Setting off at about 10am on Tuesday, following a breakfast chat with Ramesh Jangid, the owner of Apani Dhani, we headed for our next stop at a small town called Mahansar. The route we took meant quite a detour, but avoided the badly potholed roads which blighted much of the area. Only one of our guidebooks (Rough Guide to India) even mentioned the town, and the hotel manager in Jaipur hadn’t heard of it.
After a couple of hours driving we reached the town, about 5km south of Ramgarh. We were both a bit apprehensive as the town was even more desert-like than Nawalgarh. Tulsee (that’s the correct spelling, apparently) asked directions to our accomodation, the Narayan Niwas Castle. Heading down a series of rough, twisty roads we came to the entrance gate to the castle; a sharp left turn, probably to prevent any attacker from being able to built up any speed.
The castle was a warren of buildings, now divided into seperate dwellings for the nine families which live there. The owner of the castle is the local Thakur, a kind of feudal mayor, and the other families living in the castle are all his relatives such as his brother, the local prosecutor. The Thakur welcomed us personally, and we were then shown to our room, number 5.
I’m fortunate to be able to say that I’ve stayed in some very nice hotel rooms during my life but nothing has come close to the grandeur of the room at Narayan Niwas Castle in Mahansar. The room was very large, and had an upper galleried area all the way around. Every wall, pillar, archway and ceiling panel was beutifully handpainted in a similar way to the havelli we had seen at Nawalgarh. There was a huge double bed, with a fan above it for cooling. The room was almost at the top of the fort, only the smaller room 6 was higher, and the views from the large terrace area outside the room or from the windows were breathtaking, being able to see right over the town, down to the scrubby desert at the outskirts where camels could be seen pulling carts.
The bathroom was down a short corridor from the main room, and had a shower and a “western-style” toilet, but no heated water.
We took a few photos but I don’ t know when I’ll be able to get them uploaded. I would strongly recommend that ayone visiting the Shekawati area of Rajasthan books a visit to the castle (+91 1597564322).
After recovering from the shock of how fantastic our room was, we were invited down for lunch. Unlike our previous stops, there is no restaurant at the castle. Meals are usually taken in a dining room shared with the Thakur’s family. A cook prepares the meals which are comprehensive and filling, with at least 4 different dishes accompanying the rice at lunch and dinner.
The Thakur introduced us to his father, and lent us a couple of books about the painted havelis of Shekawati, including one by Ilay Cooper who had stayed at the castle while writing the book.
We watched the sunset from the terrace and then had dinner. As with most rural (and urban) parts of India, power cuts are commonplace and we suffered one during dinner, my pocket torch came in handy as the room plunged into darkness.
After power was restored we retired to our room to rest and enjoy our surroundings.