A short distance from Nawalgarh, one of the largest painted towns of Shekawati in Rajasthan takes you to Dundlod, a picture postcard Rajasthani village famous for its Goenka havelis and chhatris.
In the 18th Century, East India Company had a strong establishment in Calcutta. The backbone of their trade was produce that came from hinterland. In those days, Calcutta was a major trading hub with huge caravans of camels, horses and bullocks loaded with prized merchandise making a beeline for its port. The transport and supply was generally taken care by middlemen.
The Indian middlemen were mostly Marwaris from Shekhawati who worked on commission basis. They were hardworking but shrewd businessmen and acquired substantial wealth over a period of time.
Among the earliest to establish such trading contacts with the British was Ramdutt Goenka of Dundlod. Along with his brother and sons, Ramdutta managed to acquire several profitable brokerships with early British farms such as Kinsel and Ghose, Kettlewell and Bullen. He also traded with the Greek farm Alexander Ralli which was one largest importers of Indian cotton, jute and hessians
Having acquired these agencies, the Goenkas expanded their business in jute and tea rapidly and part of the wealth they generated was invested in construction of havelis in their native Dundlod.
One of the key attractions of Dundlod is the chhatri of Ramdutt Goenka built in 1888. The dome of the chhatris has floral motifs with banners extending from the centre. The dome is encircled by frieze showing Krishna dancing with his gopis, interspersed with musicians and peacocks. Another major draw among the frescos is a man drawing water from a Shekhawati well.
Though most of the havelis built by the Goenkas are not at their glorious best, the Seth Arjun Das Goenka Haveli is an exception. The haveli is now converted into a small private museum. The haveli is of typical Shekhawati architecture consisting of a public area, a courtyard, a family area and bedrooms on the upper floor. The havelis has 20 rooms spread over two floors.
Built in 1870s by Arjun Das Goenka, the haveli has some of the finest frescos of Shekhawati. The dioramas in the interior of the haveli reveal aspects of life in those times, beginning with their reception room, cooled by huge pankhas (swinging cloth fans).
Dundlod is small and less crowded compared to other Shekawati heritage towns, such as Nawalgarh and Mandawa. But the wealth of its heritage is no less splendid. Besides havelis, the town also has a Darbargarh (palace) built in the 18th century by Keshari Singh, the erstwhile ruler of Dundlod thikana. The present scion and the owner of the palace which is converted into a heritage hotel conducts excellent customised horse safaris into the desert. The other attraction here is the Satyanarayan Temple located beside the Arjun Das Goenka Haveli. The temple has some breathtaking frescos of Shekawati tradition that are well preserved.
Author – Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at email@example.com