Halfway between Udaipur and Jodhpur, two of Rajasthan’s troika of major tourist draws, lies an evocative land composed of granite hills flecked with flaming dhaak and spiny euphorbia. Close by, stretching languidly around the catchment of Luni, Rabari farmlands wound around cooled-lava hills make up the prehistoric outcrops of Jawai.
Jawai, more precisely Bera, shelters one of the highest non-forest concentrations of leopards in the world, and these spotted beings—known elsewhere as solitary and highly elusive—enjoy an unprecedentedly harmonious coexistence with the human residents of the nearby villages. Rabaris consider these graceful cave-dwellers sacred keepers of the 300 hill shrines lodged across this leopard country. Locals claim there hasn’t been a single leopard attack on a local in the past 150 years, even though recent cases of encroachment and the ensuing blockage of leopard passage have been feared to cause an upset to the cordial dynamic.
Safaris start early in the morning or around four in the afternoon, as jeeps thud past hyenas and nilgai, and most travellers manage to get a glimpse of the cats. The lake offers excellent sightings of bar-headed geese, flamingos and sarus cranes, not to mention crocodiles. Camps organise bushwalks, cycling circuits and village tours where you can chat up residents and down tumblerfuls of chaach and relish local grub. Many also trek up to the temple atop Dev Giri hill or Kambeshwar Mahadev Temple to enjoy sweeping views.
This feature appeared in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India January-February 2022.
Jawai is a three-hour drive away from both Jodhpur and Udaipur. SUJÁN JAWAI (https://thesujanlife.com/jawai) (+9111-46172700) offers luxury camping, safaris and village walks. Bera Safari Lodge (09413312133), run by a winemaker-turned-conservationist, has five cottages and great food.
Prannay Pathak dreams about living out of a suitcase and retiring to the island of Hamneskär to watch films in solitary confinement. He is Assistant Editor (Digital) at National Geographic Traveller India.