LAKSHMANGARH - SIKAR, RAJASTHAN
Lakshmangarh, often called a village, is a fairly large town today with a population running over 100,000. The town, as with most other rural towns in India, has seen fairly impressive development and urbanisation together with all associated problems that arise from a lack of proper infrastructure. Once clean and dry streets, where women would walk to the village well to fetch water, have now been replaced by rivers of open drains as tap water has extended to nearly every house. There are no high rises, and havelis with traditional architecture abound. Unfortunately, the new houses that are now being built are based around the very functional Indian style modern small town architecture (if you can call it architecture - basically couple of surrounding walls and a roof and often ugly exposed bricks on the sides not plastered or painted to keep costs low) which you can see all over North India. These are often painted with gaudy yellow and red distemper with no relationship to the surroundings.
Ugly though it might be, I am no one to criticize it for every house represents the aspirations of its owner to live a better life. The feudal times are long gone, and the havelis and their rich artistry whose artists were often victims of exploitation will never come back, and that is that. No regrets though, as we must remember that the people of Shekhawati are extremely aware and proud of their heritage and as prosperity returns to India, these things will change too. The glory of the past will be restored, and this is a passing phase - albeit a long one.
Nonetheless, Lakshmangarh is a charming place where you can still see the grandeur of times long past, and I produce below some pictures of Lakshmangarh, and also some of what the Lonely Planet guide has to say about my village.
The most imposing building in this town, which lies only 20 km south of Fatehpur, is its small fortress, which looms over the well laid out township on its west side. The fort was built by Lakshman Singh, the Raja of Sikar, in the early 19th century after the prosperous town was besieged by Kan Singh Saledhi.
Back view of the Lakshmangarh fort
More pictures of the garh - 1, 2, 3
The fort is private property - owned by some businessmen of local origin - and is closed to the public. You can however climb up the ramp to a temple which is open to the public, and the view from the ramp can be quite fascinating too. Of course, seeing the town from this height tempts you to go further higher, but a guard effectively keeps the public out.
Here are three aerial views of the sprawling township taken from the fort's ramp:
I have had the pleasure in my childhood to have visited the fort on the inside, and I must say it is brilliant. There are narrow staircases, tunnels, and the works that you see in films.
Here is a view of a well with chatris (literally umbrellas):
So you can see what treasures lie in a state of neglect in Lakshmangarh - if it were Europe or the US, they would have renovated it, put lights around it, and charged you a fee to see these. Anyway, I am sure these times will come to India too, though it may not happen in my lifetime. It is all about money - and rising prosperity will one day change all this.
One disturbing feature is the disfiguration of tremendous works of art by painted advertisements - and this is a disease that afflicts even the beautiful paintings on neglected havelis. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to stop this. If you can't understand what I am saying, this is what I mean:
Side view of the chattris - with Super-104 hybrid bajra seeds destroying our heritage!
Unlike some of the other towns of Shekhawati, it is very easy to find your way around Lakshmangarh, as it is laid out on a grid pattern, with a main north-south oriented bazaar dissected at intervals by three busy squares, or chaupars. The villagers here are unfamiliar with tourist hordes.
Things to See
About 50m north of the bus stand through the busy bazaar, a wide cobblestone path wends its way up the east side of the fort. There's a sign advising that the fort is private property, but there's a good view from the top of the ramp before the main entrance. From here you can see the layout of the double Char Chowk Haveli, below and to the north-east. Head for this haveli when you descend the ramp.
Beneath the cave on the northern external wall of the Char Chowk Haveli is a picture of a bird standing on an elephant with another elephant in its beak. The large paintings on the facade of the northern face have mostly faded, and the paintings in the outer downstairs courtyard are covered by blue wash. The paintings in the inner courtyard are fairly well preserved. The wails and ceiling of a small upstairs room on the east side of the northern haveli are completely covered with paintings. It has some explicit erotic images, but is very badly illuminated, so although they're well preserved you'll need a flashlight to examine them properly.
(Related link about Shekhawati's painted havelis)
In the same building, a room in the northwest corner retains floral swirls and motifs on the ceiling with scenes from the Krishna legends interspersed with inlaid mirrors. The black and white rectangular designs on the lower walls create a marbled effect. No' one now lives in the haveli, but there may be someone around who will open it for you'(for a small fee). The front facade is in very poor condition at the lower levels, with the plaster crumbling and the bricks exposed. The southern haveli is still inhabited.
About 50m east of this haveli is the large Radhi Murlimanohar Temple, which dates from 1845. It retains a few paintings beneath the eaves and some sculptures of deities around the extemal walls. To the south of this temple is the busy bazaar, flanked by a series of uniform shops whose overhanging balconies have three scalloped open arches flanked by two blank arches with lattice friezes. The shops were constructed in the mid-l9th century by a branch of the Poddar family known as Ganeriwala, who hailed from the village of Ganeri.
If you turn left at the first intersection south of the temple, on the corner of the first laneway on the left is the Chetram Sanganeeria Haveli. The lower paintings on the west wall are badly damaged: the plaster has peeled away and concrete rendering has been applied. Paintings on this wall include a woman in a swing suspended from a tree; a woman spinning; a man dancing on a pole balancing knives; people enjoying a ride on a Ferris wheel; a man ploughing fields with oxen; and men sawing timber.
On the north-east corner of the clock tower square, which is about 100m south of the temple via the busy bazaar, is the Rathi Family Haveli. On the west wall, a European woman in a smart red frock sews on a treadle machine. The European influence is very much in evidence here, with painted roses and a Grecian column effect. On the south side of this haveli are ostentatious flourishes and the British crown flanked by unicorns. On the east side is depicted a railway station (a painted sign reads 'A Railway Station', in case you weren't sure!), and some blue eyed British soldiers. There is a busy set of chai (tea) stalls on the west side of the haveli, and this is a good place to sit and admire these extraordinarily over-the-top paintings.
Behind this haveli, a short distance to the east, is the Shyonarayan Kyal Haveli, which dates from around 1900. Under the eaves on the east wall, a man and woman engage in an intimate tryst while a maidservant stands by with a glass of wine at the ready. Other pictures include those of a woman admiring herself in a mirror and Europeans being drawn by horses with a tiny coachman at the reins.
Getting There & Away
There are many jeeps and buses between Lakshmangarh and both Sikar and
(Both 30 minutes, Rs 5).
A bicycle shop just to the south of the Radhi Murlimanohar Temple hires bikes for Rs 4 per hour.