“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”
– Wallace Stegner, 1980
Some of the hills in Jawai have names, local reference points for the villagers named to signify a feature or honour a deity; Hirodi, Nag-Giri and Liloda. The origins of their nomenclature are as mysterious as the shapes and forms these hills takes. Others stand tall in their anonymity. Brushed by the strokes of sun and cloud, washed by rainwater, and gently massaged into bizarre shapes in the breezes of millennia, that have whistled through this megacosmic mural, the hills of Jawai create the backdrop (and the stage) on which its theatre plays out. From every dawn that caresses the hilltops in golden light to every dusk that casts them into shadows and darkness again, these dramatic hills are the most significant props nature has moulded for this region. In themselves, they are an ecosystem, and, an escape. Their crevices and gorges, are nurseries for the otherwise sparse vegetation of grasses, shrubs, and small trees. Caverns conceal and overhangs provide cover to fauna species, big and small; striped hyena, porcupines, palm civets and of course their most prominent residents, wild leopards. Mighty birds, eagles, large owls and kestrels among them, nest in their towering eyries. They are home to thousands of doves who betray exactly why they are called “Laughing doves” and troops of langur monkeys who impart a whole new understanding of the term, “monkey business”. In between the rocky leviathans – dated by geologists to be at least 800 million years old – run stream-beds, snaking their way past and around the jagged, lower outcrops or through undulating pastoral fields. These turn into waterless sand-rivers in the drier months but are flowing with the run-off in monsoon, most of which empties into the Jawai reservoir. These zig-zagging connections of interlinking corridors, bordered by green and russet grasses, dishevelled and bursting out of the earth are home to bugs and the birds that feed on them. They are also avenues where predators tread – mostly at night – looking for a meal or patrolling their territories.
But Jawai is not a wilderness that is bounded or kept together like reserves or national parks across the world. It is a living wilderness, inhabited by humans where traditions have a stronger influence than restrictions. Rabaris go about herding their cattle in a manner that suggests an Arcadian timelessness, they do not encourage logging because a dead tree is of no use to them, instead they have adopted sustainable techniques of lopping certain trees, to use as fodder for their cattle. A technique which also helps the tree go taller. But this is only one example of the harmony between nature and man in this quiet corner.
There is nothing archetypal about Jawai. The mind scans memory to find a resonance with some other place or some other time you may have visited or visualised that is like Jawai, but there really isn’t. Among these gnarled stones, this sprinkling of breathtakingly, beautiful bounties in a small corner of Rajasthan is a landscape that heals and revives. The air is as fresh as the veggies at lunchtime and the air so crisp, you feel you are inhaling nutrients out of nothingness. And these spaces do whisper reminders – now lost in primordial genetic memory – of why we humans, biologically, psychologically, and physically feel better and elevated in spirit at the sight or experience of a beautiful landscape, its woods, rolling hills, waterbodies, its undulations and crazy asymmetrical designs, flawless. This is how we lived for over 95 per cent of our existence on earth as a species. Walking through this landscape or slowly driving in it is an ‘eye-opener’ in a literal sense of the term. You depart one scenic brush with the topography to stumble upon another, and another until what appears to be, in the horizon, a land that has been crafted, perfectly, to represent what some travellers have called Narnia.
The cacophony of car horns, the glimmer or unnatural lights, the beeps of machines and telephones and the whizzing anti-gravitational pulls of elevators rushing faster and faster through storeys are not our natural state of being. They drain us. Jawai is, to a large extent, part of that “geography of hope” that revives and refreshes us and heals us by giving us time in a natural state but without any quixotic absence of the human element either.