As the Shekhawati region is spread out over around 100 kilometers, it's a good idea to choose a base for yourself, keeping in mind that the roads from north to south are in much better condition than the roads from east to west. You'll most likely find that a few days in the region are enough, as to be honest, the painted havelis are similar and some people find that viewing one after another becomes monotonous. If you feel like relaxing though, Shekhawati is a peaceful region for some time out.
Nawalgargh and Mandawa are two recommended bases. Mandawa is arguably the best choice, as it's centrally located for exploring the region and is popular with travelers.
Nawalgarh: Nawalgarh is a vibrant town with a great blend of accommodation options (which are absent in smaller towns and villages) and painted havelis, which number in the hundreds. The finest frescoes can be found here. Some of the most attractive havelis are the Aath (eight) Haveli complex, Jodhraj Patodia Haveli, Bansidhar Bhagat Haveli, and Chokhani Haveli. Do check out the town's colorful bazaar and fort too. The Morarka Haveli Museum is a landmark and depicts the various motifs prevalent in the frescoes. The Dr Ramnath A Podar Haveli Museum, built in the 1920s on the eastern side of town, also has vibrant murals. If you want to get around the Shekhawati region on horseback, Nawalgargh is the place to start from.
Mandawa: The small market town of Mandawa has more of a rural Rajasthani village feel and dozens of decorated Shekhawati havelis. However, some of them are sadly dilapidated. The town is dominated by an imposing fort, turned into a hotel. For a panoramic view over the town, head up to the terrace of the Mandawa Castle. There are plenty of attractive accommodation options in Mandawa.
Other Shekhawati Places Worth Exploring
Jhunjhunu: The Old Capital and largest town in the region. Located in the north, it has a number of painted havelis, as well as an old palace and numerous temples. However, it lacks the charm of the smaller villages.
Fatehpur: Fatehpur, founded in the mid 15th century and taken over by Shekhawati Rajputs in the 18th century, has many painted havelis. Unfortunately, again, many haven't been well maintained. Do have a look at the frescoes on the walls of the Devra and Singhania Havelis, which combine Indian and Western styles. Surprisingly, the mirror work at the entrance has Japanese tiles with images of Mount Fuji. The Nadine le Prince Cultural Center is also a major point of interest. It's located in a haveli that was bought and restored by a French artist. There are various art galleries inside. The entry fee is 200 rupees.
Ramgargh: This was once one of Shekhawati's wealthiest towns. The temples are particularly interesting and provide variation from the havelis.
Mahansar: The lovely small town of Mahansar was settled by the prosperous Podder family who dealt in opium and chintz. The town flourished until one of the Podders lost his livelihood when ships carrying opium sunk. The two main attractions are the Mahansar Fort (there's a heritage hotel there where you can have lunch) and the Sone ki Dukan (Golden Shop) with its gold painted murals that tell the stories of Hindu mythology.
Dunlod: To the south of Mandawa, towards Nawalgarh, Dunlod has a small number of havelis with impressive murals as well as a fort at its center.
Mukundgarh: This town is a renowned craft center. In addition, you'll find one of the biggest havelis in the region there, as well as a fort.
If you base yourself in Mandawa, you can visit the surrounding towns in circuits. For example:
- Day One: Mandawa-Fatehpur-Ramgargh-Mahansar-Mandawa.
- Day Two: Mandawa-Mukundgarh-Dunlod-Nawalgarh-Mandawa.
See this Shekhawati region map for the location of towns in the region.