Day 4 & 5 - 23/24 Dec - Discovering Nawalgarh & Road trip from Nawalgarh to Narkanda via NH5!
Post breakfast the next morning Ritika and I headed off to explore the town (hamlet?) of Nawalgarh, Rajasthan. It being a lovely winter morning, we decided to walk the couple of kilometres in to town. About 10 minutes into the stroll we could smell Nawalgarh in the distance. The upside was that we didn't have to ask for directions. The downside was the stench was abhorrent enough to make one gag! Eventually, we got to the main street of Nawalgarh and discovered the reason for the stench - both sides of the narrow road had an open sewage line running along it. There were a few halwai shops, hardware stores and general stores, all adding their selfless contributions to the open 'nullahs'. Just in case that wasn't enough, there were a bunch of young dudes hanging around with their uber - cool 110cc bikes in their faux Wranglers (who the hell buys a fake wrangler jean? If you want to fake it, make it Armani!?!), chewing tobacco and helpfully doing their bit to add to the color and decor of the nullah. One of these dudes pushed up his shades and jumped off his bike on seeing us, 'You see haveli? I show only 200 rupees'. That made us look up and we realised that the open sewage line wasn't the main tourist attraction of Nawalgarh - the entire main street was lined with ancient 2 storied houses on either side. Most of them seemed deserted, while a few were either occupied or converted to newer and uglier houses. I suppose since they didn't need any long pipes or sewage tanks to be built, it must not have cost much! The guy seemed harmless enough, and we agreed.
I suspect he randomly chose an abandoned house, and considering it wasn't locked (the doors had fallen off), in we went. Nawalgarh is home to some of the country's largest business families, including the Birla, Poddar and Goenka family, amongst others. One look at the open sewer is enough to tell you why they left though. On a serious note, the town apparently fell on the crucial overland trade route from the NorthWest and beyond ( Persia, Turkey etc.), and was a key point for exchange of goods before they headed further inland, either towards Delhi or South towards Gujarat. The design of all houses here bears testimony to this. As you enter, there is a large waiting hall of sorts, where the clerks would examine what the visitor had to trade. If he deemed the item to be worthy of the Sethji's time, then the visitor would be ushered to a curtained enclosure on either side of this verandah, where the Seth (or his brothers, sons, nephews etc.) would himself meet the prospective seller, and strike up a bargain. The top of the walls of this outer room were lined with narrow galleries, and if there was something that the women of the house may be interested in, they would watch from these galleries, while themselves remaining unseen. We went up to the galleries, and other than it being a little cramped, the women seemed to have got the better bargain, at least this time around! As we went further inside, there was another, larger verandah, open to the skies. This space, about 40'x40′ was enclosed by a 2 storied structure on 3 sides, with a honeycomb of rooms. None of the rooms were over 300Sq.Ft. big, and were quite gloomy, given that only a few had windows, and those too were pretty small and high up near the ceiling. Evidently, looking out (or in) through the windows was not the criteria here. The ground floor had a small kitchen and an adjoining dry food store or pantry of sorts. The house we were in still had the 'chula' present along with a few old utensils, which was pretty cool. Didn't see any toilets or bathrooms, although I suspect they must've been somewhere. After all, the open sewer couldn't have been feeding itself. Our intrepid guide soon got bored of our company, and asked to be paid. We'd had enough too, so we paid him and wandered off into another of the abandoned houses. The layout was pretty much the same - I suppose it made sense given that pretty much everyone in Nawalgarh existed for the sole purpose of trade. We headed to check out the Bala Kila, or Nawalgarh Fort. The fort exists only in name, and a hideously ugly structure today houses SBI, HDFC, some sundry other banks and assorted sarkari offices. I don't know which approach is worse - the Maharashtra government penchant of letting their forts go to neglected ruin, or Nawalgarh approach of defacing the fort and turning it into offices!