Spot high networth havelis

Home to business dynasties draws tourists

By Sumi Sukanya
  • Published 7.08.15

New Delhi, Aug. 6: A desert town in Rajasthan is fast emerging as a tourism hotspot - not for palaces, forts or lakes but because it is home to some of India's leading business dynasties.

Over 3 lakh tourists, a quarter of them foreigners, visited Jhunjhunu last year, mainly to gaze at the frescoed havelis (mansions) of business families such as the Birlas, Modis, Piramals, Singhanias, Goenkas and the Poddars, the Union tourism ministry has said.

"Although most of the business families don't even visit their ancestral houses, they are generating interest among tourists who find them fascinating," Jhunjhunu MP Santosh Ahlawat told The Telegraph.

If the business association is the principal draw, the mansions themselves do not lack for allure.

"These ancestral homes - built between 100 and 300 years ago - with intricate mural paintings and frescos are unique even in Rajasthan and have seen a huge surge in tourists over the past three or four years," Ahlawat said.

Jhunjhunu, 170km from Jaipur, recorded 1.71 lakh tourist arrivals in 2012, over 2.4 lakh in 2013 and 3 lakh-odd last year, the ministry had said in Parliament in response to a question from Ahlawat.

The town, therefore, seems to be bucking the trend of Rajasthan's falling tourist footfalls over the past two years, a joint secretary in the tourism ministry said. While the state was the third most preferred tourist destination in India in 2013, it slipped to fifth last year.

Ahlawat had asked the Union tourism ministry for its plans for this "unique tourist destination", located in Rajasthan's northeastern Shekhawati region, known for its affluent merchants and architecture.

"The government should declare Jhunjhunu a multi-millionaire tourist city. This is probably the only place in the country that has come up on the tourism map primarily for being home to many high networth families," the MP said.

A senior official with the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation said: "Earlier, Jhunjhunu did not feature even among the state's top 20 tourist destinations. But given the increasing footfall, things could change soon."

The official added: "But we have to provide the right infrastructure support and tourism facilities."

He admitted that the town was not connected to a national highway and its train connectivity was limited too.

"We don't have very good hotels in the town yet. If we address these issues, this town has the potential to turn into a tourism hotbed," the official said. "We are examining proposals for measures to improve the tourist amenities."

Laxmi Kant, who runs the hotel Jamuna Resort in Jhunjhunu, said: "Most of the travellers who come here are interested in visiting the havelis, which are unique in architecture and design."

Kant said his hotel had hosted the crew of Salman Khan's Bajrangi Bhaijaan during filming in Mandawa, which falls in Jhunjhunu district.

Iqbaal Shamsi, a Jaipur-based tour operator, said the "novelty factor" could be one reason so many tourists were visiting Jhunjhunu.

"The forts and palaces in cities like Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer have their princely charm but the Shekhawati havelis, like those in Jhunjhunu, offer an earthy appeal mixed with royal patterns," he said. "Many who come to visit other cities in the state, therefore, want to see these ancestral homes."