It was a lovely Churu morning, a sky so clear and blue that my first thought was of merging with it. I watched the eagles soar high, high, coming down, right above my head, I ducked and they flew away. Ah! The pleasure of being under the open sky and the day had a lot more to offer, as our guide Lal Singh and host Deepak Balan had informed us. Before going for a walk around Ramgarh, the sister town of Churu, we had a good breakfast of eggs, parathas, tea, and fruits at Spice Court, Malji ka Kamra.
Ramgarh is about 15 km from Churu and the clear stretch is a 15-minute drive. It’s an interesting landscape, stark, and desolate and a good time to travel is in the winter. Even now, in December, the days were hot, the nights cold.
Ramgarh, Lal Singh informs, has more than 45 chhatris and 300 havelis. Chhatris are place to commemorate those who have passed away. We reached the Poddar chhatri. Apparently the famous merchant Poddar family had a huge role to play in Ramgarh. We ducked our heads through the ancient haveli door and walked into the unkempt place. Pieces of wood and creepers greeted us. It had a Shiva temple on one side. We climbed up the narrow stone steps to find three chhatris on the roof. Names of those being remembered were lost in time. Painted on the roof inside were tales in red and blues, greens and yellows, faded but just needing a little cleaning to make them shine once again. Scenes from Ramayana, Krishna’s Ras Leela, Ravana’s Lanka, flowers and dancing people were the main motifs. And as I climbed down, I discovered that in the corridor on the ground were three Shiva temples. So, actually, the structure on the terrace had a Shiva temple on the ground. It was such am amazing experience to see the web of life so intricately bound there—Shiva the liberator on the ground, Krishna the social one on the roof and life in circle on the roof inside.
Lost in time, exploring another reality, I ventured to a spot from where I saw bandhej work being done in the street below. This is a traditional Rajasthani tie-n-dye work. Rows of reds and green were being dried.
Actually, as we walked in the streets of Ramgarh, one could see the influence of the British in the frescoes. Paintings of trains, cars, along with camels and elephants were aplenty.
Another interesting thing about Ramgarh is the abundant peepal and neem trees which is actually a surprise in the desert town. Havelis date back to the 1800s.
Through narrow streets, we went to the Shani temple where the highlight is the mirror work.
And then we ventured into Hotel Ramgarh Fresco, another restored haveli for the tourists.
Struck by the awesome history, we went back to Malji’s kamra. A little bit of rest, and were zooming in a SUV to a picnic lunch at Prem Sagar Johra.
A landscape so touching, low shrubs, a sky so vast, it really makes you want to be a bird to experience the vastness, the infinite space. Johras are ponds or places of harvesting rain water, an oasis in the desert.
Then it was a trip to see Churu’s treasured talented lot of people. The Jangids have been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records and have been in sandalwood crafts for last three generations. They have won many national awards. We saw the 70-year-old Chauth Singh Jangid working on a minute Mahavir with tools made by him. Hours of labour make these exquisite works a priceless treasure.
From there, we went to Mohammad Sharif’s shop in the town bazaar, Suhaag Craft Centre, to learn how lak bangles are made. I bought two pairs—blue and yellow, straight out of the smouldering coals. He has been in this craft for the last 60 years, the work was begun by his father. And in a day he manages to make around 150 bangles. Trading happens in town, but a lot is sent to Jaipur and other neighbouring towns.
Back through the winding streets, we had some tea and biscuits at Malji’s Kamra!
As the light changed from day to purple to night, it was time for some folk tales being sung. Bapuji is the local god worshipped there and tales of his greatness are woven on a piece of cloth, known as Bapuji ka Phad. The musical instruments were made with wood and the string of horse hair. A bonfire, folk dance and dinner, it was a warm ending to a chilly night.
How to reach Churu
It is about 277 km from Delhi and well connected by road and railway. From Delhi, it is about 5 hours by train and 6 hours by road. A great weekend getaway for history lovers.
Malji ka Kamra Address: Behind Jain Market, Churu 3310 001, Rajasthan, India
Telephone: +91 (0) 1562 254444
Lal Singh Shekhawat
The Castle, VRO Mahansar, Distt. Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, India
Mob: 919784015111, 9166977111
Pawan Kumar Jangid, C 25, Kalakar Kunj, Sector lst, Sainik Road, Churu, Rajasthan, India;
Ph: (01562) 250742
Review by Ambica Gulati