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A Walk to Mandawa

sunny 27 °C

It is 3pm and the midday heat is starting to fade to a pleasant warmth. We leave our sprawling up-market, (though sadly deserted), resort behind us and set off on foot along the tarmac road to Mandawa. Spindly trees and sparse bushes cling to a precarious life in the surrounding desert, and the afternoon breeze tears the sand from their roots and skips it across the road to form drifts that passing trucks and buses whip into choking clouds.A couple of slender young women in bright red sarees stand out in sharp contrast to the dusty landscape as they walk along with great bundles of firewood balanced on their heads. They quickly outpace us, seemingly unconscious of their hefty loads and harsh existence, and they chatter excitedly as they head home with fuel to cook the evening meal.
As we near the town a camel cart carries a family back from a day working in the desert; the man is as proud as his beast as he coaxes the loping animal along with encouraging whoops. His wife and children huddle behind him, apparently oblivious to the familiar dun landscape, until one child spots a couple of strange white people walking along the roadside. The child smiles and waves, but his mother, from an older and more conservative generation, quickly wraps her scarf across her face and pretends not to see us. We wonder if the open-faced cheeky little urchins of today will be part of a new and progressive society or whether India, like some other deeply religious countries in this region, will one day slip back into ultra-conservatism.
Small stores, little more than huts selling penny items, are replaced by larger, more modern, shops as we walk deeper into the town. But the past is all around us. This aging dhobi-wallah still uses an iron filled with burning charcoal to press the clothes…
And donkeys are still the beast of burden of choice in this town…
But we have come to Mandawa to visit the famed havelis. These two to three hundred-year-old mansions overshadow the hovels and meagre homes of more recent years. They were built by successful local merchants as testaments to their wealth – a wealth that was generally earned in more fertile and prosperous regions of India – and they are a reminder of a rich and colourful past. However, the numerous havelis of Mandawa have, in all respects, seen better days…
The neglect of these once fine buildings is criminal, yet, without an enormous injection of capital and enthusiasm, seems likely to continue. This haveli, the Shekhawati, is renowned for its wonderful gilt frescoes that are reputed to contain two kilograms of gold…

But, despite its cultural and historical significance, it is a total shambles. The main hall has been turned into a grubby gift store, and people inhabit the rest of the ramshackle building in squalid conditions...
This haveli, and the others of Mandawa, are rundown hovels in comparison to these wonderfully restored and beautifully maintained mansions that we visited in Jaisalmer…
As we walk the main street of Mandawa we are reminded of Luang Prabang in Laos, a remote and seemingly insignificant town on the banks of the Mekong, which has tarted itself up, put on a bit of make-up, and become a ‘must see.’ We hope that Mandawa will similarly flourish again one day.

Posted by Hawkson 01:53 Archived in India

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Spectacular frescoes but whoever installed the ceiling fan and that naked bulb was no artisan.
Glad to hear that you are exercising, albeit it appears, at a leisurely pace.

by R and B

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