a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

An ancient landscape

In Rajasthan’s Pali district, slabs of granite loom up from the earth, sculpted by complex chemical interactions, wind and weather. Scattered around are the few shrubs and trees that can survive these semi-arid conditions: Euphorbia caducifolia, so prickly that no animal will eat it; stands of axlewood trees (Anogeissus pendula), kept short and scrubby by grazing; Acacia catechu, lopped by local herdsmen for goat fodder until the trees appear professionally pollarded; solitary specimens of the alien-seeming giant milkweed (Calotropis procera); the year-round yellow flowers of the matura tea tree (Senna auriculata), used as a local form of henna.Pali 08

Yet in places there is enough good soil and groundwater for the local farmers to cultivate rich green fields of mustard, wheat, cumin and chick peas. The crops are all managed by hand. Pali 03 Pali 09 There is another draw to this ancient landscape. Here, leopards co-exist with villagers, who believe the cats protect valuable artifacts in the hilltop temples. (What thief would venture into the mountains at night, while the leopards are hunting?) In return, the herdsmen accept that the occasional goat or sheep is taken by the leopards. Indeed livestock is probably the cats’ biggest source of food.

Pali 21 Leopard safaris are now encouraging tourists (including us) into this remote part of southwestern Rajasthan. In many ways the new safari camp is welcome, bringing in international experts to put a renewed focus on the conservation of the local flora and fauna. The camp also pumps money and employment into a rural economy where, despite the romantic-sounding life of the farmers, the work is hard and the financial rewards poor. Many village children want to leave the area and find office jobs in the city.

Pali 01 Pali 10

But there are worries that more camps may follow, resulting in too many tourists and too much disruption. The villagers also fear that greater awareness of their leopard population may mean that, under wildlife protection legislation, the government will take their land and livelihoods and turn the area into a national park. The disappearance of crops and livestock, and the introduction of the fences, permits and regulations that accompany national park designation, would greatly impact on the area’s character.

The future is not clear. It is difficult to know even what would be for the best. But it was a joy to visit and see this ancient landscape at a turning point in its long history.

Pali 02
Pali 12

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9 comments on “An ancient landscape

  1. Catherine
    January 29, 2015

    I loved this brittle landscape, which I’m thinking is the area between Udaipur and Jodphur? We heard there were leopards about but didn’t do any safari side trips having been turned off that whole scene by the tiger spotting safari at Ranthambore. It consisted of around 15 tourist-filled jeeps sliding at break-neck speed around dusty roads with all the guides shouting at once and jostling for position, trying to find a tiger silly enough to get close to the track. Total mayhem and not at all enjoyable. I hope that if the Pali area is developed for safaris it is able to do so with more dignity.
    I took lots of photos of this arid zone vegetation but hadn’t identified the plants other than guessing genera, so I’m glad I can now put some names to interesting faces – thank you!

    • landscapelover
      January 29, 2015

      Catherine, hi.

      Yes this is mid-way between Jodhpur and Udaipur. It is quite an extraordinary place, and pretty remote.

      I am sorry you had such a miserable experience at Ranthambhore National Park. Our daughter was there on a school trip recently and the tigers wandered near the cantors, almost as if they were tame. The trouble is that it is known to have lots of tigers and so of course it gets full of tourists, and tip-hungry guides!

      It would as you say be a great shame if Pali goes down that route. Currently the only camp in the area we visited is privately run and seems very careful and focused on conservation.

      Leopard safaris do have a different feel – as these cats are very shy of humans, but tend to bask on rocks and sleep in trees, so once you spot one, you can often observe it for a long time, so long as you do not get close. Whereas tigers are bolder but more restless, hence the screeching jeep chases….

  2. Jack Holloway
    January 29, 2015

    WOW! To a South African much is more familiar than Europe offers, but still – WOW!! What abeautiful landscape, beautifully presented to us. Many thanks!

    • landscapelover
      January 31, 2015

      Jack, thank you for the comment. You’re right that this felt pretty alien to me as a Brit. I knew some of the plant species but the overall feel of the vegetation was very different. It was stark but quite stunning.

  3. College Gardener
    February 3, 2015

    How beautiful… But of course danger lurks on the horizon, as always. Hopefully it will develop gently and positively, to the benefit of the villagers and leopards.

  4. Lula
    February 5, 2015

    Jill, I love “visiting” some parts of India from by reading your posts, and I share the worries about troubles and dangers that tourism can bring, sometimes along with prosperity for the areas. It is a matter of balance, but that is kind of complex in a contemporary world.

  5. Sounds like an awesome place. It sounds like the Safaris and tour guides are spoiling it. I hope for the best… because there aren’t to many places like this left on the planet. Is the area a dried up water bed? The rock formations are amazing.

  6. jimenace
    June 17, 2015

    Hi Jill, some 60 years ago i was avidly reading Kipling and assumed that the whole of northern India consisted of fertile jungles and forests and Mowglis, Bagheeras etc.
    40 years ago i travelled through some of this country and found it very dry and arid and largely devoid of vegetation – much like what you have described.
    Ranthambore N.P. seemed like a tiny island under pressure from populations intent upon finding firewood and somewhere to survive.
    Have you managed to discover what has happened to the landscapes of northern India over the past 100 years or so? If i am correct regarding the extent of clearing you wonder how they will survive from erosion, global warming, reduced rainfall etc.
    Then I read your article on Stourhead and that seemed like you were writing from another planet – perhaps that was prior to your going to Delhi?
    i adored Stourhead on my first visit some decades ago. But since then, i have spent more time in Australia, South America and the Mediterranean. These countries are more preoccupied with designing with their environments and climates – because they have to – and perhaps, in a way, this means they are less inclined to romantic follies – which is what i now assume Stourhead to be.
    Of course, no doubt if i were to return to Stourhead once more, i would fall in love with it all once again since i am a romantic at heart…
    But i have a suspicion that i have somehow passed on.
    Best,
    Warwick Forge

    • landscapelover
      June 28, 2015

      Warwick, thanks for the thoughtful comments. We have flitted between India and the UK over the past four years, so have enjoyed the extraordinary contrasts between somewhere like Stourhead and the arid plains of Rajasthan.

      Like you, I fell in love with Stourhead on my first visit. It may be inspired by fanciful European paintings and Italian myths, but it feels quintessentially English. I think it might weave its magic again if you revisited…

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This entry was posted on January 29, 2015 by in India and tagged , , .

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