Friday, August 20, 2010

Hello Shekawati

The roar of the air conditioner kicking suddenly into life wakes me up with a start. Reaching for my phone, I see that it's 4.59 am – which means I've managed to sleep in for 45 minutes longer than any other morning so far. I'm still clearly on Melbourne time.

Today I'm on my own on a room in the haveli decorated with incredible hand-painted murals over every inch of the wall; and a bed that's as hard as a board – which is just the way I like it – and that incredibly noisy air conditioner.

Mandawa is a small town in the Jhunjhunu area of Shekawati province, and it has about 20 000 people in it. The Shekawati district is in north-east Rajasthan (Rajasthan means 'the ruler's place'), and it used to be part of the Silk Road between the Middle East and China. Trade dried up though as the sea routes became more important, so the merchants started travelling to big Indian cities instead, like Mumbai and Kolkata. When they became very rich, they returned to the places of their birth and built glorious havelis, adorned with exquisite frescoes in the local style.

These days, many of the havelis have been turned into hotels and guesthouses in order to preserve them. Like just about everything else in India they're crumbling – I was sure the power point was going to explode when I plugged in the cable for my computer, and there's no hot water, and the electricity keeps blacking out, and don't get me started on the mold – but they're a beautiful relic of a bygone era.

Havelis are usually built in a style that's most easily described as Roman – a series of self-contained rooms, usually two stories, around a central open atrium. Balconies and nooks galore, they're ornate remnants of a past life, and they make a very atmospheric place to stay.

This morning I'm going to go out for a wander amongst the dead rats and scruffy dogs and small alleyways I glimpsed yesterday on the way in.

The monsoon has turned the streets into canals, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it's up to my knees in places - I really do have to wade through the town.

Because of this, all the shops are built up on little stilts to avoid the floodwaters - now I truly understand how Pakistan can be so completely underwater after their recent rains - and I intend to see what fine fabrics this town has to offer me.

Tomorrow, a long bus ride to Bikaner, where I will visit the famous Rat Temple. Oh yes I will.

1 comment:

Jennie said...

Don't say you're wading through knee-high water - now I'm imagining you coming down with typhoid thingy or dysentry or malaria or some other water/insect-based disease I know nothing about!