Shekhawati is a semiarid dreamscape of dazzling fields, fluttering fabrics and open-air picture galleries. A short skip from Jaipur, the region is crisscrossed by narrow near-country roads that lead to half-forgotten villages and wholly hidden havelis. Each stop on the hop-along highways offers secret treasures (some slowly sinking in the sand) lacquered in rich and varied hues.
Shekhawati was formerly a wealthy but lawless land on the trade route between the ports of the Arabian Sea and the fertile Ganges Valley. The Shekhawat thakurs (noblemen), who once were noted for their indulgence in quarrelling among themselves, began to flourish in the mid-18th-century British East India Company when merchants imposed some semblance of order. A century later the British used the skills of local merchants or Marwaris (they’d long since left Marwar, today’s Jodhpur) to improve trade. While the Marwaris settled in the new coastal cities, they built havelis for their families back home.
Until 1947 these mansions were symbols of their success and homes in which their families could live the good life; these days they remain one of Rajasthan’s better-kept secrets.