The crop of former merchants’ havelis (mansions) dotted around the dusty desert towns of Shekhawati in northern Rajasthan are unique in India for their superb murals, dating from the time before the arrival of the railways when the region lay on a major trade route. As well as featuring the usual Hindu themes and decorative motifs, much of the art depicts early British officials, military scenes and fangled new modes of transport dating from the early colonial era, such as hot-air balloons and trains. Outside money has helped restore some properties, but sadly the majority are, quite literally, crumbling into the dust.

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