Oh, these enchanting old towns of narrow lanes, historic tales and exquisite uniqueness, scattered all over my Incredible India!
Mandawa is one such a magical town in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.

Photo Credits: Interlude Journey
Photo Credits: PixelVoyages

Once upon a time it used to be very prominent as a trading outpost, the hub of trade and merchandise...but as the time machine rolled and as the economy moved to other regions, this wealthy town lost its commercial glory and its rich merchants started moving away to more prosperous cities.
What remains today are their gorgeous Havelis (bungalows) with its beautiful art decor!
Every house there is painted with the most exotic and intricate artwork, so that the entire town is known as An Open Art Gallery.
The town looks so picturesque that has in fact become a favorite shooting spot for numerous movies.

Having visited some of the larger towns in Rajasthan and having many friends in Calcutta who have roots in Shekawati, I was keen to visit this historic old town.
A seven-hour dusty drive from Delhi brought us to this quaint old town and right into its Fort- Castle, now a grand Heritage Hotel.

Photo Credits: Castlemandawa.com
Photo Credits: Booking.com

Men with large moustaches and vibrant turbans and folded hands welcomed us with "Khamma Gani" at the massive Fort Gate.
With utmost reverence and courtesy we were allowed to choose our preferred rooms.
Large rooms with high four-poster beds and massively high ceilings and huge stately washrooms. The furniture was all classic and beautiful. The room keys were a sight to behold! Old world charm, keyed in with old world keys, tied colorfully to beautiful bells!

Legend states that Thakur Nawal Singhji gifted Mandawa to his two grandsons Gyan Singhji and Padam Singhji and indeed even today the castle is divided into two parts.
The current custodians are their eleventh descendants.

Photo Credits: TheLuxeCafe
Photo Credits: Cleartrip.com

What sets this Fort-Castle-Heritage Hotel apart is the organic look and feel of the place. There are turrets, and steep stairways and rooms of different sizes, differently anointed.
Different areas of the castle seems to have been developed over time.
There are canons and there are arches and there are palanquin-roofed balconies and curved gates and courtyards within courtyards and terraces within terraces.
There are nooks and corners full of tales.
There is no forced superficiality here.
This is home.
And guests are not just welcome
They are revered here!

Photo Credits: Tripadvisor.in
Photo Credits: Royalvalleytourism.com

If the whole town is full of gorgeous Havelis with wonderful artwork, the castle is an artistic treasure trove in itself.
Ancient walls made of limestone, shell dust, varnished with coconut oil shimmer like marble.
Beautifully painted gates that separate one part of the caste from the other with frescoes of Gods and Godesses.
And then the exotic artwork at Diwankhana (the living room area), Sila khana (the coffee shop and bar) and the Dining Room.

You are fed with love, all the servers lavishing attention and ensuring that the fruit is freshly cut and the Parantha is fresh off the tawa.
Dinnertime is musical and the guests are serenaded by the palace musician Suresh Kumar stringing melodious folk tunes on an unique string instrument which he calls the Ravanhatha. These instruments are treasures, unique to this land. The Ravanhatha looks like a blend of ektaara and a violin, he strikes out a beat with the ghungroo tied to his feet, even as his Wife Nathhi Devi stands by, exquisite in her red ghunghat, holding out a Diya.

And then there are pigeons.
They come in flocks in the morning as the day breaks, singing their birdsong.
The massive three-tiered swimming pool is their watering hole.
It is a treat to sit on the Jhoola and watch their morning glory.

A guided tour of the castle takes us to the terrace.
And there it lay, this town and it's rooves the maze and the continuity of old homes...
So symbolic of Life.
There are links within links.
Some parts are beautiful and strong...
Some run down...
Yet all of it held together.

As Heritage should be!
Not always must it be stacked away in glass cases and museum like abodes.
Sometimes it is best when it is lived in, respected, cherished and organically grown.
Like The Marvellous Castle at Mandawa.
Lingering on as a magical yet real memory.

Photo Credits: Banner Left – Cleartrip.com; Banner Center – Booking.com; Banner Right - Conde Nast Traveler.com