Bookmark Ranthambore Where Wildlife, Craft and Culture Meet

Bookmark Ranthambore Where Wildlife, Craft and Culture Meet

The meandering forest road of Ramnthambhore

Posted July 9, 2024

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The last of the sun’s rays fade behind the Aravalli mountain range leaving a heavenly afterglow. A somber melody with rhythmic rhapsodies reverberates down the vast expanse of the plains of Ranthambore and fades away beyond the mountains. It is fascinating to watch how skillfully Tularam plays the Ravanhatha, one of the world’s oldest stringed instruments. The red-turbaned 50-something man swiftly moves his fingers on the holes of the protracted wind. He also uses a curved bow to play the folk instrument and the plaintive melody seems to synchronize perfectly with the twilight hues.

Exploring Ranthambore on Jungle Safaris

Spread over an area of 392 sq km, just 200 km away from Jaipur, the state capital of the western Indian state of Rajasthan, Ranthambore is hugely popular among tourists and wildlife enthusiasts for tiger spotting.

Earlier that day, I embarked on two back-to-back jungle safaris. The eclectic terrain of meandering hills and ridges, the meadows, the numerous waterholes, and brooklets make this dry-deciduous forest home to a plethora of flora and fauna. The curious looks of chital, sambhar deer, and nilgai, the relaxed family gathering of langurs on the boughs of an age-old banyan tree, the crocodiles basking on the bank of a pink fern-wrapped lake, and the sudden, sharp scream of the serpent eagle and inquisitive glance of the swift-footed mongoose delighted us. The majestic big cats of Ranthambhore, however, eluded me on this trip.

A lone spotted deer amid the mellow afternoon light

A lone spotted deer amid the mellow afternoon light

A New Perspective on Ranthambhore

This musical soiree is a cultural experience few people associate with Ranthambhore. A brief conversation with Tularam just before the beginning of his performance altered my perspective on Ranthambhore. He lives in a village nearby and comes here at the Bookmark Resort Jogi Mahal every evening to perform for an hour. He aims to spread his ancient music far and wide, an art learned from his ancestors. We gathered at the pool area of Bookmark Jogi Mahal, named after the palace of the erstwhile kings of Jaipur, where I based myself for a couple of days to try my tiger luck and chat over tasty snacks and savories.

Ranthambore’s Charms

“Ranthambore’s tigers are world famous, but the place has many other things to offer” – Tularam tells me. After his musical performance, it is time for a guided star gazing session at the sprawling lawn of the property. I notice a slender young woman, probably in her early thirties, looking intently at a piece of paper in her hand.
“Are you staying for the stargazing session?” I ask her “Certainly,” she smiles. She is Sheetal, a Chennai-based banker and art lover who has flown from the southern part of India primarily to meet the legendary soot painter M. D. Parashar. With domestic lampblack and a sharply folded newspaper used as a nib, he creates amazing portraits of tigers. She hands me the paper. “It is a gift from the artist himself,” Sheetal excitedly informs me. I look at the stunning artwork closely. Sheetal tells me how with a few strokes he has made an incredible creation.
As we move towards the lawn area, Sheetal further enlightens me that Mr. Parashar has set up the Ranthambore School of Art and Wildlife Conservation Society where he imparts free education to his students. Some of his masterpieces are displayed at the residence of India’s President and also at the White House.

One of the many water bodies of Ranthambhore, this one id characterised by its vibrant pink surface

One of the many water bodies of Ranthambhore, this one id characterised by its vibrant pink surface

A Convergence of Eco and Astro-Tourism in Ranthambore

We step onto the immaculately mowed lawn. A group of people circles around a powerful telescope. Here begins our unique astronomical safari under a star-nailed sky. Sanjay Singh Ranawat, a young man in his twenties, comes forward and welcomes us. He guides us to get acquainted with the celestial phenomena.
The North Star, Jupiter with its moons, Sirius, and even Nebula enthrall and mesmerize us with their celestial vibrance caught on the powerful telescope. Sanjay informs that this stargazing would restrict artificial light pollution that endangers and harms the nocturnal habits of the animals of the National Park on one hand and promote astronomy on the other. Unknowingly, at Ranthambore, I have landed at a convergence between eco and Astro-tourism.

A Culinary Journey Worth of Royal Families

It is difficult to stave off the hypnotizing effect of the enchanting star trails. But it is getting quite late. We head out to the inviting ambiance of the dining hall to savor the mouth-watering Rajasthani thali, a decadent spread steeped in the vibrant and aromatic flavors of Rajasthani cuisine. The meticulously prepared dishes such as dal bati churma, deliciously spiced veggies, a thick, stewed mutton curry and the delectable dessert of rabri (rice pudding) take us on a culinary journey once enjoyed by the royal families of Rajasthan.

I wake up to a leisurely morning and quietly relish the huge buffet spread admiring the impressive architecture of the pool area before me. The orchestrated steps along with multiple small chambers have a close resemblance with the subterranean architecture of Chand Baori, one of the ancient stepwells of Jaipur that dates back to the 9th-century.

The evening musical soiree

The evening musical soiree

Exploring Ranthambore’s Ancient Craft

After breakfast, I set out for Shyamota village to experience the ancient craft of black pottery of Ranthambore, an emblem of Rajasthan’s rich folk heritage. Only 16 km away from the district town of Sawai Madhopur, lies this small village settlement where six to seven families are engaged in the dainty craftsmanship. Nadeem, a tall, lanky fellow guides me to the small hamlet.

We come across Shambhu Prajapat, one of the creators of the unique art that has been handed down through generations. He explains the entire process—from the collection of iron-rich clay from the banks of river Banas to forming and kneading the dough and finally craft free-flowing shapes of birds, animals, and geometric patterns and motifs. Finally, he shows me the closed kilns or furnaces where the antique technique of firing in diligently controlled temperatures lends the black texture that adds to the aesthetic appeal of black pottery.

“A non-government organization has come forward to save and revive this dying art,” Nadeem informs me on our way to the Ranthambore Fort. “It has generated rural income and boosted up the spirits of the craftsmen, especially the skilled women artisans of the surrounding villages,” he adds.

The ruined walls of Ranthambhore fort

The ruined walls of Ranthambhore fort

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

We navigate the high steps to reach the entrance of the fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the hill forest series of Rajasthan. Tucked deep inside the Ranthambore National Park, the fort with its exalted architecture stands tall despite endless wars. The graceful gates, known as ’pols’, the stone alleys, waterbodies, crumbling pavilions, palaces, mosque, and the temple of Lord Ganesha (known as the God of wealth and wisdom) within the fort premises unveil the multi-layered bequest engraved deep into the mosaic of diverse cultures and customs of India.
As we near the vantage point for the panoramic views of the national park from the fort itself, Nadeem tells me that the fort is also the bystander of “jauhar’ (self–immolation) of royal women when Alauddin Khilji, the Muslim invader had captured the fort in the 14th century.

I stand there, awestruck. The sun is about to set. Edged by dense forest, lush green grasslands, and a large lake, the ruined structure of Jogi Mahal, once the hunting base of the royal families of Jaipur, and the present abode of the animal world that adorn Ranthambore National Park looks otherworldly. The symphony of colors evokes deep emotions that intertwine a thankfully abolished, horrid blood sport with an assured haven for the wildlife.

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