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••• The International Writers Magazine: Jodhpur - India

Jodhpur Blackbuck Sanctuary
• Murli Menon

One is writing this from one's pool facing villa at the luxurious Ajit Bhawan Palace Hotel at Jodhpur. High velocity winds are a constant feature of the Thar desert and they blow through the Khejri groves and coupled with the sounds of crickets, provide natural sounds which can put one into a light trance, during the night.


That is why Ajit Bhawan's message to their guests is "live truly with nature..."If you want to get an experience of tribal India, Bishnoi Village is an attractive destination. The outskirts of Jodhpur are full of Khejri trees and is home to blackbucks and chinkaras. Located adjacent to Guda Bishnoi Lake, one finds the villages of Chota Guda and Bada Guda meaning small village and big village, respectively.

Birds India Bada Guda is located adjacent to a natural lake which attracts migratory birds from Siberia and Tibet every winter. A person  interested in exotic wildlife should definitely visit this village. The Bishnoi community inhabits these two villages. Bishnois are strict vegetarians and are worshippers of nature in all its forms, especially the Khejri tree and animal life. They worship the Khejri tree and also the blackbucks that inhabit their land.

In this world of exploitation everywhere, they make every effort to conserve the environment. The Bishnoi tribals worship Lord Vishnu. They have dedicated their life to the protection of Khejri trees in their village and are known for sacrificing their lives to protect wildlife and trees. It is difficult to believe that 337 km. drive from Jaipur, will bring one to an almost secluded cove surrounded by pristine pure deserts and dry deciduous forests teeming with antelopes. In a region as dry as Jodhpur one would expect to see a rain-cloud or two at certain times of the year. There is a rainy season but not day-long torrential rain, but a few isolated showers towards the evening. Jodhpur is a year round destination where the forests are open regardless of the season.

Around the Guda Bishnoi Lake, one can sight numerous local and migratory birds like the domicile cranes, cattle egrets, commorants and flamingoes. If one is fortunate, one is able to sight blackbucks and chinkaras on the fringes of the forests that surround Jodhpur. This pond is drinking point for chinkaras and blackbucks. Guda lake is an oasis in the desert. It is the perfect place to experience the traditions and customs of tribal life. A day trip to Guda Village from Jodhpur city takes you to a long bygone era, where life still goes on like the days of the past!

The forests around Jodhpur are dry deciduous with patches of Khejri trees which vie against each other for space. My resort has several green trees, which are soothing to one's eyes.

Named after its owner Maharadhiraj Sir Ajit Singhji, Ajit Bhawan is one of the most popular heritage hotels of Jodhpur. A wonderful blend of royal lifestyle and regal elegance, it is now equipped with international luxuries to match the taste of discerning guests from all across the globe. Located near the popular Mehrangarh Fort and other attractions in Jodhpur, this property offers flawless hospitality to its guests. The opulent accommodation includes deluxe rooms, Swiss tents, and suites, and all meals are included in the tariff. The unique feature about this all suites palace resort, is the fact that each villa is designed individually and just being in the resort is like walking through an Indian sculpture museum. There are many trekking trails within the Guda forests. Some of these lead to rust coloured lakes, desert caves and sandstone cliff formations. These treks range from 1 km. to 2 km. and have different gradients of difficulty. Some of the wildlife found inside the park include chinkaras, barking deer, mouse deer and blackbucks.

The extreme dry weather and heat dense undergrowth and thick forest cover makes driving a challenge! I was accompanied by two experienced Ajit Bhawan managers, who could drive and spot wildlife from the corner of their eyes at the same time. The first five hundred metres are relatively easy, but a slow climb up the hill nevertheless. One could feel a sensation of vertigo, as one's car moved up the hill through a winding road. The obstacles here are patches thorny bushes, stones, rocks and boulders and not the trees. Khejri groves and Bawal (prosopis juliflora) trees line both sides of the path, One can sight a few stray chinkaras and an occasional blackbuck during the initial phase of one's drive. The wild sounds of the forest pervade the morning air. Chirps of sparrows, whines of parrots, squeaks of the hummingbirds, clicking sound of the desert lizards and hoots of desert owls.

Ajit Bhawan hotel Rated only on the basis of aesthetics, Ajit Bhawan must surely rank among the best hotels in India. Every art object placed in the hotel has been kept there after deep thought and staying at Ajit Bhawan is a delightful experience as every minute one discovers a new proof of artistic brilliance. The Vintage Suites have traditional hand made designs on each cottage, which are designed such that each Vintage Suite has its own design!

We passed a herd of chinkaras and also saw two blackbucks polishing their antlers by rubbing it against khejri trees. We could also spot a solitary blackbuck in the distance, which disappeared in a flash on being photographed!

The forest trail now begins to disappear and one alights from one's vehicle and slowly photograph these two blackbucks, by taking refuge under a giant Khejri tree. One can see several small lakes on the drive from Bada Guda to Chota Guda. The chances of sighting antelopes is more at Chota Guda and the chance of sighting migratory and local birds is more at Bada Guda. My escort from Ajit Bhawan, Mr. Shyam Singhji informed me that Chota Guda lake was the watering hole of the antelopes and most sightings of blackbucks were in the early evenings at this watering hole. However, though I have had close encounters with the Royal Bengal Tiger inside the Simlipal Wildlife Sanctuary at Odisha and Rajaji National Park in Uttaranchal,these two blackbucks gave me a chance to test my photographic skills. I decided to put my photographic skills to good use which we have perfected after 22 years of travel blogging,wildlife photography and writing travel features for international magazines.

There are several giant Khejri trees in the forest. 336 Bishnoi men and women sacrificed their lives to prevent these trees getting cut down by hugging these trees. The word Bishnoi is derived from the Hindi numerals 20 (bees) and 9 (nav). A Bisnoi is one who follows 29 rules laid down by the community. These include being vegetarian, protecting all sentient beings, protecting trees and worshipping the blackbuck.

After getting several close-ups of the elusive blackbucks, I am back at Ajit Bhawan by 12 noon comfortably after the expedition to sight blackbucks.

After returning to Ajit Bhawan, one is pleasantly surprised to see a group of local villagers breakout into an impromptu jig infront of the main building of Ajit Bhawan Palace. They dance and sprinkle colours to the tune of booming drumbeats.

There are two 300 year old trees outside the Bishnoi village . The trunks of some of these giant trees are wide, having stood undisturbed over centuries. After about 30 minutes of driving through the forests, we could only spot chinkaras. The blackbuck remained as elusive as ever! However, we were able to see several barking deer, peacocks and parrots during one's drive through the forest roads. But the presence of chinkaras motivated us to drive deeper into the forests and we were rewarded for our efforts.We could glimpse two chinkaras at close quarters and managed to capture them on our camera in a few minutes of sighting them.

On the return drive, we were fortunate enough to see a solitary chinkara near the water. The temperature at Jodhpur in March is pleasantly cold at nights to slightly hot in the afternoons, with a few isolated showers towards the evening. Coming face to face with the blackbuck is an unforgettable experience.

I could view wildlife throughout my drive from Jodhpur to Garha to Pokharan. On the way to Garha village, I could photograph a peacock, a young blackbuck, few barking deer and one wild camel. On the return, I drove from Pokhran to Jaisalmer and could photograph a golden eagle, besides several owls and peacocks. I also sighted chinkara pugmarks in the desert sand dunes and saw lots of wild camel dung, hummingbirds and giant Khejri trees during my long drive through the deserts.

I must mention that the drive through the forests around Jodhpur took us to two isolated water bodies where blackbuck sightings were common atleast once every week. I was shown the forest guest-house at Guda village, which will open for the general public in a short period of time. I have been invited to stay here for a weekend at Jodhpur during my return visit for a sureshot chance of sighting chinkaras that are found around Chota Guda lake. I must not fail to mention that the forest officials at Chota Guda are a helpful lot, though they are sometimes handicapped by the lack of vehicles and fuel. However, they make it up by offering close encounters with blackbucks and barking deer during your short trip into the forests surrounding Chota Guda lake

I also went for an early morning trek in the forest accompanied by a Mr. Shyam Singh of Ajit Bhawan, to sight peacocks. I must admit that walking through the dry deciduous overgrowth in the twilight hours of the morning to photograph peacocks was one close encounter with nature, which I will always remember. I was also escorted by Mr. Ravindra of Ajit Bhawan to a water fountain which sounded like a mountain stream in the upper Himalayas. I tiptoed to this water fountain and meditated on the gurgling sound of the water for 30 minutes, which resulted in me, drifting off to a soothing sleep the minute, my head hit the pillow.

I recommend every hotel would attract more repeat guests if they provide such a soothing ambience full of peace, tranquilness and serenity. I came to Ajit Bhawan as a guest but left as a friend. The team at Ajit Bhawan is young and full of energy. Ajay, Abhimanyu Singh, Arun, Vivek Kumar, Ravindra, Jabbar Singh and each and every member of the team ensured that I had a wonderful stay at Ajit Bhawan. If you would like to book the Forest Rest House at Chota Guda, which will be operational in a few years, please get in touch with the District Forest Officer at Jodhpur or the PCCF (Wildlife) at Jaipur. One can also visit the Garha sand dunes, located 90 km. away from Jodhpur, if you drive through Balesar. The weather in March ranges from pleasant to warm, especially when there is no rain at night. For sonorous sleep at Ajit Bhawan spend thirty minutes at the gurgling water fountain. I slept at 8 p.m. and woke up at 4 a.m. If you want to see vibrant colours, visit Rajasthan during Holi.

How to get there:

The nearest international airport to reach Jodhpur is at New Delhi. There are several options for tourists to get to Jodhpur from New Delhi.

By flight:

The easiest way is by flight. Jodhpur is connected to Mumbai and New Delhi by direct flights. Ajit Bhawan offers pickup in chauffer driven vintage cars for guests at extra cost. This 3 km. trip takes 15 minutes. One can also drive down the 600 km. to New Delhi to Jodhpur via Jaipur and Ajmer or take an overnight bus.

Another way to get there:

One can take the Intercity Express from Jaipur (departs at 6:10 a.m.) which reaches Jodhpur at 9:45 a.m. Hire a jeep at Jodhpur for visit to Bada Guda locted 25 km. away. Chota Guda is a further 5 km. away from Bada Guda.Every good thing must come to an end and I bid my guide Shyamsinghji goodbye to proceed to Jaisalmer with a stopover at "Desert Hermitage Resort" run by brothers Karan Singh Bhati and Jeetendra Singh Bhati at Garha village, exploring the sand dunes and wildlife around Garha.

Another way to get there:

One can take the Intercity Express from Jaipur (departs at 6:10 a.m.) which reaches Jodhpur at 9:45 a.m. Hire a jeep at Jodhpur for visit to Bada Guda locted 25 km. away. Chota Guda is a further 5 km. away from Bada Guda.Every good thing must come to an end and I bid my guide Shyamsinghji goodbye to proceed to Jaisalmer with a stopover at "Desert Hermitage Resort" run by brothers Karan Singh Bhati and Jeetendra Singh Bhati at Garha village, exploring the sand dunes and wildlife around Garha.

Where to stay at Jodhpur?

Ajit Bhawan is an all suites luxury resort which offers a dream experience for both Indian and foreign tourists. The rooms are spacious and can comfortably accomodate two. The bathrooms are luxurious, with excellent hot water showers. The Deluxe Rooms and Luxury Tents at Ajit Bhawan are priced at Rs. 23000/- (inclusive of all taxes and breakfast for two guests), Vintage Suites are priced at Rs. 52000/- (inclusive of all taxes and breakfast for two guests) and the Ajit Suite is priced at Rs, 76000/- (inclusive of all taxes and breakfast for two guests). The U.S. dollar tariff for foreign guests is US$ 328 for Deluxe and Luxury tents, US$ 742 for Vintage Suite and US$ 1085 for Ajit Suite.

Where to eat:

The breakfast at Ajit Bhawan includes hot puris with traditional Rajasthani alu ki sabji. There are a few vegetarian restaurants on the Jaipur-Jodhpur road but Rajasthani bus drivers give it a skip. Vaishno dhabas on the highways dish up  simple fare like rice, roti, dal etc. Remember to request them to avoid dairy products before ordering. Fresh fruits including bananas, papayas and chickoos are available at streetside kiosks outside Bishnoi village. Purchase seedless dates and cashews enroute to the forests and store in an airtight metal tiffin as I did, to recharge yourself during the long trips in the desert.

Ker sangri (desert beans) is available everywhere in western Rajasthan and is a delicious and nutritious accompaniment to bajra rotis. When ordering bajra rotis check if the bajra flour is Shankar bajra (pesticide laden) or desi bajra (organic). I opted for desi bajra which is much sweeter, easier to digest and softer than Shankar bajra. Ajit Bhawan has a village themed restaurant called Dhani, which rustles up traditional Rajasthani delicacies on an earthern oven in a candle-lit ambience. The chefs at Ajit Bhawan and their Food and Beverages manager Mr. Jabbar Singh ensured I received vegan banana shake with dates which was my nectar throughout my stay at Ajit Bhawan. I must admit that the ala carte menu at Ajit Bhawan is excellent and vegan meals can be served on request. Raw vegans can opt for musk melon juice, fruit platters and steamed vegetables.

Murli Menon, is a travel writer, stress management consultant and author  based at Ahmedabad, India. He is the author of "ZeNLP-Learning through stories" published by The Written Word Publications, "ZeNLP-the power to succeed" published by Sage publications and “ZeNLP-the power to relax” by New Dawn Press. He can be reached at

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