I am in Sawai Madhopur for a two days personal visit to meet some old friends (3-5 February 2020). Visit to Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is not on the agenda! Strange? There is a reason. I do not want to spoil my fantastic memories of 1980s and 90s with some shoddy ride in tourists clustered vehicle with n-number of restrictions and boundations. Ranthambhore those days used to be virtually my home. I had a free and full access of the wonder land, including on foot!
I vividly remember that on our first visit to Ranthambhore, we stayed at Jhoomar Baori. Yes, the name sounds exotic, and in fact the place is exotic. Jhoomar Baori has been the hunting lodge of the erstwhile Jaipur State, strategically located atop a hill and surrounded on all sides with good forest. Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC), a government agency, has restored the place and developed it into a small hotel.
I tell my friend and host, Lokendra Jain, “let us visit Jhoomar Baori.” I tell him I just want to relive my old memories when I visited the place, 35 years ago in 1984. Lokendra is awe struck when I tell him “we were the first guest on the first day of the Lodge starting as a resort!” Probably, after the maharajas, we were the first to grace the place.
I remember, the manager of the place turned out to be an acquaintance from another RTDC hotel, Tiger Den, at Sariska. There were no other guests. Tables were moved and laid on terrace. Full moon, cool breeze, forest around added to the whole experience. It turned into a grand party. It was wining and dining whole night; singing and dancing; ramp walk by friends on massive thick walls of the hunting lodge! I can say one of those memorable evenings, rather nights, when you let your spirits take wings and you soar and soar…
And today, Lokendra is driving me to the same Jhoomar Baori. As we drive from Sawai Madhopur on the Ranthambhore Road, there is a rather awkward right turn at a point where road is taking a left turn! This is entry point of the area of the lodge.
To my surprise, the area is better forested, undisturbed, and teaming with wildlife, in comparison to what it was 35 years ago. There are spotted deer, spotted deer and more spotted deer. May be 100 plus. There are some nilgais as well, may be score of them. To add to the list, there are few sambars also. Lokendra tells me that leopard is occasionally sighted here in night. Quite natural, in view of the fact that the area is teaming with wild animals. I am sure, once in a while, tiger must also be exploring the area, as we all know, wildlife doesn’t know of any boundary. This is all wonderful. To add to this, the animals are not scarred of our presence. They go about their business of eating, playing, fighting in normal course. I ask Lokendra to drive slow and stop at several places. It’s a grand photo opportunity. We see many spotted deer stags with wonderful antlers, some of them have them in velvet (Stags annually drop antlers and grow new ones. In the growing stage, the antlers are covered with skin (called velvet) which later peels off.)
This seems like about one to one and half km drive with forest on both sides of the kuchcha road. We can see, Jhoomar Baori, painted red (gerua), nestling high up there, and contrasting with dense grey forest. It’s about 200-300 m steep road which brings us to the gate of Jhoomar Baori. Ahha!
It’s more imposing than the image in my mind. There is little action around. One family is checking-in. Another vehicle is parked. Lokendra tells me, “Jhoomar Baori is not doing well, as is the situation with all government outfits. There are issues of staff and maintenance. There is more red tape than hospitality.”
Lokendra is keen to see the record of my first visit! He requests the manager to show us the first guest resister of the lodge. It is highly disappointing to know that they keep the record of only four years here and rest goes to head office. He mercilessly adds that these days, old records are destroyed as there is space constraint! Frankly, I too have been keen to see my name as a first entry in the first resister. I have been even mentally preparing myself to take mobile shot of the register entry. We just take few shots the lodge, and leave.
While returning, I suddenly realise, a peculiarity with spotted deer here – they seem all male. Did we miss the female? I discuss this with Lokendra and he agrees. Thus, on our return we make a very conscious effort to check every spotted deer we can see. Strangely, we do not come across even a single female! Even some young ones around, have few inches of antler spikes visible. It is common, that stags separate out while in velvet, but one can see females around with off springs. We try and try but no female. This is rather peculiar. Maybe we are missing something. But I always say, nature’s ways are mysterious. We do not understand even tip of the iceberg. I sometimes wonder at all the claims our wildlife biologists and ecologists make with their limited observations or studies in neatly written papers!