Mandawa

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We’d only had about 5 hours of sleep when the alarm went off. Time to explore Rajasthan! We packed our bags and checked out before anyone else in the hotel (staff included) had woken up. Then we climbed into our waiting car.
We had a new driver, Raju was his name, and he seemed to be very nice. We slept on and off for most of the trip, but Raju kept turning around every hour or so to see if we were still okay.
When we pulled up to our hotel in Mandawa we were surprised at how beautiful the place was. Mandawa is just a tiny town. It has dusty streets, a small food market with rickety wooden stalls, and dilapidated looking homes built in a maze around the city. But when we pulled into the lot where we were staying, we were faced with a beautiful white building, painted intricately with Indian designs. The lobby was gorgeous. It had lovely seating areas scattered around, and an open courtyard through a doorway next to it. The place had a rooftop restaurant that looked out over the tiny town and towards the setting sun. If this was the budget tour, I can’t imagine what the mid-range and luxury people were experiencing!
We rested for a couple hours in the heat of the day, then had a local man walk us around the city and show us the sites. There really isn’t much to do in Mandawa. It’s very untouristy, there aren’t any major temples to explore, and the place is very small. But, it is a beautiful town to see if you want to get a feel for a real Rajasthani town. Mandawa used to be the major hub for the exporting of textiles and opium. Hard to imagine given its size, but it’s true.
The town was influenced by both traditional Indian art, and British business culture, leaving it uniquely beautiful. The town sports wall paintings that are over 150 years old. They are found on so many buildings as you wander around town. They depict stories and tableaus of Indian gods and animals, and also of British colonialism.
On many buildings, the paintings are faded or ruined from years of sun damage or structural collapse. But Mandawa still has many homes that have paintings inside as well. We were lucky enough to explore a few of them.
One building we went into was a home that must have belonged to a fairly wealthy family. Our guide said that it was probably home to a family of about 25 people (children, parents, grandparents etc). When you come ducking through the main door, you stumble into an open courtyard. Stairs lead off in three directions: left, right and straight ahead. We walked to the right and up into a little room.
“This is the business room” our guide said. This would be the room where the family would entertain its guests, or talk business with partners. It had a large square cushion on the floor where men would sit together, discussing the world and smoking opium. A small area in front was for dancing and entertaining, then a raised section in the back was for musicians to play. Right around the room, close to the ceiling were small wooden doors.
“That is the ladies section” he explained. The women were not allowed to join the men in business discussions. So instead they sat in the ladies quarters and could stick their heads through the little doors to watch the entertainment below. Prime viewing seats if you ask me!
The entire room was ornately decorated with carvings and paintings. Hardly a spot on the wall was bare. It was exquisite! I can just imagine how amazing it would be to sit in one of those smokey rooms, watching the dancers and listening to the musicians play over 150 years ago.
The rest of the home was slightly less ornate, but equally as unique. Brightly painted doors, a slave’s quarters, stalls for the livestock and a stunning rooftop with views across the city. This place was magical.
We continued our walk around the town, exploring homes here and admiring paintings there. At one point we went into a place called “The Golden Room” it was a beautifully crafted business room much like the others we had seen. This one however had paintings embossed with real gold detailing. The room sparkled in the light and was wonderful to see. It wasn’t a fully golden room, as we had sort of hoped from the name of it, but it was gorgeous nonetheless!
The paintings and old homes were absolute gems within an otherwise dusty old town. It gave spirit and culture to the area, and a look into what Mandawa used to be like.
My initial reaction of Delhi left me missing South Africa, but seeing Mandawa gave me a glimmer of hope that India is more than just chaos and bribes. I was glad we had stopped in this nothing town, and I was looking forward to exploring deeper into the rich history of India over the next two months.

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