The crumbling remains beckon…

The façade of Malji Ka Kamra. Photos: Malavika Bhattacharya  

The landscape of crumbling sandstone-coloured havelis typical of Rajasthan is abruptly punctuated by a palatial mint-green structure. Grand old buildings line the narrow streets of Churu’s old-town, and of these, the 110-year old Malji ka Kamra is a stately landmark.

Sitting on the edge of the desert in northern Rajasthan, Churu is a 400-year old town that was once defined by its magnificent architecture and love for showmanship, but now much of it lies in ruins.

Massive doorways painted blue and gold, and intricately layered with wood and iron lie locked. These lead into havelis from the early 19th century that were built by the merchant clans of Churu. Until 2006, Malji ka Kamra was among these mansions that lay in shambles. After careful restoration by the Balan-Kothari families, from 2006 to 2012, it is now a flamboyant hotel.

Malji ka Kamra was built in 1920 by Malji Kothari, a well-known merchant of the Kothari clan. Back in the day, when Churu still belonged to the state of Bikaner, the hotel was used as a rang mahal to host and entertain Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner, on his travels to the region.

Churu’s old town is a quiet, little-known place, that’s a far cry from the tourist-overrun cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur.

In an effort to maintain the rang mahal’s original look and feel, the hotel’s green and white façade is embellished with figurines of British soldiers standing alongside Indian men and women. Italian influences are evident in the architecture, with columns, arches and stucco design.

There are 15 rooms, each with traditional Rajasthani drapes, bedspreads and furniture. Some of the rooms still have original Shekhawati-style murals painted on the walls showing scenes of local life, the popular Maharaja Ganga Singh and the owner — Malji Kothari.

History buffs will love the ancient city’s Rajasthani-style frescoes. A walking tour with guide Lal Singh is the best way to explore these treasures. The twin havelis of the Surana brothers are among the best maintained in the town. Built in 1871, the painted façade has images of Maharaja Ganga Singh and portraits of the Suranas, while the rooftop offers a magnificent view of the old city’s chattris. Another interesting stop is Churu’s very own Hawa Mahal with 1,111 doors and windows.

After a day of walking around and taking in the old-world charms of this place, watch the sunset at the beautiful 120-year-old Sethani ka Johara — a water reservoir bordered with small chhatris, built during a time of famine to create jobs.

Retire back to the hotel and indulge in Rajasthani specialities which can be enjoyed sitting in the porch overlooking the expansive lawn or dine beneath the stars on the columned terrace that overlooks the rooftops of the neighbouring havelis. Five-hour drive from Delhi, Churu promises enough history, architecture, food and photo-ops for a weekend getaway.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 5:59:40 AM |

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