In the middle of Rajasthan’s Thar Desert is a region called Shekhawati, and it is famous for one very strange reason: it is full of abandoned mansions.
Founded way back in the 1400s, Shekhawati only recently came into its own when the local government decided to reduce taxes to attract merchants to the area, and the savvy opium, cotton and spice sellers who got the memo used the tax breaks to build some truly sweet digs.
These mansions – called havelis – weren’t just dwellings: they were artwork-covered marvels. Every inch of every haveli was painted with magnificent frescoes, to demonstrate the wealth of their owners. Some of the more memorable statues include images of gramophones, Queen Elizabeth, and Hindu gods riding in the haveli-owner’s car. To this day, Shekhawati is home to the highest concentration of frescoes in the world.
So why were these celebrations of personal glory eventually abandoned? The same reason as usual: as ports, train lines and big cities like Bombay and Calcutta became the epicentres of business, the sweet life of inland Shekhawati became less and less feasible. Eventually, the owners of the havelis simply up and left.
These days, most of the havelis have fallen into disrepair, but authorities in the region will only allow the mansions to be sold to people who will maintain their heritage-protected appearance, which reduces the possibility of their salvation. Still, every now and again, an eccentric billionaire has the inclination – and the spare cash – to meet the authorities’ criteria, and restores the odd mansion to its former majesty.
Source: BBC Travel