••• The International Writers Magazine: India Travels + Vegan Eating
I'm writing this from the garden facing villa at the luxurious Raipur Fort luxury homestay at Raipur in Rajasthan. High velocity winds are a constant feature of Raipur 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 Raipur Fort's message to their guests is "live truly with nature..."
The Raoli forests 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. The drive from Deogarh to Raipur Fort takes you through the Aravallis. One passes the office of the Assistant Conservator of Forests at Bheem enroute to Raipur.
One passes through the historic city of Beawar during one's bus journey from Deogarh to Raipur. During British times the area between Ajmer and Raipur used to be infested with robbers who used to loot train passengers at night. So the British used to shout "Be Aware", "Be Aware" as soon as the train was about to reach this robber infested area after Ajmer. Thus, this place was christened "Be Aware" by the British which metamorphised into Beawar in modern times.
Around Lakshman Sagar lake, one can sight numerous local and migratory birds like domicile cranes, cattle egrets, cormorants and flamingoes. If one is fortunate, one is able to sight a leopard and surely see blue bulls (neelgais) on the fringes of the Raoli forests that surround Lakshman Sagar. This lake is the watering hole for blue bulls and eagle owls. Lakshman Sagar lake is an oasis in the rocky hills of Raipur. It is the perfect place to experience the traditions and customs of village life. A day trip to Raipur Village from Raipur Fort takes you to a long bygone era, where life still goes on like the days of the past.
The unique feature about Raipur Fort premium homestay is that the bathroom has a small ante-room with a dressing table and spacious luggage racks, so that your bed remains uncluttered throughout your stay. Walking through Raipur Fort is no less than walking through an antique museum. Raipur Fort premium homestay is eco-friendly as it uses solar power for heating water and all extra food is distributed among the needy village locals and hotel staff. Wastage of cooked food is minimal. Vegetables and fruits are sourced locally from their own organic farms. All food cooked at Raipur Fort is sourced from a 7 km. radius around the homestay.
||Raipur Fort offers a great opportunity for guests, both foreign and Indian to have close experience with nature. My host at Raipur Fort is the dashing Manavjeet Singh Udawat, who is a budding entrepreneur. He introduces me to forest guide Kalu Rangrez who is going to be my escort for the jeep safari to spot blue bulls (neelgais) around Lakshman Sagar lake and Fatehgarh. There are many trekking trails within the forests.
Our jeep safari leads us to cobalt blue lakes, hidden 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 at Lakshman Sagar lake include blue bulls, macaques, common Indian langur and several hundred species of local and migratory birds. There is a forest guest-house inside the Todgarh-Raoli sanctuary. Our objective was to drive to the forest guest-house to spot wildlife enroute.
If you want to get an experience of rural India, Raipur is an attractive destination. The outskirts of Raipur are full of Khejri trees and is home to blue bulls and leopards. Located adjacent to Raipur Fort, one finds the village of Raipur. Raipur is located 4 km. away from Lakshman Sagar lake which attracts migratory birds from Siberia and Tibet every winter. A person interested in wildlife should definitely visit this village, which is the entry point to the Todgarh-Raoli wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan.
It is difficult to believe that a 90 km. drive from Ajmer, will bring one to many secluded caves surrounded by dry deciduous forests and teeming with blue bulls. In a region as dry as Rajasthan, one would not 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. Raipur is a year round destination where the forests are open regardless of the season. In the first phase of one's drive, one can spot only a few langurs under a giant banyan tree.
There are two 300 year old trees outside the forests. 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 langurs. The blue bull remained as elusive as ever! However, we were able to see several peacocks and parrots during one's drive through the forest roads. But the presence of blue bulls motivated us to drive deeper into the forests and we were rewarded for our efforts. We could glimpse two blue bulls 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 blue bull near the water. However it disappeared into the bushes as soon as we tried to photograph it. The temperature at Raipur in May 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 wild-rabbit is an unforgettable experience. I was fortunate enough to perfect point and shoot photography to be able to click this photograph of a wild rabbit during my jeep safari. I challenge all wildlife-photographers to click the photograph of a wild-rabbit with a point and shoot camera, not their DSLR with interchangeable lenses which can zoom 1 km. with long tripods and one foot long zooms attached to their DSLR camera.
I could view wildlife throughout my drive from Raipur Fort to Lakshman Sagar to Fatehgarh. On the way to Fatehgarh, I could photograph a peacock, a rabbit, few langurs and two blue bulls. On the return, I drove from Fatehgarh to Raipur and could see eagle owls and peacocks. I also sighted leopard pugmarks in the water bodies near the Shiva temple and saw lots of leopard scat near the forest guest-house at Raoli.
I must mention that the drive through the forests around Raipur took us to two isolated water bodies where leopard sightings were common atleast once every month after 11 p.m.. I visited the forest guest-house and saw the picturesque view from top of the hill, which will open for general public in a short period of time. I have been invited to stay here for a weekend by the Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) Mr. Narpat Singh during my return visit for a sure chance of sighting leopards.
I must not fail to mention that the forest officials at Raipur forests 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 blue bulls and peacocks during your short trip into the forests surrounding Fatehgarh and Lakshman Sagar lake.
I also went for an early morning trek in the forest accompanied by Kalu Rangrez of Raipur Fort, 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 Manavjeet Singh to a sulphuric hot water well which had boiling hot water like sulphur springs in the upper Himalayas. I took a hot water bath in this hot water pool and meditated on the rocks for 30 minutes, which resulted in me, drifting off to a soothing sleep the minute, my head hit the pillow. I recommend every homestay in India would attract more repeat guests if they provide such a soothing ambience full of peace, tranquilness and serenity. I came to Raipur Fort homestay as a guest but left as a friend. The team at Raipur Fort homestay is young and full of energy. Vikramjeet Singh, Karni Singhji, Manavjeet Singh, Kalu Rangrez and each and every member of the team ensured that I had a wonderful stay at Raipur Fort homestay.
Where to eat?
The breakfast at Raipur Fort homestay includes hot puris with traditional Rajasthani alu ki sabji. There are a few vegetarian restaurants on the Beawar-Raipur 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 Raipur Fort. 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 forests. Ker sangri (desert beans) is available everywhere in 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. The chefs at Raipur Fort and their owner Manavjit Singh alias Monty ensured that I received vegan musk-melon juice without sugar or ice, which was my nectar throughout my stay at Raipur Fort homestay.
I must admit that the al a carte menu at Raipur Fort is excellent and vegan meals can be served on request. Raw vegans can opt for musk melon juice, fruit platters and water-melon juice (without sugar or ice). Raipur Fort offers breakfast in an outdoor seating in the lawns or room service or in the dining room as per your preference. The outdoor breakfast, under a bel tree, was my choice!
The kitchen at Raipur fort homestay is named Khasa Rasoda in their local language, which translates into "Royal Kitchen" in English. One must admit that all the vegetarian food cooked at the "Royal Kitchen" were lip-smacking and delicious.
Where to stay at Raipur?
Raipur Fort homestay is an all suites heritage homestay which offers a dream experience for both Indian and foreign tourists. The rooms are spacious and can comfortably accommodate two. The bathrooms are luxurious, with excellent hot water showers. A small dressing room and period furniture complete the picture for a perfect homestay. The Deluxe Rooms at Raipur Fort are priced at Rs. 9000/- plus taxes (inclusive of all meals for two guests). The jeep safari to Lakshman Sagar lake and Fatehgarh costs Rs. 3500/- for the return trip (maximum 4 guests per jeep). Packed lunch can be provided on request.
After an hour of driving on stones, pebbles, rocks and through a mud road, we come across a clearing in the forest to sight blue bulls, under a tree. We wait patiently in our jeep after switching off the engine. Nature rewards patience and our long wait is rewarded soon. While my escort waited in our jeep, I started walking slowly towards the blue bulls.
The most fascinating aspect of one's stay at Raipur fort luxury homestay are the morning and evening meetings with the family who manage the homestay. One's hosts are humble, down to earth and ensure that one is as comfortable as possible and feels at home during one's homestay. Breakfast is served between 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and lunch is served from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Lakshman Sagar lake is located just 4 km. away from Haripur Station. The last two kilometres leading to Lakshman Sagar lake is a forest road. Just take a left turn as shown in the arrow in the accompanying photograph and a 2 km. drive through a mud road will take you to the oasis of tranquillity aptly named Lakshman Sagar lake.
After a brief stopover at Lakshman Sagar lake, one continues ones jungle safari to the Raoli forest guest-house near Fatehgarh. Meditating on the banks of Lakshman Sagar lake was a divine experience.
After leaving Lakshman Sagar lake, the drive to the forests around Fatehgarh takes you through a terrain which includes rocky hills, isolated water bodies and thick deciduous forests all along the way. The most picturesque part of the journey starts from here.
The extreme dry weather and heat dense undergrowth and thick forest cover makes driving a challenge! I was accompanied by an experienced guide Kalu Rangrez, who could drive and spot wildlife from the corner of his eye 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, We passed a herd of Indian langurs and also saw two blue bulls inside the forests which both disappeared in a flash on being photographed!
One comes across an ancient Shiva temple before entering the forests. The priests inside the temple made hot batis (wheat dough balls roasted on charcoal embers) for us and also informed us that leopard and sloth bear sightings are common at their water tank in summer. However, most sightings are either early in the mornings or late at night. I must admit that the roasted batis with rock-salt was the most simple meal I have had, but was also most delicious and the bati just melted in my mouth!
After a thirty minute drive from the Shiva temple, one enters into thick forests. A large water body can be seen in the distance. We drive towards this aqueous blue water body which sparkled like an amethyst nestled in nature's hand.
After about an hour of following the jungle mud-road, we come across a small clearing in the forests and sight a family of blue bulls moving towards a tree. Without batting a eyelid, one clicks the family photograph before they smell the presence of humans and disappear! The attached photograph proves our point and click reflex.
The erstwhile summer retreat of Raipur Fort is now a full-fledged luxury resort managed by Sewara Hospitality, a hotel management firm based at New Delhi. Karni Mata, is the family deity of the Thakurs of Raipur fort and they have constructed a temple a short distance away from their fort. The temple is open to all and houses an ancient idol of the Mother Goddess. One starts one jeep safari at 7 a.m. from Raipur Fort to Lakshman Sagar lake, located 7 km. away. One passes Haripur Railway Station named after Thakur Hari Singh, the great-great-grandfather of my host Manavjeet Singh who manages Raipur Fort homestay. From British times all New Delhi to Ahmedabad trains used to stop at Haripur Station and still do!
Family tree of Thakurs of Raipur Fort:
* Thakur Karni Singhji, present Thakur Saheb of Raipur since 1982, born 1953, educated at Mayo College, Ajmer and graduated from Government College, Ajmer; married Thakurani Preeti Kumari, born 2nd May 1955, third daughter of Thakur Ripudaman Singhji of Khandela-Junior, and his wife, Thakurani Girija Kumari, and have three sons, namely: 1) Kunwar Vikramjeet Singh, born 1975, educated at Mayo College, Ajmer and graduated from Jai Hind College, Mumbai; married Kunwarani Geetika Kumari in the year 2002, second daughter of Rawal Devendra Singhji of Nawalgarh Pana 3, and his wife, Rani Ranjana Kumari of Khajurgaon, have two daughters. Bai Sahiba Jaya Singh, born 2003 and Bai Sahiba Yogita Singh, born 2006.
2) Kunwar Manavjeet Singh, born 1976, educated at Mayo College, Ajmer and graduated from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai; married Kunwarani Indrani Singh in the year 2014, daughter of Raja Sahib Amresh Kumar Singhji of Khajurgaon (Uttar Pradesh) and Rani Sahiba Abha Kumari from Kalakankar.
3) Captain Kunwar Inderjeet Singh, born 1981, educated at Mayo College, Ajmer and graduated from Jai Hind College, Mumbai, underwent training at Officer's Training Academy from 2005 to 2006 and served in the Indian Army in the 75 Armoured Regiment from 2006 to 2011, presently working with Federal Express Corporation in New Delhi; married Kunwarani Radhika Singh in the year 2009, daughter of Col. Thakur Shambhu Singhji Deora of Chadwal and Thakurani Usha Deora of Devgaon, have issue, one daughter. Bai Sahiba Arah Singh, born 2013.
Musk melon juice was my nectar during one's homestay at Raipur Fort. Freshly squeezed vegetable and fruit juices including water-melon, sweet-lime and musk-melon are served for vegans. No sugar or ice is added so that the juice retains its natural taste and detoxifies the body. Rated only on the basis of comforts, Raipur Fort must surely rank among the best homestays in India. Staying at Raipur Fort is a delightful experience as every minute one discovers a new proof of customer comfort. Sulphuric hot water from a geo-thermal well is provided to guests on request for natural salt baths.
I must admit that taking bath in this hot water infused with natural alkaline minerals was better than any Epsom salt baths taken by me at high end spas abroad. All my aches and pains disappeared after a hot water bath with hot sulphuric spring water. The hot water baths alone warrant a three nights stay at Raipur Fort homestay. Ancient Indian texts believe that natural hot water from sulphur springs are a pain-reliever for patients suffering from arthritis. Please whatsapp +918460578357 for details.
Raipur Fort homestay is located only 4 km. away from Haripur Railway Station located on the New Delhi -Ahmedabad rail route. You can board a train from Ahmedabad to Haripur or Delhi to Haripur or Mumbai to Haripur or viceversa and drive down the 4 km. from Haripur Station to Raipur Fort in about ten minutes.
Raipur Fort homestay is easily accessible for Delhi and Mumbai residents looking for a weekend break. Hire a jeep at Raipur Fort homestay for visit to Lakshman Sagar lake located 7 km. away and Fatehgarh located 15 km. away. The forest guest-house at Raoli is a further 5 km. away from Fatehgarh. Every good thing must come to an end and I bid my friend, philosopher and guide, Karnisinghji Udawat goodbye to proceed to Ghanerao Jungle Lodge to sight sloth bears, with a stopover at "Leopard's Lair Resort" run by Devi Singhji Ranawat at Bera village, for sighting leopards around the caves of Bera.
If you would like to book the Forest Rest House at Raipur, which will be fully operational in a few years, please get in touch with the Assistant Conservator of Forests at Bheem. One can also visit the Bera to sight leopards, located 180 km. away from Raipur.
How to get there?
The nearest international airport to reach Raipur is at New Delhi. There are several options for tourists to get to Raipur from New Delhi via Jaipur or Udaipur.
* The easiest way is by flight. Both Jaipur and Udaipur are connected to Mumbai and New Delhi by direct flights. Raipur Fort homestay offers pickup in chauffer driven cars from Udaipur/Jaipur airport at extra cost. One can also drive down the 600 km. to New Delhi to Raipur via Beawar and Ajmer or take an overnight bus.
How to get there by train or car?
The nearest Railway Station to reach Raipur is at Haripur. There are several options for tourists to get to Raipur from Haripur.
The easiest way is by car. One can drive to Raipur Fort homestay in 10 minutes as it is located 4 km. away. Raipur Fort homestay offers free pickup and drop from Haripur station located 4 km. away, in chauffer driven jeeps/cars for guests.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jaipur - the Pink City
It's Holi and where else to enjoy it other than the colourful state of Rajasthan. Boarding the Aravalli Express at Ahmedabad, I arrive at Jaipur Station at 8 p.m.
Jodhpur Blackbuck Sanctuary
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.