtyard of one of the frescoed Mandawa Havelis – still used as a residence (photo by Steve Gillick)

Inside the courtyard of one of the frescoed Mandawa Havelis – still used as a residence (photo by Steve Gillick)

Many of the havelis lie behind ancient doorways and can be found in once-elegant but now ramshackle courtyards where families reside. And while many of the frescoes are marked with signs, an early morning walk through town can be full of surprise encounters with frescoes that have suffered the ravages of time. Mandawa is a magical stop that will leave travellers spell-bound.

Steve Gillick loves to travel and loves to talk to people who love to talk about travel. He’s been at it since 1967 when he visited nine European destinations on a school trip. With 30 years of experience in the travel industry, Steve coaches travel professionals to enhance their destination, niche market and specialist skills through his consultancy, Talking Travel.

Steve is a travel writer with over 200 published articles in consumer and travel trade publications. As a popular industry speaker, he delivers Keynotes and Workshops that underline the importance of connecting and engaging with people and places. Steve has explored 82 countries to date.

steve@talkingtravel.ca • www.gillicksworld.ca