Off the beaten track in Rajasthan
It's 6 pm and the sun is sinking below the horizon. The smell of dust floats in the air. We have been in the 4x4 for barely 10 minutes when our guide stops us. "Shush. We need to be silent and keep our eyes open. Leopards have sharp hearing and a keen sense of smell. We don't want them to notice us when they come down from the hills to look for food." We had been warned! Silence fell on board.
With our senses on high alert, we listen to the sounds of the savannah.
Straight ahead, granite rocks break up the skyline. Surrounded by scenery of beige and grey, it is as if we are suspended in time in perfect harmony with this region of Northern India known as Jawai.
Here we are far from the normal tourist routes of Rajasthan and far from the cities swarming with rickshaws. We are struck dumb, cameras in hand; ready to act at the slightest yowl.
Our sole objective is to catch a glimpse of the leopards of Bera. This animal is as rare as it is elegant, the true treasure of this region located between Jodhpur and Udaipur at the heart of the Rajasthan desert.
We are all lost in thought when suddenly our guide gives us the sign. On our right, a leopard is approaching slowly. Nobody moves, and everyone holds their breath. The moment is so fragile and so intense, that all thoughts of photographs are forgotten. On velvet paws, the animal pads through the grasses yellowed by the sun. It hardly glances our way. It is barely a few metres away when, with one bound, it bears rights and disappears behind the rocks, marking the end of our encounter. It only lasted several minutes, but it felt like an eternity to us.
We could hardly believe what had just happened, and it took some time to catch our breath and for conversation
to start up again.
Still on alert, the guide trains binoculars on the surroundings. Nearby, the Jawai Bandh Lake, the largest reservoir in western Rajasthan, offers colonies of pink flamingos and Sarus cranes.
We stay for a few moments longer to observe this landscape of African colours. As night falls, scents intensify and the aroma of dried grass floats in the air. On the horizon, the Aravalli Mountains are a mere memory, swallowed up by the darkness. In the distance, the light from the lamps of the tents where we will spend the night appears. These are luxury tents made of canvas, leather and steel set up in the middle of nowhere by Sujan Luxury Camps. It is an exceptional camp by Relais & Châteaux featuring a muted palette and decorated in a colonial style with touches of design brought to life with trunks and candlesticks.
Our firm favourite is the seating area with a private eternity pool and a natural backdrop you can lose yourself in. It is straight out of a tale from Karen Blixen's Out of Africa.
Tip: to see other posts on the same region, click on the name of the country underneath the title of the article.