Murals in the desert

Posted by Alexandra in Art, Hidden Gems 04 Dec 2018

Long before murals were popular, they adorned the walls of large mansions in India.

Built by merchants from the mid-XIXe to the early XXe century, what became known as havelis were family homes, trading offices and signs of wealth. Their walls – both outdoor and indoor – were painted with scenes from the Hindu mythology (Krishna), daily life (hunting) and Western inventions (phone, car).

After WWII, with families moving to the cities, lots of havelis were abandoned resulting in them being in dire need of repair…

Thankfully, some of them have found new owners who have dedicated their time and money to bring them back to life. One of them is the Leprince Haveli, bearing the name of Nadine Leprince, a French woman who discovered and restored one at the end of the 1990’s. This is what it looked like in 2014 when I visited it and before it underwent further restoration (The Shekhawati project) and was turned into a hotel.

These havelis are organized along two courtyards, the first one from the entrance was where merchants would welcome guests and trading partners (women weren’t allowed there); the second one was private and dedicated to family life. Windows on the second floor allowed women to sneak peak into the public courtyard without being seen…

Havelis are scattered through various villages of the Shekhawati area – a solid 5h drive South-West from Delhi, sharing the road with goats and camels… The main ones I would recommend are: Fatepuhr where the Leprince Haveli is located, Nawalgahr where a local doctor restored what is now known as the Dr. Podar Haveli Museum and Mandawa where we stayed at the Mandawa Haveli, enjoying afternoon chai in the courtyard and evening thali on the rooftop!




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Alexandra Nicolas is a Paris expert and provides suggestions for places to stay, dine, visit and shop in the city of lights.

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