India and Africa - For the love of Wildlife
We think we travel to discover new and exciting places, to feel alive in a city not your own. We do things when we are away that would never occur to us as plausible at home. In this dichotomy I think we find the paradox of life – the yearning to be both away and amid familiar, all at once.
My journey to Rajasthan opened my mind to so many similarities with Africa – quite comfortable beside new discoveries. The Palaces and the Forts, the simple welcome of Marigold Garlands and iced tea, the pulse of the mopeds in tiny alley ways, the packs of scruffy dogs seamlessly beside temples and the susurration of the call to prayer.
Yet this smorgasbord promised spice, some wilderness. Sujan came to my rescue and even added a quirky, elegant palace, Rajmahal Palace in Jaipur. These elegant boutique – styled destinations are also a part of the Relais & Chateau group. I use the word ‘destinations’ with the collective mind set that each of the hotels is stand alone in their own right, service levels are impeccable and attention to detail is a way of life.
Most of my working life was in Southern Africa, in the Sabi Sands, in the Greater Kruger National Park. In between there was Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other wildlife hot spots. My joy at the thought of an Indian Safari was contagious – meaning people listened but walked away with a gentle head shake.
We started our journey in Udaipur on the lake, in the exquisite Lake Palace. This incredible soft landing was just the tonic we needed to refuel and ramble slowly towards the reserve. Along the way a stand out hotel for me was the Raas Devigarh – the 39 large, luxurious suites are each individually decorated. I loved how the beautiful maze of spaces were a visual and sensory theatre. Ampersand founder and managing director, James, called the design ‘achingly cool’ and that is the most real way to describe the authenticity of the décor and design. I would add playfulness, as the occasional splash of beautiful bright swashes of colour is an instant reminder to revel in the originality. The breath taking views of rural life, the Avravali Hills – unique invitations to go horse or camel riding, mountain biking, hiking or take in the rural small town that is less congested that the larger cities. The minimalist pared down haven is also the ideal rooftop space for early morning yoga.
Sujan Jawai was calling as soon as we turned off the main road and onto a dirt road (far less bumpy than any African gravel tracks). We were met by our guide and a lodge host, Will. We changed vehicles and the open game drive vehicle affirmed that the safari had begun. Not a single Landrover or a Toyota Land Cruiser in sight and the compact, efficient Mahindra was a smooth ride! From the onset the attention to detail and the presentation of facts and information was excellent. As in most National Parks, there is no off road driving.
Sujan Jawai is not a permanent camp due to the seasonal summer rains. There are 8 Luxury tents 1 family tented suite and a Royal Tented Suite. The tents are large and spacious with minimalist black and white prints of leopards contrasted with red splashes against the white Linen. The main areas follow this style with a minimalist, striking display of red turbans in the main area.
Once you know that the camp has all the bells and whistles, your attention is focused on the incredible eco-systems the lodge has implemented in order to leave no carbon footprint. Their back of house has herb and vegetable gardens all on a systematic drip-irrigation. They have a vast selection of some of the best wine in the world – all refrigerated by a wooden framework packed with charcoal blocks! The best sustainable wine cellar I have ever encountered!
The food, as for all the Sujan properties is simple and beyond delicious. The wildlife experience is not so much about a ‘typical’ safari. The ticking off species only counts with the incredible number of bird species – Lifers will be ticked off at speed! The lodge has a far more ‘tread-lightly’ thinking in the ethos they follow. Leopards are seen frequently, and sparse general game is sighted. The focus is on sustainability and in conjunction with the local authority and the Indian Government they work together to facilitate village life, sustainability of wildlife areas and tourism. The immensity of the project and the shared commitment is impressive and extremely progressive. The sense of commitment and continuity to the land and surrounding communities is a powerful policy.
The Sujan group continues this formula at Sher Bagh. The lodge is also tented but on a more permanent basis than Jawai. The luxury Tents are spacious, beautifully appointed and generous in proportion. The lodge staff are polished, gracious and attentive – they live in the local villages and the lodge is a necessary source of income for local communities. The daily game drives are scheduled and enter different zones to contain the vehicle density. The guides and trackers are all local and extremely knowledgeable. The most touching part of the drives was to always see, towering over the wildlife areas – the Rathambore fort wall. I felt an overwhelming sense of endurance, commitment and hard labour.
In this sparse contrast of history and wildlife preservation there is an eternal binding theme. The concept of looking back while all the time putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. The reality I have learned is that no safari is the same – there is no measurement. The preservation and commitment to sustainability is a global goal. India continues to add to the indelible commitment to preserve wilderness areas.
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