When you think of Rajasthan, rarely go beyond the well-travelled route of Jaipur-Jodhpur-Jaisalmer. Sure, you’ll travel to Udaipur to namecheck the city and perhaps if you’re intrepid enough, you travel further up north to Bikaner. Yet, very few major tourist itineraries mention Mandawa.
Just a three-hour drive from Jaipur, Mandawa is part of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan that also includes its neighbouring towns of Nawalgarh, Fatehpur, and Jhunjhunu.
The Shekhawati region gets its name from its founder Rao Shekhaji and whose old capital was this little-known town of Mandawa. While Jhunjhunu has become a lot more populated and more important in the region over the decades, Mandawa retains its old-world charm, sprinkled with small-town novelty. Narrow lanes crisscross this town dotted with majestic but abandoned havelis.
Even though it doesn’t attract foreign tourists in droves, Mandawa does have its share of people who visit it out of curiosity to see the fresco-painted havelis whose reputation is spread the world over. Every once in a while, a Bollywood crew descends upon the town, taking over every major hotel and shoots for fortnight to a month before packing up and leaving Mandawa to its own leisurely pace.
Mandawa was once an important town on the old Silk Route. Caravans from as far as China and the Middle East would pass by this town before reaching capitals of old kingdoms. In order to protect the region Thakur Nawal Singh build a castle in 1755 and the town of Mandawa, as it would happen back in the day, grew around this castle.
Most of the people who settled here were traders who commissioned the construction of expensive havelis. When the sea routes opened up, the old Silk Route was abandoned and as did the havelis whose owners migrated to cities such as Calcutta and Bombay, the new centres of trade in the modern world.
Castle Mandawa is the old fort that’s now a hotel. It remains one of the most expensive hotels in the region and for good reason. Behind the turreted towers and palanquin-roofed balconies are old-world rooms with modern comforts. Time flows at a different pace at Mandawa where a timekeeper strikes a huge brass gong every hour.
With 25 standard rooms, 31 deluxe rooms, 11 suites, and three royal suites, Castle Mandawa has all the modern amenities you may be used to even as it harks back to a simpler time. There’s a swimming pool and a jacuzzi, halls for conferences and weddings, a gym and a coffee shop, you get the picture.