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Rocks and mountains

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Sadri » Jawai » Gundoj » Mount Abu - 22 to 25 January 2016

sunny 27 °C

I’m sure he shouldn’t have been driving after the excesses of last night’s party, but Lajpal came to collect me from my hotel in his little car, pristine white and shiny when I saw him receive it as a wedding gift, but now showing the scars of battles with Rajasthan’s roads and collisions with badly-driven cars.

We drove first to Rajshri’s parents’ home in a part of Jaipur that, despite having been there several times, I could never hope to find on my own in the maze of traffic-crammed streets. Then we were on our way – a five-and-a-half-hour journey would take us south-west on National Highway 8, skirting Ajmer and Beawar to Lajpal’s home in Sadri (near Ranakpur, if you’re looking for it on a map!).

Here, with financial support from his family and bank, he’s built a substantial house with rooms for his parents Gajendra and Ranveer, and - whenever he can get there - for his own little family of Rajshri and Dhruvi. There’s even an extra room, kitchen and terrace on an upper floor served by a separate staircase to provide income from letting. I hadn’t seen the house before but, after the customary tour, decided to call it ‘Pintu’s Palace’ (Pintu is Lajpal’s nickname). Rajshri cooked a meal for us all and we chatted and played a bit with Dhruvi before turning in to rest in anticipation of a long day ahead tomorrow.

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Tomorrow duly dawned, a bright but chilly Saturday morning. Bidding farewell to Gajendra and ‘au revoir’ to Rajshri and Dhruvi, three of us – Lajpal, his father Ranveer and me – drove off towards Jawai.

Jawai isn’t yet on the international tourist route, although it may be a familiar name to a knowledgeable few. The area’s famed for an unusually large number of leopards that inhabit outcrops of huge, grey, boulder-like rocks towering above the arid landscape and irrigated agricultural plains. Nobody seems to know precisely how many leopards live in the area but there are certainly a lot. Sightings, early morning and late afternoon, are almost guaranteed. They live on goats, sheep and roaming dogs, and seem to coexist happily with local villagers. Over time, I guess they’ve realised that man is not a threat hereabouts and have become habituated to the comings and goings of farmers and shepherds who, in turn, give them their respect (and their goats!). There have been isolated attacks on humans, but the last recorded time a man was killed around here was more than 150 years ago. Part of this area has only recently been declared an official leopard sanctuary.

We arrived too late in the morning for any hope of a sighting, although that wasn’t actually the purpose of our visit. We were here to see the Jawai Dam, western Rajasthan’s largest, and to look at a piece of land just outside the leopard sanctuary with potential tourism use.

The dam, a massive concrete structure spanning a wide valley, holds back water from the Jawai River to create a reservoir covering an area of 400 square kilometres and holding around eight million cubic feet of water to quench the thirst of sprawling Jodhpur city to the north-west.

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A nearby government-sponsored interpretation centre illustrates the diverse wildlife that now inhabits the lake, its backwaters and surrounding land – countless species of resident and migratory birds, deer, carnivores (including leopards of course) and a lot of large Mugger Crocodiles. We met the principal of a local girls’ school here – an enthusiastic amateur naturalist and photographer, who explained that there were no local wildlife guides to escort visitors, but he was aiming to change that by training some in his spare time.

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The area’s ripe for development of tourism, something recognised by one up-market chain which has built a small, deluxe tented camp here; it’s exorbitantly-priced but nearly always sold out. Inevitably, this has been followed by one or two farmers erecting tents on their land and small hotels promoting themselves based on the region’s culture and wildlife.

The piece of land we were inspecting, currently in agricultural use, would serve to expand the accommodation offering. Its wonderful views, great rocks and accessibility, yet to be fully assessed by architects, would certainly be ideal. As other plots have also been set aside for a similar purpose, however, the hotel or resort to be built here would have to be unique if it is to be successful in a short season interrupted by periods of intense heat and drenching monsoons.

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A great place for a bar! Whisky on the rocks anyone?

Our journey continued to Gundoj, where my good friend and Lajpal’s uncle Khuman, was awaiting our arrival in an office where, after retiring from his hotel management role, he now occupies the prestigious position of the region’s sarpanch. A sarpanch is the head of a village and the local self-government body, duly elected by the community. He is the point of contact between government officers and the village community. After he’d sorted out a complaint concerning a violent dispute between brothers, we proceeded to his fort in the village for lunch with his gracious wife Sailesh.

To my surprise, another of my friends, Hitesh, was there too. I’d first met him in 2007 at the marriage of Vinku, Khuman’s eldest son, where he was one of the official photographers. Then, we had to communicate through our mutual language of French. He was now managing a small hotel in Mount Abu operated by Khuman’s youngest son Shibu, which was where we were headed today. As Shibu was away escorting a party of French tourists in the south of the country, Hitesh would be driving Shibu’s car to Mount Abu. Khuman, together with Hitesh’s young cousin Rajat and I would be his passengers, while Lajpal would drive his own car accompanied by his father.

Suitably fortified, we rode on, climbing ever higher up the Aravali range on a congested, bumpy, twisting road to the town of Mount Abu, Rajasthan’s only hill station. Here, on a plateau at a height of around 4,000 ft (1220m) a resort has grown up over the centuries.

It’s now frequented predominantly by holidaymakers from the neighbouring state of Gujarat which, unlike Rajasthan, is a ‘dry’ (no alcohol) state. The very visible coach loads of visitors from Gujarat come here to dress up in traditional local costumes, have their photos taken and then party 'til they drop! The town overflows with hotels, cafés, restaurants, souvenir shops and other enterprises geared to parting these tourists from their cash.

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But life goes on, despite the tourists!

One enterprise closer to my own heart is Arkhey Vilas, the small hotel run by Shibu. It’s located in a peaceful setting away from the madness of the town-centre and unashamedly in the budget range with seven very basic rooms. The atmosphere is homely and the team of Hitesh, his two kitchen staff and three uniformed, do-almost-anything boys are helpful and very friendly. One of the boys, Bhawar, is always smiling; the other two, brothers Ganesh and Prakash, are learning to do so!

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We enjoyed two relaxing evenings eating, drinking and chatting late into the night around a camp-fire outside our rooms.

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While Lajpal had to return early to his training course in Jaipur, dropping off his father on the way, Khuman proudly took me to see his old school, where the Christian Brothers had taught him many years before. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been here since then, but said the buildings and the playground were just as he always remembered them.

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Later, Hitesh took Rajat and me on a short tour of Mount Abu. We walked the entire circumference of Nakki Lake at the town’s buzzing heart. The lake is surrounded by hills and is said to have derived its name from various gods digging the earth with their nails (nakh in Hindi). It’s a popular place for visitors to take a ride in small rowing boats or swan-shaped pedaloes.

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We also visited the most interesting of the town's many temples, the Jain Dilwara Mandir. Its fabulous 11th to 13th century carved marble pillars exceeded those of the temple at Ranakpur that has for long been one of my favourite Jain temples in all India.

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On our final evening, together with what seemed the entire population of the resort, Hitesh took Rajat and me to Sunset Point. From an overflowing car park, the world and his wife and many children walked uphill for over a kilometre, those less able or more affluent being pushed in wheelbarrow contraptions or carried on horseback (for a fee of course!). As the name suggests, we were all there to see the sun set - as indeed it did, in true Indian style: to much vocal encouragement, cheering and phone-photo clicking.

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On my last morning, Hitesh, Khuman and Rajat kindly took me to Abu Road station for the start of my independent two-week tour before they returned to Gundoj, from whence we had come. My train, the Bikaner Express, left at 11.55 a.m. Indian Time (i.e. 12.30 p.m.!) and would take about ten hours to complete its 545kms (338 miles) journey - yes, around 30 miles an hour counts as an express train hereabouts.

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Posted by Keep Smiling 09:48 Archived in India Tagged india rajasthan mount_abu gundoj jawai

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We stopped for a short while in Sadri on our way to Ranakpur (mainly because we were otherwise going to be too early to visit the temple). I remember it as rather a pleasant small town with some friendly people so I imagine your friend's family are happy living there? And Ranakpur itself was one of the highlights of our trip for me, so it was great to see another such Jain temple here!

by ToonSarah

Sarah, you're the first foreigner who's ever told me that they've been to Sadri (even if it wasn't planned!). My dear friend Lajpal's ancestors originally lived to the west in what is now Pakistan. They moved to Sadri at the time of Partition in 1947. Lajpal was born there and, when he became a government employee and was able to borrow money, he built 'Pintu's Palace' there to provide a home for his parents, who had previously always lived in rented accommodation. Lajpal was educated at a school on the road to Ranakpur and, as it transpired, his uncle Khuman became General Manager of a hotel in Ranakpur - which is where I met him all those years ago. I am fortunate to know both Sadri and Ranakpur quite well as a result!

by Keep Smiling

Here's the evidence Mike: https://toonsarahvt.travellerspoint.com/45/ ;)

by ToonSarah

Sarah, that's a great blog, which is full of detail and super photos. It brings back so many fond memories. Would you believe that you stopped at the Hotel Shilpi - which is the government-owned hotel where my friend Lajpal held all his wedding ceremonies in 2012(after my contribution allowed for this very 'Indian' hotel to be spruced up, colourful tents erected and caterers to have an outdoor kitchen for their vast cauldrons of curries!). A small world indeed.

by Keep Smiling

That IS a coincidence Mike! And I'm happy to have brought back some good memories for you :)

by ToonSarah

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