Le Prince Haveli: Splendour In India’s Shekhawati
Sometimes the lucky traveller comes across a totally unexpected pleasure that becomes a highlight of a trip and creates a memory to last a lifetime. This experience is the norm for guests at Le Prince Haveli, a spectacular private mansion that transports them from the streets of a dusty Indian town into a private world of beauty and artistry. Similar to the riads of Marrakech which have been turned into atmospheric guesthouses for visitors wanting a cultural experience along with bed and breakfast, Le Prince Haveli is a private residence―an absolutely enormous one― where guests are immersed in a fabulous setting of another era, this one two hundred years ago when the rich Marwari merchants of Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region sought to outdo each other by building ever more opulent homes to show off their wealth.
For a short period of three years, it was possible for foreigners to buy property in India. It was during this time, in 1998, that a French artist with a vision saw the potential of a decrepit building which had seen better days. Today, Nadine Le Prince’s vision is a reality and her eponymously named Le Prince Haveli is a magnificent example of this special style of art and architecture found only in this particular part of India. It is Nadine’s son Joël who now oversees the day-to-day operations of the haveli, which has a total of 18 guestrooms ranging from small quarters with shared bath to the superb Master’s room where two balustraded side-balconies add to a general ambience of Ind-ulgence. Meals may be enjoyed on the premises, prepared to make the most of the day’s fresh deliveries.
In addition to providing accommodation, Le Prince Haveli operates as a cultural centre and offers tours for the thimbleful of visitors who come to the town of Fatehpur just for the pleasure of visiting this landmark in Indian art and architecture. Enthusiastic young guides on internships from France offer explanations of the various aspects of the haveli complex on tours around the property, which also includes an art gallery showcasing Nadine’s paintings and Joël’s photography, a tribal art gallery displaying Indian handicrafts, and a sparkling swimming pool in a private courtyard adjacent to the main building.
A car is necessary for visiting the Shekhawati region; Fatehpur (not to be confused with the historical site of Fatehpur Sikri near Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh) is about three hours’ driving time north of Jaipur. A car and driver are easily arranged through the company Indian Vistas, which organises personalised itineraries for visitors to India seeking to experience the country in a less touristy, more cultural manner. Indian Vistas can build an itinerary to include Jaipur and the other fascinating destinations in Rajasthan such as Jodhpur, Udaipur, and the many less familiar cities such as Ajmer and Alwar that are bypassed by the typical tourist.