In the Thar Desert in remote Rajasthan, lies Churu – a small town that’s not on any tourist map and at first glance holds little appeal. It’s hot and dusty, arid and crumbling down around itself. Old havelis – the former merchant homes that feature heavily as places to see in Rajasthan – are in ruins all around the city. Some are in better condition than others, with amazing murals and architecture that have principally been the reason that draws some visitors to the city. Yet, for those who are willing to go beyond first appearances, Churu is worthy of exploration. Here are some of the things to see and do in Churu:
Starting at sunrise, head out for a jeep ride into the desert. Driving through the countryside just 12 kilometres from the town itself, see where farmers and livestock herders battle the environment to sustain themselves and learn about local trees and plants used by rural people along the way. As you go, you are likely to see goats, deer and camels, as well as visit a local version of a step-well and see an innovative desert well that captures 40,000 litres of water. The landscape is beautiful in its dryness and there’s plenty of time to enjoy it from atop the sand dunes (don’t think Sahara) or when you are served breakfast of fresh juice, masala chai, chapattis and garlic pickle inside a large concrete well!
Having seen Churu’s countryside, it’s time to see some of its havelis with a heritage walk. The havelis – built by rich merchants or traders – are in varying states throughout the town. Some have families still living in them, while others have just a caretaker and others are almost in ruins. What’s striking though is how the painted murals they are famous for, both inside and out, are quite different from haveli-to-haveli. There’s one decorated with gods and goddesses, another with the Bollywood stars of the time, while one has images from the streets of Oxford, England and Rolls Royce cars. The havelis are both impressive and sad at the same time, as they highlight the fading glory of Churu’s wealthy families and history.
Next up, it’s time to jump into one of Churu’s brightly coloured rickshaws – we recommend taking the back seat to get a better view of the town as you whizz by – and head off to meet some of the town’s craftsmen and women who are making goods and artefacts unique to this part of India. You’ll see how the local resin bangles are molded, witness saris being screen-printed in the vibrant designs and colours favoured in Rajasthan and meet a family of sandalwood carvers that have won awards for their ornate wooden pieces.
Finally, with the end of the day approaching, you’ve probably worked up quite a sweat and a thirst. Cap off the day by heading out by vehicle for sundowners on a sand dune overlooking the Thar desert and reflect on the sights of Churu: you might still feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a place worth discovering.