What a beautifully produced coffee table book, with sumptuous photos of India’s rich visual culture in one small area of Rajasthan. Shekhawati (meaning Garden of Shekha) comprises several areas bordered by desert and mountains, formerly a rich trading route in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It is the decrepit nature of the buildings and their frescoes that inspires and saddens in equal measure. The art is crumbling, there for all to see and admire, yet belonging to no-one and therefore no-one really takes responsibility for the upkeep; these wonderful frescoes continue to erode and crumble.
The paintings are a clear legacy of a once wealthy area populated with mansions and havelis. Traders had to pass through and taxes were levied to sustain these encampments. Now, although there are road and rail links, the purpose of these small towns has long since vanished and the locals are eking out a much poorer living.
The photographer and chronicler of A Fantastic State of Ruin captures the fading glory of many of these wall paintings and the people he encountered. The images are full of exquisite detail and colour. My only thought is the writing is quite light and tiny, and therefore sometimes hard to read with the glossy finish of the paper; there are innumerable blank pages throughout the book which seems just a little odd. But those issues notwithstanding, this is a terrific tome that will inspire you to visit this little known area of India.
You can also find out more about the conservation work going on through the Shekhawati Project and more in the Afterword.
This is a beautiful gift for someone who loves art and India. Just a stunning collation of photos.
For a full immersion into Rajasthan we suggest you also read novels set in the area and you can find several titles on the TripFiction database