THE FADING FRESCO – OPEN ART GALLERY OF MANDAWA
When we think of Fresco, our mind straight goes to The Sistine Chapel ceiling of Italy or paintings like “The Creation of Adam,” “The Flight into Egypt.” Could also be the Fresco decorating the dome of the Cathedral of Parma in Italy – “The Assumption of the Virgin,” or the last Fresco created by Michelangelo, “The Crucifixion of St. Peter” in the Vatican city.
ADD ANOTHER TO THE LIST, an open gallery in the sleepy town of Mandawa, where even the walls tell stories. It seems that these frescoed Havelis represent the triumph of the artist over the owners of these Havelis. Almost every wall here is a three-dimensional canvas on which a lot of imagination has left its imprint.
MY EXPERIENCE WAS NOTHING SHORT OF A DREAM, exploring the maze-like lanes of Mandawa, which is a part of the Shekhawati region in the pale sandy land of Rajasthan. Everywhere I looked, I could actually see how these age-old painting lifted the whole atmosphere of the blanched and rustic city by decorating it, enveloping it with so much color and so many stories. These Havelis were mostly built between the 1800 and 1930 by thriving merchants who competed to build the grandest, most richly decorated mansions. They later moved on to greener pastures but kept devoting money to get their mansion frescoed, depicted the stories that the land has seen in the most artistic way possible.
The inclination of depicting these stories in this way was imported from the courts of Jaipur, where the Rajput princes were in turn inspired by the Mughal emperors’ fascination with the miniature-mural art form. Keeping alive the myths and legends from mythological stories and epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata to scenes of battles and hunts and of course the ever-present erotica. Nearly all of this has now been painted over; but perhaps the most amusing are copies of English lifestyle adapted by the arrival of the British, featuring hot-air balloons, airships, railways, and cars. Most of the artists had never seen these objects, but they faithfully extracted the essence as per the descriptions and prints supplied by their employers.
Out of some 30 “painted towns” in the region, the most essential to visit are Ramgarh, (the town with the most painted buildings) and Nawalgarh (second in number, but with a superior selection).
MUST STAY –
Hotel Castle Mandawa – In the centre of Mandawa is the 18th century Mandawa Fort, which is now a heritage hotel.
Mandawa Kothi – A boutique hotel in the village of Mandawa.
Malji Ka Kamra – It is family-run, personalized and authentic to take you back to the era of Marwari traders and live their stories. I have eaten the most amazing home-made Rajasthani food here and cannot wait to go back for more.
MUST TRY –
Monica Rooftop Restaurant for some scrumptious Indian and Indo-Chinese Food with chilled beer. It is a converted Haveli, with Fresco on the Façade.
MUST EXPERIENCE –
Go on a safari through the picturesque countryside of Rajasthan on pure bred “Marwari” Indian horses from The Mandawa Stud Farm. The experience will definitely take you back in time as you cross the desert terrain, through colorful villages of rural India where you may interact with the local villagers and tribal nomads.