It was a hot summer morning in the national capital. We started our journey from Bikaner House, spread over an 8-acre plot in Lutyens’ Delhi, a former residence of the Maharajah of Bikaner, now a cultural hub for folk, classical and contemporary music, owned by the Government of Rajasthan.
As the car ran through the NH 48, the excited souls inside were more than prepared to brave the hot and humid days ahead. The mission was to explore and experience the wildlife of the Land of Maharajas.
Jaipur – Jhalana Leopard Safari
The first destination was ofcourse, the state capital Jaipur- a city that never gets boring, no matter how many times you visit. Excited, we made sure to reach on time at the gate of Jhalana Leopard safari. A 9-10 km drive from the heart of the city would take you to this amazing landscape of 23 sq km radius. Like many of my wildlife photographer friends who have not visited this place earlier, I too had little apprehension about a wildlife Safari Park so near to the highly populated city of Jaipur.
Jhalana Leopard Safari Park is not only home to 30-35 leopards but also a safe haven for Striped Hyenas, Desert Fox, Golden Jackal, Chital, Indian Palm, Nilgai, Civets etc. Jhalana is also a surprise package for bird watchers: A home to a number of familiar and rare species of birds that includes Indian Pitta, Dusky Eagle, Owl, Spotted Owlet, short-eared owl, northern goshawk etc.
As the journey started through this amazing landscape on the lap of the Aravallis, we slowly delved into the scent of the forest, birds chirping around the juliflora and khejri trees, languors busy in family meetings, and national birds all focussed on their job of impressing their girlfriends all around the park-truly turning it an ‘another-world’ so near to the city.
One look and you will be enthralled by the unique landscape of rocky Aravalli on one side and a forest of evergreen and deciduous trees stretching out on the other. North of Jhalana is the Amagarh Reserve Forest, which is separated from Jhalana by a busy National Highway. The western and the southern boundary of the Jhalana forest adjoin the heavily populated suburbs of Jaipur City, and the eastern boundary has villages and new settlements.
One sharp turn and right in front we saw another gypsy standing there with passengers focusing excitedly on a nearby tree. Not 30 mins passed after we entered the main gate; there we were, standing face to face with the magnificent leopard of Jhalana.
The gorgeous predator with all its glory stood comfortably on a huge tree trunk. After obliging the lensmen with a few moments of front face-pose the spotted beauty decided to climb down the tree and swiftly disappeared beyond the green kumta plantations behind.
The majestic morning sighting set the tune of the entire safari as it always does. The amazing biodiversity of its own, the typical Rajasthan forest land is a place where any nature lover would love to spend as much time as possible. The environment has its own charm and magic that make you long for a lazy and stretched day watching the green and brown landscape, the owls watching you with one eye opened, hyenas searching for food, spotted deer cautiously crossing the road or the nilgais gazing the green grassland.
History records the existence of both tigers and leopards in the hill ranges of Rajasthan, including the Aravali range. In the early 19th century, Jhalana was a popular hunting ground with eminent state officials being frequent visitors. The old Shikar Audhi (Hunting Palace) stands as a testament to its popularity. The last tiger was shot in 1948, and its cubs were relocated to the Jaipur Zoo. Since then, leopards have been the apex predator here.
With the rapid increase of urbanisation over the decades, the amazing story of the coexistence of leopards and locals today has been the testimonial of leopards’ unique ability to adapt as well as the success of wildlife conservation projects by the Forest department of Rajasthan. The only reserve in the country dedicated to leopards, Jhalana is one of the finest examples of successful human-animal cohabitation stories in the world.
HOW TO REACH :
Jhalana safari park is 5 km from Jaipur city which is connected with all major railway networks and airports. Jaipur is about 5/6 hours drive from Delhi.
Courtesy - Rajasthan Tourism