Sunday, 20 January 2008

Camel Safari in Shekhawati

On camel back near Parsurampura, Shekhawati.

No trip to Rajasthan is complete without a camel safari. As my regular visitors might remember I have earlier gone on overnight safaris, including one out of Jaisalmer. However we thought that an overnight trip was a bit much for this group, so we settled for 3 hours in the semi-desert of Shekhawati. However, I made sure it was an area, which sees few tourists in order t make the experience as authentic as possible. The picture above is from my research trip, checking out the place before the arrival of our guests.

Everything was organised and put into place. It was my impression that the group enjoyed the trip, with reactions ranging from excited to glad-I-tried-it-but-not-doing-it-again.

Apart from our ordinary camels we also had a couple of camel carts, so it was possible to sit or lie in those for some of the way.

Temple on a hill top.

A nice unspoiled landscape.

We also went through a couple of local villages giving a good impression how Indian people actually live outside big cities like Delhi.

A shepherd woman in bright red clothes with her sheep.

We had lunch under the shade of a tree.

And enjoyed a couple of cold beers.

Camels had a bite to eat as well.

Thorny Diet.

Camel enjoying a roll in the sand.

Off again for the last bit after lunch.

Getting back down is tricky, but to my relief everyone did well and no one fell off.

Busy times at the water trough. It is a very dry area after all.

Someone needs a dentist...

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Rural Shekhawati - Lohargal and Parsurampura

Lohargal, Shekhawati, Rajasthan.

As I mentioned last time I arranged a trip to Shekhawati for a Danish group of managers. They were going to New Delhi to study globalisation and outsourcing, but we wanted them to see a different side of India as well. So we took them out into rural Shekhawati for a day. Here we went to the holy water tank at Lohargal, where pilgrims who cannot afford to go all the way to Varanasi come to wash away their sins. According to myth a might army came to bathe here after a glorious victory on the battle fields only to find that their weapons and armour dissolved in the water.

We arrived a little late so most bathers had already left, but there was still a small group of young girls enjoying the cooling water.

And once the local guys saw me taking pictures of the girls, they too wanted some attention so they started making all sorts of dramatic jumps like boy above.

Macaques near the water tank.

A very different type of monkey: A langur.

Nice little local well on the road leading to and from Lohargal.

A differently large well can be found nearby. A really nice stepwell.

From Lohargal we went to a place called Parsurampura, where I saw some old cenotaphs build in honour of a deceased ruler. A beautiful peacock strolling around in front of the cenotaphs lent itself nicely for a picture.

Inside the dome of the cenotaphs are what are believed to be the oldest paintings in Shekhawati. Unlike the more recent paintings I showed in my last post, these are so old that only a limited number of colours were available. The scene above shows the life of nobility.

Same painting, but different scene showing a major battle, as far as I can tell involving demons, giants and Gods.

Traffic jam Shekhawati style on the way forward.

Bed room in the small fort of Parsurampura.

And lastly a couple of nice birds. First a purple sunbird.

And a black-shouldered Kite.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Painted Havelis of Shekhawati

Painted haveli in Nawalgahr, Shekhawati.

Shekhawati is a very unique Indian region situated in Northern Rajasthan. The once very wealthy area is known for its many town and villages filled with beautiful painted house, called havelis. In the picture above is an example of a nicely restored haveli seen from one of it's innter courtyards. The whole ares is basically like one big open-air museum.

I went to Shekhawati because I had been hired as a local guide for a group of Danish business managers, which came to India in November. I went twice - first to do research for the trip and later with the group. I will show pictures from both trips together to keep things together thematically. Most of my time was spend in the lovely town of Nawalgahr, from where most of the pictures in this post come.

A big painted haveli seen from the outside. If you think it looks a bit introverted you are right. The havelis of Rajasthan have always been very closed towards the outside with big open courtyards inside. The women of a family were not supposed to be in contact with any males from outside the family, so they were kept in their own courtyard inside away from the gaze of strangers.

Normally havelis are very richly decorated inside, but much less so on the outside. But at least the havelis of Shekhawati are often painted both inside and outside.

Inside another courtyard. The courtyards are very airy, which helps keep the whole building cool in the sweltering summer. In fact "Haveli" probably comes from the Hindi word "Hava" meaning "air".

Most of the motives in Shekhawati are religious such as this one showing Krishna giving a massage to one of his wives or lady friends.

But there are also pictures showing more earthly scenes. Here a number of noblemen are playing a game which looks very much like the game Ludo, which I played as a child. According to a local guide, these men played for big amounts of money and in extreme cases they loose their havelis or wives in such games.

Shekhawati was a rich trading region which lay on the routes carrying garments from Afghanistan to Gujarat in southwestern India and spices back the other way. As the British arrived in India the businessmen of Shekhawati welcomed the law and order brought about by the new rulers. And their contact with the British is reflected in many of the youngest paintings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. A frequent fascination is the technology brought by the Europeans. Here is shown a train as the artist must have imagined it to look like: As small houses on wheels.

Also an automobile is shown... well as an air balloon with a curious design: The man to the right keeps the balloon suspended in air by blowing into it.

Even the favourite prophet of the arrived Europeans is shown in a few paintings.

Inside the Podor Haveli in Nawalgahr, which is now a museum. This is the restored meeting room of the haveli where men would host their business meetings while the women observed from the balconies. The grey cloth in the middle is a fan, which was hand operated by servants.

Courtyard in the same haveli.

Wooden carvings from a door.

Nawalgahr haveli by night. I spent a long time walking around in night looking for good motifs for night photos. But it was surprisingly hard since there are very few street lights. Shekhawati is still an under discovered place even though more and more tourists go there. But it still has a very rural feel. This is the only picture I was able to take, and only because of a store light on the opposite side of the street.

A big haveli in the smaller nearby town of Dundlod where I stayed with my Danish group.

Nearby door to a very small local haveli.