Churu, Not Just a Quaint Town: By Gayatri Manchanda
Exactly a year ago today, I, along with four other women travellers descended into the dense Namdhapa jungle in Arunachal Pradesh, to trek and camp in the wilderness for a week. When Natasha asked me to contribute a travel article on her blog’s anniversary, I was in the middle of reading her ebook Travel Epiphanies that journals her travel memoirs and that brought back many travel-related memories. I thought of sharing memoir of my first solo travel to a quaint little town in Rajasthan, Churu with a group of strangers. The seed of friendship was sowed with some women co-travellers during that trip and we have undertaken many great journeys together since then, including the Namdhapa jungle trek.
We boarded the train from Delhi Cantt railway station in Delhi on a pleasant August morning. Travel time to Churu was approx. 4 hours 30 minutes, covering a distance of 267 km Ours was an eclectic group of 8 women, the youngest being 35 years old and oldest in her 60s. We all bonded over shared travel tales and discovered we had common friends. Yes! It is a small world or as they call it “The law of six degrees of separation!”
You may wonder, just like I did before the trip, what an obscure sleepy town with a population of a quarter over a lakh may have to offer to the discerning traveller. So, here is the secret.
Life was uncomplicated at Churu. People were warm, welcoming and friendly, untouched by the lure of commercialised travel pitfalls. Churu also gave us a glimpse of unexplored history, painted on its walls as we walked down the streets of the dusty town and interacted with locals.
Home to intricate Fresco painted havelis, some with a thousand little windows and doors, Churu is a quaint little town nestled in the heart of Shekhawat region in the North Western Rajasthan. A unique travel destination off the tourist grid that gives the feeling of vibrancy and tranquillity at the gateway of Thar desert.
We enjoyed the Royal Rajasthani hospitality with a comfortable stay in the intricate fresco painted rooms of Malji Ka Kamra, an erstwhile haveli, now converted into a Heritage Hotel. The food was delectable, like Kair Sangri or laal maas prepared by local Rajasthani chefs.
Day 1 was planned to explore areas in or around Churu like climbing up a sand dune in the wilderness and visiting a herbal farm. The evening was meant to revel in the astute Rajasthani folk music and dancing at the sprawling lawns of the hotel.
Churu was an important junction for traders in the 18th century as it fell on the caravan trade tour. It was inhabited by Marwari traders who built large fresco painted havelis but most of these traders moved on to set up businesses in larger cities. The main attractions were Surana haveli and Kothari Havelim now neglected and in the dilapidated condition.
On day 2, our guide, Lal Singh Shekhawat introduced us to the streets of Churu and we were intrigued by the world of open art galleries, of fresco painted interiors and exteriors of havelis depicting various aspects of the Indian and Western life of 18th Century. He enchanted us with the history of Shekhawat region and tales of a glorious past of now barren and deserted havelis.
The evening tea was set at Sethani ka Johra after a cart race. We watched the glorious sunset at a leisurely pace under the calm and peaceful surroundings of this water reservoir built by the widow of Local Bagla family to ease out water woes of surrounding villages during the famine of the year 1956.
Sipping our tea, we spotted a Nilgai ( Blue Cow) and watched many varieties of birds including dancing peacocks chirping in unison at the time of homecoming as the sun was setting. Later, I came across pictures on the internet of meteor showers at this very spot in Churu, posted by some lucky traveller.
We were scheduled to visit the famous Salaasar Dham temple and Tal Chappar Sanctuary, home to over 1600 endangered blackbucks and many migratory birds, the next day. Due to some unforeseen incident, this trip was cancelled.
With no intention to restrict ourselves to the hotel rooms, five of us took our guide along & rushed to the railway station, to board a British Era single gauge train to a nearby small town, Mahansar.
Once in Mahansar, we visited a century-old temple, visited an impressive Sone ki dukaan (Golden Haveli) with intricate paintings in gold depicting mythological stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana. An impromptu camel cart ride followed. I perched on the camelback and my friends on the cart.
We visited our guide’s home, a fort ( Surprise, surprise – he turned out to be a royal heir), we met his family, viewed the region from atop his fort and rushed back to the railway station to catch the last train back to Churu. The adrenaline rush of this impromptu trip gave us all became the talk of our subsequent meetings for years to come!
The night stay was in tents at a nearby desert that night. There was music, conversation and laughter as we relished the sumptuous food prepared on the spot by excellent chefs from Malji ka Kamra.
Next morning, I managed some silver shopping from a local silversmith before boarding the train back home with others.
I read somewhere, if you travel with your friends and still remain friends, you are most fortunate. The people I met as strangers at Churu became friends for life. Since then, we have taken road trips and car rallies together across Rajasthan, mountains and North East but to all of us, Churu trip would always be special, for more than one reason.
All photo credits: Gayatri
After two decades of working in hospitality and real estate managing inclusive roles, Gayatri decided to pursue the passions of her heart -writing and photography. An avid traveller and voracious reader, Gayatri loves to tell stories through prose, poetry and travelogues. Over the years, her work of fiction and poetry has been published on writing portals online, in the vernacular newspapers and recorded as radio stories.
This guest post has been written as part of my First Blogiversay celebrations that started on 1st December, 2017. The posts are on my three favourite genres; Fiction, Musings and Travel.
Check Varad’s Friday Fiction, Matter of Tooth. Esha’s Monday Musing, Our Life in Mauritius and Geraint’s Wanderlust Wednesday, Adventures at Kruger. Today the anniversary celebrations are spilling over with Gayatri’s heart-warming, travel post on Churu. Do come back tomorrow to read Nidhi’s Fiction post too.