Nawalgarh was the first Shekhawati town I visited. It was my first stop while driving from Pushkar to Bagad near Jhunjhunu. You can say this place was my introduction to the beautiful Shekhawati Havelis. I must say the Poddar Haveli in Nawalgarh is best conserved and best presented although the ones at Mandawa are more popular.
So, come with me to get a glimpse of this lovely little town that is home to many Indian Business Families.
History of Nawalgarh
There used to be a small village called Rohili on the banks of a pond. In 1737, Nawal Singh, the younger son of Shardul Singh – the founder of Jhunjhunu came here and built a fort. He built the walled city with four gates in four directions called Agoona, Bawadi, Mandi, and Nansa. The fort surrounded by this wall and secured by these iron gate doors was called Bala Kila and another fort called Fatehgarh was built outside these walls. The market of the town continues within these fort walls. The state was known for its well-bred horses and elephants.
Nawal Singh invited the business community to come and set up their businesses here. This is how the traders came and built those beautiful Havelis from the wealth they created.
Places to See in Nawalgarh
I was visiting to see the Shekhawati Havelis. So, as soon as I entered Nawalgarh, I wanted to see them. We drove through the narrow lanes of the market. I could see the gates and walls of the fort. I could see lovely facades of the buildings – some looked like temples while others looked like Havelis. Passing by the town, we reached the area that is full of painted Havelis. It is like entering an open-air art gallery.
This is the first Haveli I saw in the town. I entered through a very ornate wooden door, with profusely painted walls and niches and Jharokhas overhanging. I think the owners have made some recent efforts in restoring the Haveli. There is a small bookshop that sells a coffee table book on the Haveli. There are media reports on the Haveli for the visitors to see. I bought the ticket and asked the caretaker to guide me through the Haveli.
The guide showed me the various elements of the Haveli, in a way this was an introduction to a traditional Shekhawati Haveli. He showed me the courtyards in the middle, called Chowks. The size of the Haveli depends on how many Chowks it has. Small ones have one, while most have two and the rare big ones have some more. He showed me the Baithak where business meetings took place, the tiny kitchens, and the huge bedrooms on top.
Stories from Indian scriptures, especially those of Krishna are scattered all over. My eye really struggled to stay focused on one painting – every wall surrounding me was a riot of color. Tulsi in the middle of the courtyard gave an impression of Haveli still being inhabited. On the walls of the living area, I found the impression of Ahoi Mata that is worshipped by many Vaishya families during Navratri or on Ahoi Ashtmi.
From the top of the Haveli, I could see the place for horses with horses duly painted on the walls. Bang opposite this Haveli is a huge temple complex in typical Rajputana architecture but in pristine white color, quite a contrast to the colorful Havelis that surround it.
If there is one thing you can see in Nawalgarh or even the whole of Shekhawati, choose Dr. Ramnath Poddar Haveli Museum. Built-in 1902 CE, it is a huge Haveli, well preserved with paintings giving you the feel of its heydays. Moreover, there is a proper guided tour that helps you appreciate the Haveli and the well-curated museum. For a small ticket, you are taken around on a guided tour by Sunil Ji who is passionate about showcasing the Rajasthani culture.
This Haveli is best maintained, it’s 750 off paintings well preserved and documented. The caretaker is aware of all the stories and he happily explains them.
The upper rooms of the Haveli have been converted into a museum showcasing different cultural aspects of Rajasthan like:
- Bridal dresses of different communities of Rajasthan.
- Headgears of different communities.
- Models of famous forts of Rajasthan.
- Different miniature painting styles of Rajasthan.
- Handicrafts of the desert state.
- Musical Instruments of the state.
- Gems & Jewellery.
- Festivals of Rajasthan.
- Gandhi Room duly reminds you of the roots of these Havelis during the Indian Independence movement.
Sh. Ramnath Poddar was a prominent member of Congress and played his role in India’s independence movement. A room showcases the family photographs including one of them as part of the Indian parliament. An interesting display here is a black and white photograph Sh Anandi Lal Poddar merged with the photos of his four sons in a way that when you see them from different angles a different image appears. Why do we not see such creativity anymore?
Some of the painting series you should not miss at Poddar Haveli are:
- Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda.
- 10 Mahavidya painted in chambers around Baithak.
- Lakshmi on top of the Baithak door.
- Mahabharata Chaupar game painting.
- False windows that create symmetry, with people peeping through them as if they are wondering – who is this visitor in our home.
- Festival of Gangaur with all its details.
- A long stream engine driven rail along with a scene depicting the construction of the railway line.
- A portrait of British as well as Indian traders.
- Large portraits of the contemporary elite on the outer walls.
When you sit back and look at the paintings, you see the past, present, and future, all of them painted on the colorful walls of these Havelis.
The upper story of Poddar Haveli is Victorian. On the first floor, though you still see the same paintings on walls, the arches, and pillars in pale pistachio green create an example.
The Baithak of this Haveli is most beautiful with red mattresses and pillows and a red hand fan hanging on top. The painting on the two floors and Jharokhas on top tell how it is an isolated yet integrated part of the Haveli. The vault room is deep inside the Baithak, with multiple doors leading to it. It is as plain as it can be in contrast. The courtyard looks beautiful with a stunning recessed arch wood carved door. The tiny size of the kitchen is bound to make you curious, as does the absence of any cupboards to keep any stuff. Later I assume must have been taken care of by large boxes that were used to keep the stuff, but small kitchens are intriguing.
They have a small library which unfortunately they do not allow access to visitors.
You can spend hours admiring and reading the paintings of Poddar Haveli. You must keep at least an hour to understand a Haveli, its structure, ethos, and its paintings. A connoisseur can spend a day or maybe more here.
Video of Poddar Haveli
Have a glimpse of this heritage haveli captured during my visit and posted on my YouTube channel. You will like the well-preserved artworks and might well plan your next trip to this destination.
Other Havelis in Nawalgarh
As most Havelis were built around the same time and in the same area, you just have to walk around and see other Havelis. If it is open, you can step in and see. Sometimes, there is a caretaker who would show you the Haveli for a small tip. However, most Havelis are closed and you can only see crumbling paintings on their outer walls.
If you are curious enough, you will find some interesting paintings or features in each of these Havelis. In one Haveli I found a lot of Belgian glass used and in another construction of a railway bridge depicted. It however demands immense patience from you.
Almost all Havelis are in disuse. Neither the owners nor any tenants are living in them, at least not in this town. In Mandawa, Churu & Bagad, some of them have been converted into heritage hotels.
The temple complex opposite Morarka Haveli in pristine white has many big and small temples. When I visited it around lunchtime, the temples were obviously closed. I was disappointed and it must have reflected on my face. Someone called the Pujari Ji from a shop nearby and he opened one temple for me to see.
I saw an amazing Shivalinga with 11 Lingas on a single Yoni in stone. The temple walls also had paintings similar to the Havelis but not as many. I saw another Radha Krishna temple before saying thank you to the pujari Ji for opening the temple for me. He smiled and said – you have come from so far to see; can I not walk a few steps to show you. This simplicity is something you only find in India away from its urban centers.
Gopinath Ji Temple
Located bang in the middle of the bustling market, I walked to this temple through the Poddar gate. The temple was again closed, but I could walk around and admire the paintings in the temple. A beautiful Ram Darbar is carved on the ceiling of the lobby that you see as soon as you enter the temple after climbing a flight of stairs. I gather that this temple was built by Nawal Singh, the founder of the city himself, making it as old as the city. As the name suggests it is dedicated to Sri Krishna as the lord of the Gopis.
Other temples in the vicinity include Kalyan Ji temple and Ganesh Temple. I could only see them from outside. People in the market assumed I am only interested in the paintings and architecture & were surprised when they found I actually wanted to visit the deities.
Ramdev Ji Temple – Ramdev is a local folk deity in the Shekhawati region. His temples can be found in every town of this region.
Roop Niwas Kothi
It is an old palace surrounded by large gardens. It is now a heritage hotel run by the royal family. You can see a very colonial setting here with photographs of the royals on horses among other paraphernalia. As per their website, you can enjoy horse racing there. Nawalgarh after all was famous for horses.
Poddar College – College building stands out with the large clock tower in the middle standing out. This college and few other educational institutes in the town like Morarka school are, to me, the symbols of investment in education that these businessmen did. This was way before CSR was made popular or mandatory.
In the market, I saw many lacquer bangle shops, small potter’s shops, and leather shoe shops.
Overall, this place has all the elements of a town with old-world charm. I wish some of those opulent Havelis were inhabited so that they were living rather than being museums.
- It is 160 km from Jaipur, which is the closest airport.
- By road, it is well connected to most big towns in Rajasthan.
- Most people prefer to stay at Mandawa or Churu.