the complete travel guide to the wonders of shekhawati

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Welcome to my blog’s very first ‘Travel Guide’. I have chosen to write it on the colourful historical world of Shekhawati in north-east Rajasthan, and tried my level best to keep it relevant from a traveller’s point of view.

It covers four suggested full day routes with Mandawa as a base and what to focus on in each of the towns derived from personal experience. Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region can be pretty overwhelming. It is not uncommon for travellers to be haveli-id out when faced with hundreds of painted havelis [Indian mansions], one after the other. In addition, many are crumbling to dust, being painted over, or turned into ‘heritage’ hotels. This post is a humble attempt to add value to a visit to this open-air art gallery which is a wonder in itself, a region unlike anything else, anywhere else.

Time required: 6 days. These include 1 day to explore Mandawa [the base], and 4 full day itineraries to discover the region at a relaxed, yet in-depth pace. Happy travels! 🙂

Note: This blog post has been written with valued inputs from Om Singh Shekhawat, my guide during my stay in the region.

Table of Contents
[This is a long blog post. If you would like to go straight to any particular section, please click on the links below.]

  1. Putting the Shekhawati Region into Context: History, Wealth, and Heritage
  2. Mandawa: Base Camp for Exploring Shekhawati
  3. Southern Route: Mandawa > Lohargal > Nawalgarh > Dundlod > Mukundgarh > Mandawa
  4. South-West Route: Mandawa > Fatehpur > Laxmangarh > Mandawa
  5. Northern Route: Mandawa > Ramgarh > Mahansar > Bissau > Churu > Mandawa
  6. North-East Route: Mandawa > Jhunjhunu > Alsisar > Malsisar > Mandawa

Continue reading

global travel shot: silk road opulence in bikaner

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Ever wondered what the homes of the Great Silk Road merchants looked like? Please look at the image above this paragraph. All the monumental edifices lining the pronged road belonged to one such family—the three Rampuria brothers—the wealthiest merchants in Bikaner.

A small princely state deep in the deserts of northern Rajasthan, Bikaner’s strategic location on the Great Silk Road promised, and delivered, immense wealth to its people through the taxes imposed on the wares that passed through it and access to markets for Indian commodities. Silk, spices, precious stones, metals, and opium made the people of Bikaner into billionaires of their era. Continue reading

pushkar: where the gods and seekers meet

Pushkar.

No Hindu pilgrimage is believed to be complete without a stop at Pushkar, Rajasthan’s rose garden. A polestar for the seeker within since ancient times, it is apt that the little town’s rose essences have been exported far and wide through the centuries.

Not that Pushkar’s spirituality washes over one like a massive tumultuous wave, creating an instant transformation. Nope. Nothing like that at all. It is instead subtle and gentle, with a consistent, tangible peace hanging around the 52 ghats and 500 or so temples which line its very soul—Pushkar Sarovar, Sarovar meaning ‘Lake’.

Yet, this devout peaceful haven, a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive from Jaipur, is inexorably tied to an eclectic mix of myths and traditions which range from a first wife’s wrath to being the seat of the Hindu god of creation. Continue reading

the epic solo rajasthan road trip: because travel heals pain

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[Updated on 30 November 2021]

My mother passed away on 19 July this year from old age. She was 84. It is now almost four months since she’s been gone, yet the pain is still raw. She went too fast. I knew she was going to go to the other side one day. One day. Just that one day was some distant occurrence which I naively believed was not going to happen in my lifetime. We all believe our parents will live forever.

If you are a follower of my blog, you would have noticed the change in the title. I have added ‘Toshi’ as my middle name. Toshi was my mother’s maiden pet name. By adding it to my online spaces it keeps her alive for me.

We were chalk and cheese. Fought and hugged. She was the most loving human being I had ever come across. And through all of life’s trials and tribulations, she was my constant best friend.

More than anyone else, she also knew my need to travel. To wander. To explore. She understood travel was my one source of inspiration, as well as escape. A source of pragmatic knowledge and elusive wisdom.

It is no surprise then that as I struggled, and still struggle, to cope with my loss, my sister, as if in serendipity, suggested I turn to travel. Continue reading

photo essay: in search of bundi’s prehistoric rock paintings

Destination, or the journey? In travel, it is often hard put to distinguish between the two.

When I went to Bundi in Rajasthan a fortnight ago, I had no clue that merely 30 kilometres south of the town were 101 sites of prehistoric rock art painted 15,000 years ago. They were discovered by a one Mr. Kukkiji in 1997, who was to take me to the sites himself. What I knew less of was the charms of the paintings’ backdrop—the caves lined tranquil wide rivers, on whose lush shores the Bhil, an Indian Adivasi tribal had made their homes. Continue reading

global travel shot: the prehistoric rock paintings of bundi

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The image above is that of an antelope in a forest, next to a trap waiting to catapult it to its death. Nope. This is not somewhere in the interiors of France or Spain, more commonly associated with prehistoric art, or even in Bhimbetka where India’s prized rock art collection lies.

It is instead on the insides of a cave lining a tributary of the river Chambal in Gararda, Rajasthan, 35 kilometres from Bundi, my base a fortnight ago.

Painted 15,000 years ago in mineral colours, very few people know of it. Just a handful come from the far corners of the world to marvel at its beauty, and timelessness.

And if it were not for a local sweetmeat-shop-owner-turned-archaeologist, we would not know of it either. He discovered the site in 1997 and has passionately been creating awareness of it ever since, unearthing 101 caves festooned with prehistoric art to-date. His name is Kukkiji. Continue reading