It’s a bright morning, one that looks as if it’s been made for driving. We are on the road to Shekhawati from Jaipur, and the road ahead – about 113km of it – is mostly free of traffic. Our choice of car is the Toyota Innova Crysta; which means that we are ensconced in the driver’s seat, there is a nice diesel engine boom inside, and we know that we will be at our destination in very little time, in great comfort.
Shekhawati is known as Rajasthan’s open-air art gallery. It has earned that sobriquet because it is studded with a number of havelis (mansions) that feature rich and vibrant frescoes, some of which are over 200 years old. There is, of course, a story behind these frescoes and how they came to be.
The Shekhawati region fell along the famous Silk Road and its merchants grew wealthy as they traded in various commodities, including opium. The havelis they built were adorned with frescoes and paintings as a public display of their wealth and prestige, and depicted themes based on religion, hunting, mythology, and daily life. However, as Mumbai and Kolkata become prime centres of commerce and the Silk Road fell into disuse, the Marwari merchants that owned the havelis and commissioned the frescoes left Shekhawati and settled down in these (and other) cities across India. Over time, while some merchants did ensure that their mansions were well-maintained, other havelis were rented out, or simply fell apart with disuse.
The journey to Shekhawati is an opportunity for us to get reacquainted with the Crysta. The
second-generation Innova was launched three years ago and has been a massive success for Toyota, which is celebrating its 20th year in India. Some of the reasons for the Crysta’s popularity are tangible and apparent, like it was with the original Innova. (After all, the MPV has sold a total of 8.3 lakh units till date. The Innova has also topped the JD Power IQS Study in the MPV segment for 14 years in a row.)
The Crysta’s cabin just got a tasteful update: premium leather seats in ivory or hazel brown.
Space and comfort are among these reasons: both, the front seats and the captain’s chairs are
wide and built to handle long-distances. The attention to quality is top-notch, so if you are used to luxury, you won’t be disappointed with the Innova Crysta. Its cabin features glossy wood and leather, a responsive, feature-heavy infotainment system, LED ambient lighting on the ceiling and electronically-controlled dedicated air vents for the second and third row. (The Crysta’s cabin just got a tasteful update – premium leather seats in hazel brown or ivory – which ought to make the car more of a first-class experience than ever before.)
If you, like us, prefer the driver’s seat, you’d be happy to know that the two new diesel engines –
a 150hp, 2.4-litre motor with a 5-speed manual gearbox and a 174hp, 2.8-litre engine with a
6-speed automatic – are refined and extremely capable. Our car, which was equipped with the
latter engine, is especially quick and we had fun blasting across arid stretches on our way to Shekhawati.
The Toyota Innova Crysta is easy to manoeuvre around in the narrowest of lanes.
We entered the Shekhawati region around early afternoon, and drove around the narrow bylanes of Mandawa, gazing at the havelis. (Just so you know, the Crysta Innova, despite being a large car, is easy to manoeuvre around even in the narrowest of lanes.)
Murmuria Haveli, which is about 90 years old, has especially interesting paintings, including a frieze featuring Jawaharlal Nehru on horseback. Truth be told, the frescoes all around were far prettier than we had imagined they would be. According to the locals, the desert climate, combined with use of 100 percent natural pigments, ensured that many of them retained their vibrancy. Unfortunately, while Shekhawati has over 1,500 such havelis, many of them have fallen into disrepair; and both time and neglect have begun to affect the frescoes. Which is why it is heartening to hear of institutions and people who have taken it upon themselves to restore them to their former glory. In the 1990s, the M. R. Morarka-GDC Foundation restored several frescoes around Shekhawati for over 10 years. Arvind Parikh purchased a crumbling haveli and, after sprucing it up, hired talented painters from in and around Shekhawati to restore the frescoes in the haveli. This was converted into the Hotel Heritage Mandawa in 1994, of which Parikh is the owner.
Story of two legacies: The Innova Crysta at a haveli in Mandawa.
In a sense, it was apt that we travelled to Shekhawati in an Innova Crysta. The frescoes of Shekhawati are a rich legacy of a momentous time in the state’s past – and, come to think of it, the Innova Crysta is carrying forward its predecessor’s illustrious legacy too.