If you can look beyond the dust and the grime, you may find yourself surrounded by history, beauty and heritage in Churu, says Harnoor Channi-Tiwary.
Living in Delhi, there have always been plenty of options for weekend getaways. But the tried and tested destinations get boring after a point.
It is not often that one stumbles upon something new and unexplored, especially in a tourism-friendly state like Rajasthan. With its abundance of forts and palaces, the tourist map of Rajasthan is already too crowded. So it is no surprise that a tiny unpolished gem like the town of Churu fell off the radar almost a century ago.
I’m glad I discovered it to tell the tale of times gone by. Churu is about 280km from Delhi, enroute to Bikaner. A tiny dusty town, with no infrastructure for tourists, there are ample reasons for you to give it a miss in your travel plans. But for a lover of architecture like me or an avid photographer like my husband, this is nothing less than wonderland.
Unlike most of the state, Churu has no history of kings or palaces. It was the hub for prosperous Marwari merchants who traded in textile, spices and opium. These merchants travelled across the world and brought back stories of what they experienced,depicting them in paintings on walls across the town.
Each merchant’s home, called a haveli, was a sprawling mansion with 50-100 rooms. As time progressed, these merchants moved their business to Kolkata, New Delhi and Mumbai, leaving their ancestral properties behind in disrepair.
If you’re in Delhi, Churu is well-connected by trains and is the perfect weekend getaway without having to take leave from work. We took an early morning train on Saturday and were back late Sunday night.
Walking through Churu is like walking through a ghost town. There are more than 100 havelis within a short radius, each grander than the other. The paintings and frescos on these depict the lives of the owners and new concepts of that time like travelling in a train, driving a car, etc.
The frescos are vivid and bright, as if painted only recently, despite wasting away from decades. Walking through the lanes of the town, we could only imagine it in all its glory, when it would have been the bustling centre of commerce.
For a photographer or anyone keen on photography, the havelis of Churu are a visual delight. Wherever our eyes roamed, there was a sight perfect enough to be a postcard. The skyline, unlike the dull skyscrapers of cities, boasts of terraces, arches and domes.
For someone who appreciates antiques, even the doors of these havelis are something you can spend an entire day admiring. Grand in scale and in terms of the work on them, no two doors are alike or ordinary.
Our haveli walking tour took us to the grand Jain temple in the middle of town. In sharp contrast to the decrepit town, the Jain temple built and managed by the Kothari family is absolutely stunning. The opulence inside this temple strongly contradicts the simplicity of a typical Jain temple but is a true reflection of the wealthy citizens of the town.
The white marble exteriors led into an inner sanctorum which very well could have been a room in the Palace of Versailles. There are strong European influences in the designing of the temple and the effect is a sight to behold.
With only two days to see everything, there were so many little places that begged to be explored here. Our hotel arranged for our evening tea at the Sethani ka Johra, a water reservoir built 150 years ago by the widow of richest merchant in town of the Bagla family.
A perfect place to view the sunset, the sky changing hues over the horizon on one side and the moon rising over the water on the other, this was a sight to behold. It was the perfect spot to just sit, sip on a cup of tea and listen to the sound of silence.
We were pleasantly surprised to find out that Churu also happened to be on the threshold of the Thar Desert. A mere 30-minute drive took us into the heart of the desert with shifting sand dunes as far as the eye could see. We were able to arrange for a bonfire in the middle of the desert at night which was a surreal experience in itself.
Well connected by trains, Churu is less than five hours away from Delhi. A perfect weekend getaway, I would not recommend Churu to the unadventurous traveler.
If you can look beyond the dust and the grime, you may find yourself surrounded by history, beauty and heritage.
And if you listen hard enough, the silent lanes of this sleepy town may sing ballads and tell you legends of days gone by, of riches and fame, of love and tradition and of a part of India that till date, remains forgotten.