Part I – The Jawai Diary:Looking at Leopards and Walking with Herders

Simona Quaglia is a veteran of the ‘Safari Life’. Having spent years in the African bush work alongside some of the best in the business, Simona travelled to India, a country she has had a long-running romance for, earlier this year. A natural linguist with an uncommon flair for understanding nuances, Simona travelled across Rajasthan, staying with SUJÁN. Her first sojourn, at JAWAI saw her keep a travel diary, which she kindly shares with us for all our readers. In the first of a three part series, follow Simona as she travels between Camps and Palaces, on a journey of discovery and exploration.


The landscape is an amazing mixture of agricultural fields, gigantic granite rocks and hills and rolling countryside, with the massive Jawai Reservoir sitting at its heart. From the SUJÁN Archives.


“Humility does not come naturally to me, only in the face of nature can I be truly silenced. A semi-desert environment, dotted with gigantic granite boulders, sculptural Euphorbias and white washed Shivaite temples is a combination that knocks me to my knees.


A walk through the Jawai landscape, me experimenting with a little bit of retro-photography.

I arrive at JAWAI in the afternoon; it is still unbelievably hot and I slowly familiarise myself with what will be my home for the next few days – my tent is incredibly spacious, elegantly fitted and with an industrial-contemporary twist not often seen in a safari camp.  I need to do something active. Because I left Delhi in the morning and spent 5 hours sitting either in an airplane or a car, I cannot relax if I do not exercise, at least a little bit.


The Rabari shepherds make for very striking imagery and are to be seen strolling freely with their herds in pockets of the area. From the SUJÁN Archives.

A Rabari man, who works at the camp, is going to take me out for an hour-long walk. The Rabari are semi-nomadic cattle herders, well known for their beautiful attire and natural sense of style. Obviously, I immediately want to get a copy of his outfit (although it’s only meant for men.) Our communication is on a basic level – he does not speak English and my Hindi is more than rusty – but we decide where to head and we look at what lies around us. It is painfully beautiful out here and I have a paradoxical sense of familiarity with this place, it nurtures my soul.


Back at the camp I quickly change into evening attire and join the other guests for a drink. Two hundred and twenty paraffin lanterns, smokeless and odourless, twinkle in the night while one of the most delicious Thalis (Indian plate combining different curries, rice and sauces) I have ever had, is served.


Varun, who is going to be my guide for the next few days, answers all my questions with extreme patience, knowledge and a good sense of humour. I have been sitting around campfires long enough to spot a good guide when I see one and Varun has all his ducks in a row. I retire to my room early, looking forward to the morning sunrise and explorations to come.


The private verandah at my tent was a thoughtful feature to while away the afternoon, with a book, a glass of wine, looking out at the drama of the scenery all around, with no construction for as far as you can see form your tent.

05.45 AM.: We depart on a properly fitted 4×4 open vehicle, heading northwards, where a mother leopard with 2 cubs has been seen recently. My companions in this adventure are India and Big Cats enthusiasts; in fact, she is an artist who paints tigers and leopards. We chat a bit while searching for the elusive cats and exchange our thoughts on JAWAI.


What strikes me is the fact that the area is largely inhabited – there are rural villages, fields of mustard and wheat, herds of lovely super fluffy goats (I want to bring one home with me), cows and buffalo – and at the same time it is extremely rugged, rough and wild. Leopards circle around the villages, gigantic wild beehives hang from the granite cliffs along the path to a temple, langur monkeys play everywhere and crocodiles inhabit the Jawai reservoir.


I have been used to Botswana where the human-wildlife interface is not so uncomfortably close and if there is a conflict of interest humans likely take action in response. Here, since leopards are believed to be representatives of the local Gods, this interesting coexistence has been successfully thriving for centuries.


Naina and cub Hill 6 A
JAWAI is known for its leopards and we were able to spot a family. The Guides and drivers at camp are extremely sensitive and very well trained in approaching the animals. From the SUJÁN Archives.

We finally see her. Bathing in the morning sunlight, on top of a boulder – she is a beauty.


Of all the cats, leopards are my favourite: highly adaptable, solitary, discrete, uber-sexy: just my type. We spend a good fifteen minutes looking at her and then she starts hiking up the kopje. We quietly manoeuvre our jeep to circle round the other side of the big rock and arrive in time to witness the meeting between her and her two cubs. What a scene!


After ten minutes they are gone, blending completely in the different shades of granite and lost in the rock-face. We decide to move on and have a coffee break somewhere.


The following days are filled with more safaris and explorations, delicious meals, interesting conversations, learning new things, massages, reads by the pool.


I do not want to go, but another adventure awaits, somewhere else in Rajasthan, in a palace of ‘once upon the time’ and ecstatic grace.


But I’ll keep this for another story.

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