The abandoned mansions of billionaires

The abandoned mansions of billionaires

A former home of opulence

Forgotten in the barren landscapes of Rajasthan's Thar Desert, the Shekhawati region was once home to the unabashed opulence of India's billionaires. Today, many of the billionaires' grand havelis (mansions) are crumbling - the fading frescoes marking the only vestiges of the area's vanished glory.

Drenching the dusty towns in colour

With paintings covering nearly every inch of the grand havelis, the towns and villages of Shekhawati encompass the world's largest concentration of magnificent frescoes in a single region. To protect these once grand estates from crumbling further, two districts within Shekhawati have banned the sale of the havelis to anyone who could harm their heritage look. Their aim is to conserve and promote Shekhawati as a tourist destination.

The rise of merchant success

Founded by the eponymous Rajput chieftain Rao Shekha in the late 15th Century, Shekhawati prospered immensely at the turn of the 19th Century. The region reduced taxes to lure merchants and diverted all caravan trade from the nearby commercial centres of Jaipur and Bikaner. Merchants belonging to the Marwari and Bania community, a renowned ethnic trading group in India, moved into Shekhawati from the surrounding towns, and amassed great wealth through a flourishing trade in opium, cotton and spices. Modest merchant homes started giving way to grand mansions by the end of the 19th Century.

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