Northwest of Jaipur, the land becomes increasingly arid and inhospitable, with farms and fields gradually giving way to wind-blown expanses of undulating semidesert dotted with endless khejri trees and isolated houses enclosed in stockades of thorn. Although now something of a backwater, this region, known as Shekhawati, once lay on an important caravan route connecting Delhi and Sind (now in Pakistan) with the Gujarati coast, before the rise of Bombay and Calcutta diverted the trans-Thar trade south and eastwards. Having grown rich on trade and taxes, Shekhawati’s Marwari merchants and landowning thakurs spent their fortunes competing with one another to build the grand, ostentatiously decorated havelis that still line the streets of the region’s dusty little towns – an incredible concentration of mansions, palaces and cenotaphs plastered inside and out with elaborate and colourful murals. Considering the wealth of traditional art here, and the region’s proximity to Jaipur, however, most of Shekhawati still feels surprisingly far off the tourist trail.
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