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Thelma & Louise go to Rajasthan


Sangeeta
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I wasn't sure whether or how to write this TR since it did not begin as a wildlife trip at all. It really began as a trip for my mother who recently celebrated a milestone birthday. After many fruitless hours wondering what I should get her for this big birthday, I finally decided to ask her, and she surprised me by saying, "your time". Like so many people, I live thousands of miles and many oceans away from my mom. And though I try and visit as often as I can, we rarely get to spend a lot of one-on-one time together, mainly because these family holidays by their very nature include other family members as well. And so, after my phone call with her, I resolved that we would go off on a holiday together, just the two of us and a little slice of time that we could always call our very own...

 

 

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My mom is a lover of history and she loves to travel, but she has never really been an animal person, let alone a wildlife person. Strangely enough, she does watch nature documentaries with a great deal of interest and has always asked me very probing questions about my safaris to Africa. With that in mind, I decided to plan a combination holiday that would take in some of the historical sights of Rajasthan along with some animal hotspots. The idea of the latter was to give her a little taste of the joy and wonder we experience on our own wildlife holidays. Plus, I must admit, the idea of two weeks of looking at forts and castles is no longer my thing at all, so this was a sneaky way to work in something for me as well.

 

 

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Not sure how much I should linger over the non-wildlife bits of this report but I feel I must say that Rajasthan is worth all the hype and hoopla it attracts. Its landscapes are incredible, its people warm and generous, and its wildlife is stubborn, hanging in there despite enormous challenges. My hope is that people who plan trips to Rajasthan for its culture and history make the time to see its wildlife - their support will go a long way to ensuring that these animals on the brink don't disappear altogether.

 

 

Our journey began at the Old Delhi Railway station where we settled into a comfortable 1st class AC (very inexpensive) compartment for our overnight trip to Jaisalmer. It had been years since I had travelled in one of these trains and despite the almost 30 hours it took for the overnight Delhi-Jaisalmer Express (!) to cover the relatively short distance of 500 miles, this was a lovely way to decompress for the trip. We were joined in the compartment by an Indian army officer and we whiled away the hours chatting about this, that and the other and learning some interesting facts about Rajasthan from the officer who was en route to an army base on the India-Pakistan border. Among other things, he told us that some pond sites near (the nuclear test site) Pokharan are heavenly for birders.

 

 

The next morning we learnt that the train was not equipped with a cafe car! My sister had packed a delicious dinner for us for the night before so we had not noticed the lack, but when it came time for breakfast in the morning, life looked decidedly grim. But the army officer saved the day. He magically procured little clay cups of tea and batter fried hot green chilies at the very next stop and we sipped tea and gasped at the fire of those chilies until the train rolled into Jaisalmer. This is one of the pleasures of train travel in India. One usually meets very interesting and very helpful people. And hears all kinds of stories that one probably would not hear if the travelling companions ever thought they would meet again.

 

 

Here are some images of Jaisalmer. It is a beautiful, fairy-tale fortress town. Note the color of the stone and intricacy of the stone carvings. Satyajit Ray immortalized Jaisalmer in his Appu trilogy and the Golden City derives its name from his eponymous movie Shonar Kella (the Golden Fort).

 

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And on the subject of photos, please excuse the image quality, everyone. I belong to the binocular brigade and have managed to get through my entire life so far without wielding a camera at all. made me buy this one as a simple point & shoot, but when my daughter was downloading the pics on the computer, she noticed that by some strange feat of dexterity, not only had I managed to completely mess up the simple point & shoot settings, but also that about a third of all the photos would not display at all. So what I got is what you get :D

 

 

We stayed at a little family owned hotel called Garh Jaisal. It was inexpensive, clean, comfortable and the owners were some of the most hospitable people we met on the entire trip. It also had lovely views over the desert and the desert city.

 

 

As it happened, we were joined at dinner that first night by the owner and a cousin of his who invited us to share a beer with them. Along with the beer, they plied us with some amazing stories about the Indo-Pak war and how a certain army unit had been saved by the goddess of a particular temple deep in the desert when they were peppered with bombs but the bombs miraculously did not explode. I had pre-planned a trip to the famous dunes near Jaisalmer but had no plans to explore the deep desert. My mom, however, was taken by the idea of visiting this temple, so did just that and spent a fascinating day in the Thar desert. Excellent roads so this is a very doable side trip.

 

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One of my wildlife goals was to see the chinkara, or India/Jabeer gazelle (Gazella bennetti) in its desert habitat, and I hoped that would happen. Unfortunately, we saw only one lone chinkara that entire day. But no matter how arid and sandy and desolate it looked, there were always goats to be seen somewhere if one looked hard enough. I had not realized that Rajasthan would be home to so much livestock and it was something of a surprise to me. I had expected the camels, but not so many goats, cattle (with large dromedary-like humps) and donkeys.

 

 

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Although we did not go to Desert National Park, we were not far from it; this is one of the sites that has been picked as a cheetah release site for the reintroduction of cheetah to the subcontinent. I fully share Hari's skepticism about this project. Wherever we stopped and spoke about this project, the villagers told us that they were extremely concerned about cheetah predation on their goats. I saw no signs of any chinkara herds whatsoever, and I doubt that the cheetah would even bother with the chinkara given the widespread and ubiquitous goats. If that happens, the future of these yet-to-arrive cheetah will almost certainly be bleak. One can only hope that in their wisdom, the project sponsors have access to more and better information than we do.

 

TBC...

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Thanks Sangeeta! Looking forward to hearing and seeing more.

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Doesn't matter what camera you used, you have captured the rich colours of the ares very nicely. I love the portraits you have here. What a lovely thing to do with your mother. Look forward to more.

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What a wonderful thing to do for your Mum!!!

 

The places and people look fantastic - your images have captured this very well!

I'm looking forward to more!

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What wonderful images, Sangeeta!!!!

My love for photography started when I backpacked thru india in the 70's with my former husband who had to put film in my camera as I was such a camera-dumb flower child. But after winning a couple of photo contests with photos I took in Calcutta, I decided to learn how to take better photos and eventually had a B&W darkroom. Now I am starting from scratch again learning digital and loving it. Can't wait for my first safari trip to Africa in June. Then after that I want to return to India and shoot images like yours!

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Oh oh oh can't wait to read more!

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Guess you forgot to start with the punch line .... "Padharo Mahre Des" :D

Been looking forward to this....glad you started!

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Pic 2: Me in a few years...

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Pic 2: Me in a few years...

 

I see the resemblance

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Delightful! I loved the train part.

 

 

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This is such a generous community! Truly. Thank you so much for your encouragement. Really much, much appreciated. I haven't written so many TRs yet that I can honestly say I am not at least a teeny bit anxious after posting the first installment. Is anyone reading it at all? Yikes, was it so horrible? Was it irrelevant? You know...

 

Thank you, KathBC, Twaffle, Melequus, Rainbirder, Kavey, GW, Lynn and Shreyas. I won't say another word about the photo quality, but all of you have been truly generous in overlooking the lack of focus and enjoying the colors instead :D

 

GW, that sadhu look is cool, but not the plastic crab please!

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Correction: The Delhi-Jaisalmer Express takes 17 hours to complete its journey, not 30 as I said earlier. :blink:

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Where Jaisalmer retains the feel of a frontier desert town (though the fort is over 900 years old), a little raw around the edges, its people appealing in their openness and simplicity, Jodhpur is one of the bastions of Rajasthani culture, and draws its visitors inwards through its sophistication. The English word "jodhpur" is derived from the trousers worn by the men of this region, tight around the calf and ankles and baggy around the hips. These are called "jodhpuris" in Hindi and are worn for riding as well as for everyday wear. Indeed, this part of Rajasthan is well known for its magnificent Marwari horses, and there are a bunch of upscale fortress hotels in the area that give their guests access to some of the most famous Marwari stables in the country (one in particular, made famous by Madonna).

 

 

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This is the entrance to the hotel. Its facade gives no clue at all to what lies within.

 

 

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We stopped for a few nights at a beautifully restored haveli in the shadows of Mehrangarh fort, which provides a magnificent backdrop to the hotel - Raas Haveli. Raas is an oasis of calm in the chaos that is old town Jodhpur and pampers its guests with a lovely spa, inviting little nooks where one can easily take a nap to the cooing of pigeons in the rafters and nice little cups of tea served on pure white linen tablecloths and napkins that wilt just so. The hotel also offers its guests the use of its own tuk-tuk, painted a Jodhpuri blue, and this is really the only form of motorized transportation one can use in the warren of little alleys that surround the hotel. It reminded me a lot of the casbahs of North Africa, and its shops and businesses follow the guild-like partition of professions that can be seen in the street names of so many European cities.

 

 

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Some memories of Jodhpuri alleyways

 

A mosque looms over one corner of the haveli and while I normally find the ritual call to prayers quite soothing, the very long weekly sermon over an extremely loud microphone was very annoying when we were trying to enjoy a nice dinner on the hotel terrace. We narrowly missed a Sufi qawwali festival that had been held at Mehrangarh the week before our arrival. I was told that since the fort is so close, hotel guests enjoyed the music performance from the courtyard of the hotel itself. I would recommend timing a visit to Raas with an event like this. There is something magical about listening to these master singers singing their arias in the cool of a fragrant desert night.

 

 

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Chandelao Garh, in the village of Chandelao, District Jodhpur.

 

Our next stop was the small village of Chandelao, a good base, it appeared from my reading, for the Indian Black Buck (Antilope Cervicapra). Black buck are a threatened species whose habitat is shrinking rapidly throughout the country. The male has black & white coloration with long spiral horns, whereas the females are totally fawn colored. Black buck received a lot of publicity some years ago when a well known Bollywood star, Salman Khan, was arrested for shooting these animals on lands that belonged to the Bishnoi community.

 

 

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Khejarli Memorial & Bishnoi Woman (she charged me 200 rupees for that aggressive looking pose!

 

A few words about the Bishnoi: these appear to be the original Indian environmentalists. Long before the term "tree huggers" entered the vocabulary of modern environmentalism, this part of Rajasthan was home to a community of people who held trees and animals to be sacred and were ready to protect them at any cost. Naturally, their areas were much greener than the other, more arid parts of Rajasthan. So when the local ruler sent his men to fell khejri trees for the new palace he was building, more than 300 Bishnoi men and women wrapped themselves around the trees and died trying to save them.

 

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Praduman, Anxious Chinkara Mother

 

Praduman Singh, the owner of Chandelao Garh and a wildlife enthusiast himself, drove us deep into the countryside, far from the highways and roadside villages. He wanted to take me to a Bishnoi temple where he had heard they looked after sick and injured black buck and chinkara. After a few false turns, we finally came to a temple and it was true, it served as a sanctuary of sorts to wild fawns that had been orphaned or injured by feral dogs and jackals. The priest took us for a tour around the temple grounds and while we were walking around, I saw a female chinkara pace nervously up and down, up and down in front of the locked gate. He told us that these animals know the temple as a safe place and often come into the grounds to have their babies. The animals that have been handled by humans are habituated and followed us around like puppies, but the new mother was a wild chinkara and when the priest unlocked the gate for her, she walked in every direction except the direction where her baby lay because she did not want us to discover the fawn - just like a Thompson's gazelle in Africa.

 

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Male & female Blackbuck

 

 

I came away from this village both heartened and saddened by what I had seen. These animals have no choice but to coexist with the humans who encroach daily on the little land still left to them. It is only the lucky ones that find their way into villages such as these. There are larger blackbuck sanctuaries in India (Lynn will speak about them I am sure), but for these animals in this part of Rajasthan, the Bishnoi community is a blessing.

 

Praduman took us on a couple more drives through fields and up rough country roads, looking for birds and other wildlife. One of the guests at Chandelao told us that he had surprised a wild boar on a walk through the fields the day before we arrived, but we were not so lucky.

 

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Demoiselle Cranes

 

 

Evenings in the Indian countryside are full of night sounds; there is wildness in the air that is reminiscent of Africa. It isn't the whooping of hyenas we hear, but the distant cries of a jackal and the audible flapping sounds of birds of prey as they launch themselves into the air. The stars are bright from the terrace, the company convivial and days are going by faster than I could have imagined.

 

PS: By now, I've given up on tense concordance :P

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Nice start, Sangeeta. Lovely pics too!

 

When you mentioned stories of the war(s), I was wondering if you were near Longewal and then the photo of the sign was there!

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What a poignant account of the Bishnoi, the literal tree huggers who lived and died by their principles. Did you know that in advance or is there some memorial or plaque for them? There should be.

 

You saw the black buck!

 

The giant photo of the Mehrangarh fort & Raas Haveli Hotel is very enchanting with the flowering tree and little girl. Could be used for their advertising. You have become an artisitic photographer with your point and shoot. Now you just need to master the downloading so that your valuable œuvres are not deleted in the process and remain intact for trip reports or other public display.

 

Who was Thelma?

 

Will you share this report (perhaps not all the comments) with your mother?

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Atravelynn, with you time you spend commenting on other people's India reports, you could be writing and publishing yours... ;)

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Atravelynn, with you time you spend commenting on other people's India reports, you could be writing and publishing yours... ;)

 

I'm gaining inspiration.

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  • 2 months later...

Where are the rest of the days with convivial company in whatever tense you fancy? Or should I maintain a vision of the chinkara strolling into the sunset as "The End"?

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Will get back to it after Mana, Lynn! Right now, the adrenalin rush is too high :D

 

Still have some blurry leopards and tigers to share with ST...

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Chinkara not the end. Great. Have a fabulous Mana Pools trip!

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  • 1 year later...

@@Sangeeta

I just came across this report (a bit late!)

I really enjoyed it very colourful and clever to squeeze in some wildlife along time with your mother.

It brought back lots of memories (we went in 2008) - especially the impressive Bishnoi

Thank you

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thank you, @@TonyQ! In fact I'm thoroughly ashamed that I abandoned this as I did mid-way. You've encouraged me to complete this report, though it will be very late and very short.

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I hadn't seen this report before, so I am going to read it now, having just skimmed the photos thus far. And this is a new avatar for you @@Sangeeta ? nice to see more of your face!

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Me Too; how did I miss this????? It is so great @@Sangeeta..not only is "Thelma and Louise" one of my all time fav movies ( I am a rebel at heart) but J & I have always wanted to see India...just never knew how to begin.

 

Please add more as you can; It is an irresistible story.

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Will get back to it after Mana, Lynn! Right now, the adrenalin rush is too high :D

Note the date of this empty promise, Thelma. Or are you Louise?

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Will get back to it after Mana, Lynn! Right now, the adrenalin rush is too high :D

Note the date of this empty promise, Thelma. Or are you Louise?

Ooey and ouch! You're a toughie, Lynn :D

 

Thelma

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