Havelis in The Shekhawati – Mandawa and Nawalgarh

Haveli#children#india#rajasthan

Haveli courtyard in Nawalgarh

Visiting Havelis in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan is like going to an area that is covered with extraordinary street art. Mandawa and Nawalgarh are simply towns that offer open-air art galleries and museums dripping in jaw dropping frescoes. Havelis are the beautifully carved homes of rich merchants, highly decorated by artists during the 19th century. Today, some are thankfully turned into hotels or museums, which has allowed them to be restored, a few used as banks, schools or government buildings but hundreds of others simply abandoned.

Mandawa was the first stop of a photography road trip around Rajasthan with the aim of discovering some lesser visited havelis as well as some better known ones. I came several times in the late 90’s for various magazines and photographed some of the Maharajas and their palaces but not the havelis.

Haveli#Mandawa#frescoes

Haveli in Mandawa

We set off early from Delhi hiring a car and driver from a company called Metropole. It took almost 6 hours to get there as the roads were poor and traffic heavy at times. The Shekhawati region is at the edge of the Thar Desert, so the surrounding landscape was semi arid, dotted with khejri trees, the odd herd of goats and a few irrigated fields of mustard.

Although the Hotel Mandawa Haveli was Trip Advisor’s first choice, I chose the smaller Chobda Haveli, which I highly recommend, not for it’s colourful frescoes but for a delightful quiet and charming place to stay. We walked all round Mandawa, some Haveli’s could be visited and others not. Beware! you will be asked for money the minute you enter a doorway. I don’t mind paying a few rupees to go inside a Haveli, although it’s a shame that more cannot be restored as what you do see is just gorgeous and the restored ones are stunning.

Haveli#doorway#mandawa

Haveli doorway in Mandawa

Haveli#door#frescoes#rajasthan

Entrance to a haveli in Shekhawati region

All Havelis are roughly set up the same way, as you walk into the first courtyard there is a large room where that the visitors would be received, the private quarters opposite with bedrooms upstairs. A usually beautifully carved ornate wooden door in the centre takes you to a second courtyard, which would lead to the female quarters with mashrabiya windows as the women of the upper classes practiced purdah. Depending on the period of the Haveli and the opulence of the owner the frescoes vary considerably. The early ones were influenced by the Mughal era with geometric designs, some offer religious figures and show Hindu mythology. , There are also elephants and camels and the latter ones even depict trains and cars referring to the British influence.

Haveli#Mandawa#rajasthan

Havelis in Mandawa

The second day we drove to Nawalgarh and spent the day there before returning to Mandawa. I think I liked it even more, there were even less tourists and the whole town was full of havelis. We visited several well known ones, one is a museum, but what I enjoyed the most was visiting the schools. Two of them were housed in beautiful if somewhat decaying old havelis.

Haveli@frescoes#woman#Nawalgarh

Woman in a haveli full of frescoes in Nawalgarh

In one of the schools, the children were sitting on the floor of what was once a courtyard but now covered over.   In the other, just the rooms of the haveli had been turned into classrooms where sadly little of the artwork remained except for the exterior of the building. We bought a huge bag of sweets to thank the children for their time although they were very willing models!

Haveli#schoolchildren#school#nawalgarh

classroom in a courtyard of an ancient haveli in Shekhawati,

Lets talk photography for a moment as whoever you are you will take pictures, lots of them, everyone does! There’s so much to take pictures of – the frescoes, the buildings, the people, the daily life, the local market, the cows wondering around, a real street photographers dream. To do a good job you really need everything from a very wide angle to as long a lens as you can carry. There are some magic moments that may require a long lens or the spell will be broken. I brought a Canon and a Fuji and I don’t regret it, particularly as the Fuji XT2 let me down badly in the heat and dust of India…

Nawalgarh#street of havelis#tuk tuk

Street scene in Nawalgarh, havelis everywhere

There are wonderful havelis all over Rajasthan but nowhere else really offers the atmosphere of the Shekhawati. It is a total immersion into an idea of what life must have been like in these small towns and the importance of art to the people of the region. As you walk through the towns at the beautiful sometimes crumbling but intricately carved buildings and look at the extraordinary frescoes, it is like a glimpse into the past that allows you to conjure up images of what life must have been like.

The best way to visit Rajasthan is to stay in a Haveli, which is not necessarily very expensive, and try and book a heritage room which is like sleeping in a museum. Rajasthan is full of palaces and havelis turned into hotels of all classes and to me, one of the reasons to go there. If they are privately owned in particular, the owner will be happy that you take an interest in his home.

elephant#fresco#haveli#mandawa

fresco of an elephant on a haveli

I loved the Shekhawati but we still have a lot to see and I am looking forward to our 3 day visit to Jaisalmer but first we are going to stop en route at Bikaner and visit the fort and it’s havelis. I would also recommend visiting Fatehpur which we only drove through, but having planned an ambitious itinerary there is no time.

 

Below are some useful links:

http://www.metrovista.co.in/index.htm

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotels-g1162333-c2-Mandawa_Jhunjhunu_District_Rajasthan-Hotels.html

 

 

 

 

CONSIDER TAKING A PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR TO CHAMPAGNE IN THE FALL

champagne harvesters group

Champagne harvesters celebrate the first day

Consider taking a Photography Tour to Champagne in September or October. It is the best time to visit. In September the grapes are ripe and ready for picking. You may be lucky enough to be there during the ‘vendanges’ when the grapes are picked by hand and the countryside is dotted with people in colourful clothes picking the grapes.

A Photography Tour in Champagne offers the possibility to take the best pictures in the most spectacular settings. You will taste champagne from small and big producers, photograph their cellars, and make beautiful landscape photographs.

champagne cave at Guy Charbaut

Champagne caves at Guy Charbaut

 

 

If you come during the grape picking, last year in early September and probably similarly this year, I will arrange for you to spend part of the day with the pickers, getting up close, offering some superb vivid portraits of the people, the vines and the grapes.

Champagne grape picking harvesters

Champagne grape picking camaraderie

Visiting the cellars at this time is sometimes difficult as everyone is busy with the harvest but the photographic opportunities are wonderful. I also arrange for us to have a delicious local champagne lunch with the harvesters. You will also be able to photograph the crushing and processing of the grapes.

Not to worry, if you miss this event.

champagne vineyards fall

Champagne vineyards in autumn

The countryside with its criss-cross patterns of the vineyards, cyclists and old stone villages make for stunning photographs. In October, the leaves turn from green to a kaleidoscope of oranges, yellows, rust and gold, and although the grapes have been harvested there are always some remaining, as the quotas in champagne are very strict.

 church in Mutigny in Champagne

The church at Mutigny in Champagne

In Fleury La Rivière there is a small champagne house that we can visit which has exceptional cellar full of fossils abounding with shells that are several tens of million of years old.

I took some pretty interesting and different photographs there and of course we will enjoy a glass of their champagne before leaving.

Cave aux coquillages Fleury la riviere champagne

La cave aux coquillages

There are a number of small picturesque villages, some along the banks of the Marne with its boats and pretty bridges. As all the Champagne area is hilly there are many vantage points allowing a variety of landscapes that are quite different one from the other.

The difference between a private Champagne Tour and a private Photography Champagne Tour is that you will see a greater diversity whilst receiving full photography tuition and will come home with a great set of pictures. I can organise anything from a day trip to a 5 day trip that will take you to all three champagne areas.

I will definitely be spending a part of September and October in the vineyards taking photographs, so join me!

champagne early morning kiss

Champagne early morning kiss

http://www.champagneeric-mallet.fr/ElementsRubrique.aspx?SITE=MALLE14&RUB=1&MP_SS_RUB=ELEM&MP_ELT=DIA&PAGE=1&Lang=FR

http://www.champagne-alain-mercier.fr/index-en.html

 

 

Taking a Photography Tour to Sri Lanka with me

photography tour to sri lanka

Anuradhapura

It is winter and time to start dreaming of the summer, where to go and what kind of a vacation to choose. Why not something different like a photography tour in Sri Lanka? Europe is a popular option for the summer but so crowded, and if you are interested in photography you will be confronted with loads of tourists trying to take the same happy snaps which will make it very difficult to take some original pictures without unwanted people in them.

Sri Lanka is a great option for several reasons. Firstly, it is a stunning island offering a diversity that is rare. It’s history and mixture of different religions and ethnicities mean that there are monuments and relics of extraordinary beauty and diversity. There are rolling hills covered in tea plantations, national parks and mountains covered with extraordinary fauna and wildlife. Whilst it rains in one part of Sri Lanka, the sun shines on the other.

Photography tour to sri lanka

Stupa at Polonnaruwa

For a photographer the scope is endless. I already wrote 3 blogs on my last trip there, last March. I meant to organise this workshop earlier but I never got round to it. For a keen landscape photographer you will be hard put to find so many different landscape and seascape possibilities in one small country. Those landscapes can be taken alone or peppered with local people, monks, fisherman, school children, tea pickers etc.   Dawn and dusk are stupendous, and the mountains in August make for misty scenes with leaves weighed down by rain, which can make for superb photographs in strong contrast to the rest of the country.

The Sri Lankan people are charming and friendly so those more interested in street photography and portraits will find it easy to capture the local population, after asking them first of course. What I found so interesting was that everywhere I went I found that the majority of tourists were from India and Sri Lanka, enchanted like us with all they saw and eager to be photographed.

Photography tour to sri lanka

Street in Galle.

I am working on the itinerary for the Photography Tour now. For comfort and ease of photography we will travel across the country by air-conditioned minivan with an experienced driver. We will visit the ancient sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla. We will visit the National Park of Minneriya to photograph the elephants. We will go to Kandy, then up in the hills to the tea plantations and visit Nuwara Eliya. From there we will take a fantastic train ride through the mountains to Ella before continuing our journey south by minivan to  Yala National Park and the beautiful picturesque town of Galle. From Galle we will make our way back to Colombo by train, allowing for more incredible photographs before terminating the tour in Colombo.

I will be giving photo instruction throughout and each participant will have a particular project to work on. The itinerary will be quite intense as the idea is for us to be in the right place at the right time for the light as often as possible, but I do realise that it is a holiday so it will be fun and there will be time to relax and unwind.  We will also stay in comfortable hotels.

For years due to the civil war that tore the country apart, tourists ceased to visit Sri Lanka, but now it is blossoming again and is still unspoilt enough to enjoy. Take a few days before or after the photography tour and lie on a deserted beach, take another safari or visit other places not on the agenda such as Jaffna in the north.   It is an enchanting island and a spectacular destination for the photographer.

Anyone who may be interested in this upcoming tour can contact me immediately on info@annasphototraveltours.com and I will be happy to discuss this with you.