The tide rises… and the tide falls… The tides of time and fortune have played Surajgarh’s main hot spot… the fortified palace, like a demented violinist lost in his music. The once beloved royal abode of Raja Surajmal has a peripatetic history, changing hands many times since it was built in 1778. Eventually it was looted by bandits and abused by the winds of change and nature. At the time author Ilay Cooper’s Painted Cities of Shekhawati was released, Surajgarh Fort was in a state of total collapse. Only in 2001, when it came into the possession of Tikaraja Aishwaraya Katoch, the scion of the Kangra royal family and his wife Shailija (of the royals of Sailana), did the fortunes of the Surajgarh Fort begin to look up. In 2007, staying in the Shekhawati circuit was a tempting option.
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Surajgarh (45 km from Jhunjhunu town) and nearby Kajara has some of Shekhawati’s most interesting 18th century and 19th century Art Deco havelis. Originally Oreecha Surajgarh took its new name from Surajmal, the second Thakur of Bissau, who developed this small town and built the palace for his use in 1778.
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Surajgarh Fort, stretching over 4 hectares of land in what used to be the largest anaaj (grain) mandi in Shekhawati, has become the perfect getaway for family and friends, romantic couples… Once the fort gates are closed, it is a world with itself. with nice rooms, a nice pool to romp in and a huge terraced restaurant with a courtyard for entertaining.
For the restless at heart, there are plenty of activities to do… Visits to the local places of interest – painted havelis, ancient temples and sand-side baoris… picnics, bird watching, sunset views, camel cart rides and jeep tours and vintage cars. Meals include Indian, Continental and Traditional Rajasthani. They also arrange dishes inspired by Sailana, which is known for its culinary delights.
Near the main bus are looking for the Satyanarayan Templee. One of the good murals here is a panel depicting an army of bears in conflict with an army of monkeys – representing the war between Ravan and Lord Rama. Another panel depicts the ill-fated lovers Sasi-Pannu. Gaze up at the gilded temple kalas and watch the flight of the rare Alexandrine (Gagroni/Hiraman) parrots. Gopinathji Temple is home to the kuldevta of the Rajput Kachhwaha clan. At the Kayan-tempel the Krishna theme is a recurring theme – look at the blue mustachioed Krishna in ras lilac mode. Opposite Rani Mahal Wing at Fort Palace, Raghunathji Temple has panels of Lord Rama and Ravan at war. On the ceiling are an intricately intertwined nag and nagani, rendered seamlessly. The Khaitan-pastein a haveli-like setting (opposite Hanuman Temple), with panels of paintings clamoring to be preserved.
Of Jokhi Ram Kayan Haveli, Surajgarh’s most prominent and largest, has a huge chabutra and gilded paintings in every room. Look for the horse whose torso is populated by paintings of women – in another an elephant torso replicates the same theme. The Pokarmal Khaitan Haveli (1845) has moulting chhajjas with short vignettes of wall paintings still intact. The Lalchand Khaitan Haveli, near Gandhi Chowk (1843), has striking paintings, but with much wear. Narayan Das Kaya Haveli is notable for its lavish murals. The verandah features Krishna carousing with gopis. Walk along the road towards the railway station (Dalmia Road) in search of the Art Deco style of Dalmia Haveli.
The hometown of the Kajarias, the industrial family of ceramic fame, has four of their 19th century havelis, one of which is in a state of disrepair. A mixture of art deco and Indian style structures, the four identical havelis are located at the chowk. The haveli with marble steps (in better condition than the other three) has a painted elephant in the forecourt. There is a Colour-hued painting of Krishna on top of the entrance.
Khetri (45 km)
This 18th century town has dazzling remnants of gilded paintings in Bhopalgarh Fort. In the 1820s Bakhtawar Mahal look for panels with Raja Bakhtawar in court. Among the incomplete panels is one with line drawings of the city of Jaipur. The baradari or the Rani Mahal is decorated with gilded murals. Khetri’s Raghunathji Temple (Hari Singh Temple) has fine murals, but Gopal Mahal’s murals are in poor condition.
G be there
Nearest railway line to recommended base town of Mandawa: Churu (55 km / 1 hour)
Best option TO
Bikaner Intercity (oa: Delhi Sarai Rohilla 07.05 hours, Delhi Cantt 7.25 hours; arr: Churu 11.55 hours
Best option OF
Delhi Intercity (Departure: Churu 12:05 PM, arr: Delhi Cantt 4:53 AM, Delhi Sarai Rohilla 5:25 AM)
Take NH10 (Rohtak Road) to Bahadurgarh, state districts and district roads to Mandawa via Jhajjar, Charkhi Dadri, Loharu, Surajgarh and Jhunjhunu as the route via Rewari is congested
Stops along the way
Haryana Tourism’s Jungle Babbler in Dharuhera