I think Nawalgarh is the embodiment of what people envision when they think of India. Bright, retina-searing colors, men in turbans, desert landscapes, camels trotting on the road, samosas fried before your eyes — you get the picture.
It’s a small city in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, 3.5 hours by bus from Jaipur. Since we had five whole days in Rajasthan, after two busy days in Jaipur, the more rural pace of Nawalgarh sounded inviting. Surprisingly, the bus was a piece of cake. No, it wasn’t luxurious and yes, my allergies flared up thanks to the swirling dust entering the bus, but people were friendly, they told us when our stop came, and the bus didn’t make any pit-stops. Much better than buses in SE Asia.
Nawalgarh is unlike anywhere we’ve ever been. Traveling here is like traveling back in time, even more so than Myanmar. The culture is splayed out onto the streets, whether it’s tailors working on the road, mothers dressed in glittering saris walking hand-in-hand with their children or strolling by an antique building only to realize it’s one of the many ornately painted havelis for which the city is famous.
And compared to other towns in the Shekhawati region, like Mandawa and Jhunjhunu, Nawalgarh apparently has the best accommodation options.
We stayed at Shekawati Guesthouse. On the surface, everything was great. Our mud cottage set in the family’s farm was charming, the bathroom was the cleanest we’ve ever seen in India, the wife cooked delicious organic meals, we managed to bargain the price down to a cool 1400 rupees including two meals, and we even had WiFi!
But our interaction with the wife was less than great.
On our first night, we told her a little about ourselves — how we were a couple, how I was from South India, how Eaman was from Iran, etc.
Wife, to Eaman: “So you’re Muslim then?”
In India, people have asked Eaman this question a lot, but it almost always has been followed by a proclamation about how humanity is all one, and we should never harp on differences.
Eaman: “Yeah, I’m Muslim.”
Wife: “So how are the Muslims in Iran? Are they as backward as they are here?”
She went on to insult the Nawalgarh Muslim community, telling us about how they don’t send their kids to school and how they don’t pray five times a day. She went on to tell Eaman that Islam is “hard.”
Wait, it gets better.
She then started on South Indians. She told me about how rude locals were to her when she traveled through Tamil Nadu and how none of them spoke (or wanted to speak) Hindi or English. (Heaven forbid!) I made sure to tell her how rude some people have been to us in the North.
She also told me about how it was just idli, dosa, vada — traditional South Indian dishes — in the South. She moaned about how all she wanted was a chapatthi (North Indian-style bread that’s actually found down South, too!) I take offense to that for a few reasons. First, you’re in the South so that’s what you’re going to get. Second, unless you were in the ghetto, you can find North Indian options everywhere.
I got a zinger the night before we left, too.
“I had a couple from Chennai and I had a girl from Hyderbad stay here, and they were very nice. And you are very nice. But usually, I don’t like South Indians. They’re not very nice.”
Yeah. Moving on. Don’t let the story fool you; Nawalgarh is definitely worth visiting. It’s such a real slice of Indian life that you can’t find in the usual tourist areas. Maybe just don’t stay at our guesthouse.
Haveli museum. The word ‘haveli’ actually comes from the Persian world. ‘Hava’ translates to weather, referring to an open, airy house that allows the elements to come through.
All made of marble, even her veil.
Passed by old havelis all over town.
Frieda Pinto must be getting desperate.
Unfinished statue, intimate areas concealed.