The haveli trail by a bunk bed traveller

 A back packer by choice and bunk bed traveler, Aditya Sharma goes through Mandawa haveli, reliving the erstwhile royal life through the eyes of the young hotelier Shiv Arjun Singh.

Its a week to go before I leave for Jaipur, a city I have made umpteen trips to, but this time it’s with a mission: To explore and experience the life of a royal scion and enlighten people about the transformation of humongous havelis into present day heritage hotels. And I am all set to stay in one. It’s not something the Brahmans were blessed with. Also, it’s different from my recent travel experiences, which were, you guessed right, economized hiking trips to the hills, camping tours through cities or road trips with buddies.

My idea of royalty is very limited and may I say, clichéd. Royals have a sense of pride as they belong to a particular lineage of rulers; have a lot of history attached to them and a responsibility to preserve their heritage. That’s all I know. Bookish knowledge, restricted and second-hand.

This trip brings me face-to-face with a royal scion within the four wall of the Mandawa havelis. Four walls that enclose within them history and many untold tales. Now open to denizens to explore, love and hence relive the past. So let the haveli trail begin…

It’s my first official trip where, besides the fun, I am expected to generate some ink at the end. I am really excited. Even if the proposition of an early morning call time is keeping me awake all night.

Jaipur, painted in various shades of pink, hence pink city, has at its heart a dozen havelis in which erstwhile nobles once lived and arrived every festival time to pay obeisance to the Maharaja of Jaipur. Mandawa being one such noble family. And today I am, with my backpack, arriving on their portals.

A swift stop at Johari bazaar, a trip to craft atelier and presto we were at Mandawa Haveli. The route to the haveli was intriguing, with a buzzing street leading to it. A small door opened to a large courtyard that overlooked the beautifully constructed haveli. The patterns on the pillars and walls celebrated the Shekhawati School of art. Shekhavat,  one of the biggest open art galleries in the world is also home to Mandawa. Each palace, haveli, house and street in this sleepy region is painted most awe-inspiringly.

The living room is filled with colonial furniture, heirlooms and art. Family portraits grace the walls. Rifles on display hold great intrigue. A beautiful stained glass window with fine detailing causes dramatic colorful display of natural light.

Visiting my room next, I’m amazed at the exquisite charm and cozy comfort of the suite. The Jacuzzi is the icing on the cake. The furniture is new and the staff enlightens me that the haveli gets renovated every year. Antiques and other decorations are steeped in history whereas the design is very modern. The chill spot at the Haveli is the pool area. A bunch of foreigners are staying at the haveli. Many from European countries like UK, France, Belgium, etc. The chef’s signature dish is the Laal Maas and I ask quite a few around what they enjoyed eating here most and many mention laal maas and safed maas as their favorite. I have them at dinner and it’s a thumbs up from me too.

It was time to interview the royal member of the Mandawa lineage… Kunwar Shiv Arjun Singh.  I see him from a distance; tall, fair, with pierced ears, spectacles. He is on a call with a lit cigarette in hand. He has a strong presence and it is easy to figure that he is the royal.

He made us feel really comfortable and we sat down and began the interview.

He begins by informing,” The Mandawa Castle in Shekhavati, which is located on the outskirts of Jaipur, was built in 1755 and got converted in 1978. It was the first heritage hotel in India.” Interestingly he gives away a ‘fun fact’. The Mandawa haveli in Jaipur was originally used as a godown in earlier times but then his family shifted to this place and got it renovated. “ I was born in this haveli and recall quite a few memories from childhood.”

I ask him why they converted a home into a hotel. He replies, “The best way to maintain a haveli is to live there. Homes have to be lived in.” He further added by saying that they had to have a similar livelihood of the space to make the most out of it. They converted the Haveli to a heritage hotel in the year 1996. Work is done on a yearly basis and they have appointed a group of conservationists who constantly look after the renovation of the haveli.

We got into the history of the Shekhawats. The shekhawats follow the Panch Pana, which was a legacy in their clan in which the wealth would get equally divided among all the brothers. Original the Shekavats were five of them and so it was referred as Panch Pana. Angad Singh Ji, the ruler of Jhunjhunu and his ancestor came up with this idea that why should the eldest son get all the wealth? This is the only clan that follows this system.

Shiv Arjun informs that to date it’s his  father who takes the most interest in the design and every other detail of thehaveli. I was intrigued about the many tales of treasures I had read of in books and wanted to know about their stored treasures and I asked him if they had a secret room with all their antiques hidden! To this he replied that all the antiques were up for showcase in a museum inside the Mandawa Castle right from the letters written by his ancestors Tatiya Tope during 1857 mutiny when he was under house arrest for 11 years.

He also enlightened us about Talbelia, a music festival that happens every year from the 23rd -25th Dec at Mandawa Castle.  It’s a mix of folk, hip-hop, jazz and Indi music. And the royal family is very low key about it and have not commercialized it because they prefer to keep it more as a family festival.

Walking away from the haveli I instantly realize that Shiv Arjun, like every other young royal wears two mantles: That of a hard working hotelier who means business. And that of a royal who has a history to preserve.