March 2017 Part 2
Following on from Part 1 in Udaipur …… CONSERVATION AND COW DUST!
After our marathon shopping event at the tailors in Udaipur (!) off we went on a drive of around 4 hours to Jawai via Ranakpur where there are historic Jain Temples. Out on the open roads we had a puncture, so after our driver quickly fixed it, he stopped in a roadside market to put more air in the tyres. Never to be one to miss an opportunity to photograph local life, I got chatting to a veggie seller who let me take his picture and pointed round the corner to “take a photo of my father” …. his father turned out to be a roadside cobbler, selling the popular ‘Rajasthani slippers’! Of course in return for letting me photograph them I had to buy a pair ….. by this time the driver had got used to carrying my purchases to the car, whilst John rolled his eyes …. “even in the middle of nowhere she’s shopping again …..”
We detoured slightly to visit Mountbatten Lodge, the home and hotel of Reggi Singh who has just four rooms in a delightful forest setting in a ravine in the cliffs. Lunch was served under the shade of a HUGE Banyan Tree surrounded by bird song. The food was delicious! Into the heart of rural Rajasthan we saw many fields with cattle operating ancient water pumps:
Onwards towards the mountains we passed all manor of Indian life on the roads and finally reached Jawai …. WOW! Our driver handed us over to a 4×4 jeep as saloon cars cannot drive across the rocky landscape to the camp. I’ve travelled to a lot of places in my time, but I have NEVER seen landscape like this. The scenery here is stunning … it feels prehistoric. Huge boulders, some balanced in very weird positions, tower over the desert scrub land and are surrounded in the distance by previously volcanic mountain ranges. Massive cactus euphorbias cling to the rocks and a buzz of insect life surrounds you, punctuated by the raucous calls of peacocks.
Originally called Jawai Leopard Camp, recently they have re-named as just ‘Jawai’. Rightly so, as the experience here is not just about the leopards (although of course they are the star attraction!), but more about the local Rabari herdsmen and the ancient cultures of rural life. The villages and fields surrounding Jawai are full of crops and farm lands, all managed and irrigated by hand.
Glad to be able to unpack at last after almost three days of travelling, we relaxed around the campfire and enjoyed an Indian Thali supper. At night, Jawai is lit by hundreds of oil lamps, a beautiful setting.
Next day, keen to pack lots in, we went on the early morning game drive (a leopard drive really!). Driving over massive mountains of rocks (literally, the jeeps cling to the rocks!) as the sun came up we arrived at the base of the Sujan hills where the trackers knew a family of leopards to be hanging around …. Nandini is a young female with two pretty much adult cubs, one female one male, yet to be named. Their father is ‘Nigel’ named after a previous guest although he did have an Indian name, Nigel seemed to stick!! As we sat watching the two cubs chasing each other up and down off the boulders, they disappeared for a few minutes to be followed by a sighting of what we thought was one of them appear at the top of a very spindly green tree …clinging to the leaves with body swaying out of control …as she fell to the ground the guide could see it was Nadini, the mother!
We left the leopards to play and drove to the top of a nearby hill for a coffee break before returning to Jawai for breakfast. Stunning views from the top of a rocky plateau near the leopard hills reveals Jawai Dam and the hills in the distance. As we had a coffee some mongooses appeared on the rocks hiding in the cracks from us.
After a quick pit stop back at camp we requested to visit a nearby village, I always love to meet the people wherever I go in the world and Jawai is very much about conservation of the local community as well as protecting the leopards and the people and wildlife live hand in hand here, very successfully. First stop was to see the traditional Rabari Herdsmen … each morning cattle and goats leave the villages and spend the day grazing, we were almost run down by a huge herd of goats spilling down the road on our way out!
Not far from the road we encountered some elders with HUGE bamboo sticks and their herds, they were bashing pods from trees to let the goats eat underneath! These wise old men had such interesting faces, I’m sure they could tell more than a few tales! Stunning facial patterns. Sadly, their way of life is fast dying out as their grand children have no wish to continue family traditions, preferring to move to the cities for education and modern careers. Shame, this is happening the world over, but these amazing pasturalists must be preserved while they are still here working the land.
Jawai does a wonderful job, totally sponsoring several nearby schools including a kitchen which makes sure the kids get at least one decent full meal a day, providing water and buying local produce from them. We were struck by how serious the students here took their studies, hardly even taking any notice of us while they poured over their books! Some of the younger children showed us that they knew their times tables and posed for a photo!
Whilst returning to camp one day we passed a very old man who was apparently a priest who had been away for a while as he had been very sick and just returned to his home that day. Next day with another guide he asked if he was OK and he said he was, but had no food, so the guide invited him to Jawai to get a decent meal. It was clear that in all the surrounding villages, the local people appreciated the work and support that money from tourists visiting Jawai contributes to their lives. We continued from the herdsmen into the village … leaving the car we immediately felt like the pied piper! As is often the case in rural villages around the world – children who hardly ever see white people are fascinated by us ….touching our skin and wanting high fives!
We entered several small houses enclosed by what looked like cow sheds with new born goats inside …of course, I had to go in and cuddle the babies! I was particularly taken with a black and white spotty one, but John said no …. I’ll just have to get my own goats when I get home!!
We visited the children in the school and I was amazed to see the concentration and hard work from such young children – they don’t have the internet, cell phones or even running water and yet they are happy and grateful to be learning and studying for exams. Everything is hand written (no computers here!). Such happy children were a delight. Round the corner we found a very small farm with a bolshy young male goat who wanted to challenge our guide! Apparently he was hand reared (the goat, not the guide ..) so like to mess with people!!
In the afternoon I asked if I could see ‘behind the scenes’ of Jawai. Having run safari camps in Africa I knew how much hard work and juggling goes on with a full camp of guests and a huge team of staff! I was astounded by the modern facilities in such a wild, rural location. Beautifully kept herb and veg gardens were surrounded by the rangers station, staff quarters, store rooms, massive laundry and a store just for the lanterns. At night Jawai is lit up by hundreds of lanterns and it takes three staff just to look after these lanterns!
That evening we headed out to see the leopards again … we had heard that ‘Nigel’ was around and spotted him high up on a huge boulder surveying his land below! After heading round the boulders to try and see the other leopards again, we diverted for a quick G&T then back after dark where Nigel had come down from the hills and was obviously pondering what was going to be on the take away menu that night!
Next morning we asked if we could do some bird-watching. Our guide first took us back to the spot where the leopards had been the night before and we found the male cub up on the top of a boulder, refusing to come down as Nigel was somewhere watching him! It’s about time for the young male to leave his mother so Nigel will be trying to get him to move on soon …. Heading over to the dam we saw a few flamingos then drove round the surrounding farmlands which was fascinating.
In the middle of the fields is an ancient rock hewn church with a very entertaining story. After a bush breakfast looking over the water where we could see some small crocodiles and water birds we headed back to Jawai for a rest.
Having previously done a ‘cow dust’ tour in Rajasthan (from Amanbagh) I asked if this would be possible from Jawai? We were sent out with their head ranger who loves the culture surrounding Jawai to took us to meet the huge herds of cattle as they walked their way back from the fields towards their village for the night. ‘Cow Dust’ is considered the most auspicious time (as the sun sets and cattle go home) and is usually the time for wedding ceremonies, special celebrations and the like… the rows of cows and buffalo wandered past us, kicking up dust in the setting sun, their Rabari herdsman followed behind ….. as they have done probably for hundreds of years …. it’s a very atmospheric and almost primeval experience, I loved it!
Eventually entering the village, we were amazed to see that the cows all knew their individual homes! Each house owns it’s own cattle and every morning they wander into the streets where they are picked up by the herdsmen, taken out for the day and in the evening they all put themselves to bed … amazing – just like children leaving home for the school bus!! Our guide drove us up an almost vertical rocky hill (I kid you not!) for this amazing view over the ‘cow dust’ village and beyond.
Back through the fields over to Jawai Dam again, we came to rest when the rocks would not let our vehicle go any further, where we enjoyed sundowners across the water before heading back to camp for our last night.
Read on in Part 3 as Jules heads north to Jaisalmer ……