It must have been past midnight. All was silent except for the pair of lapwings that declared its presence in the darkness of the forest around. It was ideal time for the couple to enjoy their company with no humans round. I lay quietly in my bed inside the tent which was partially lit up with a dim light from the tiny lantern-like bulbs that glimmered outside. They seemed to be the only proof of human habitation.
I was intently trying to catch the growl of a leopard or the roar of a tiger, if any, as I was within hearing distance from the nearby Sariska Tiger Reserve. But the carnivores seemed too silent for being tracked by human ears.
I had reached ‘Vanaashrya’—a tented resort close to the wild reserve around sun set after a four hour drive from noisy, polluted Delhi making my way through the sparsely populated areas of Alwar in Rajasthan. Luckily the traffic on the state highway had been very thin and the drive had not tired my nerves.
Vanaashrya was to be my home for the next two days or nights, to be precise. The tent which I was put up in, was one of the 27 around a water body and thousands of trees, shrubs and plants in the valley-like piece of land surrounded by the Aravali hills. In fact, from the state highway, I had diverted on to a narrow, serpentine road through hills which had then climbed up one of them and landed into the valley.
There were no noises. The sky was pecked with stars, the moon was missing. The resort had gone to sleep at around 10, all lights out except the necessary ones left switched on to show signs of human habitation.
I got out of my bed holding a torch in hand and unzipped the entrance to the tent. Outside, the world had gone to sleep, except for the romantic pair of lapwings. The cool air was as pristine as nowhere, the silence heavenly. I would have loved to walk around leaving behind my tent, but the thought of a leopard pouncing on me restricted my bravery to the tent. Although the manager at the resort had assured me that there was a high wall fencing around which was a deterrent for any stray animals from the wild, but it is we, the humans, who always stray into their wild domain – we are the intruders.
Sleep forced me into my bed.
I am not an early bird, but hordes of parakeets woke me up in the morning. It was their alarm to wake me up from my slumber and see their beautiful world bereft of hunger, greed, poverty and pain.
A new dawn! I have always envied the avian way of life – they do not have to worry about tomorrow; they live for the day; they feed themselves for the day and not hoard for tomorrow because there is no tomorrow. Humans live in pain and agony because they live for tomorrow.
As I sat sipping my first cup of tea outside the tent, I watched and learnt my lessons from the different species of birds that conferenced all around on the trees. In spite of different sounds, it was still not a cacophony like the humans. The natural water body facing my tent was hosting half a dozen peacocks trying to impress the feminine gender with their graceful look and gait.
Doves flew in small groups and landed near the edge of the water body to tank for the day which would be warmer. The lapwings were nowhere to be seen.
A cool breeze around was enchanting.
An attendant from the resort came up to inform me that the breakfast will soon be ready. Unlike the birds, I must follow my morning routines.
An hour later, the sun made its presence felt, lighting up the world and warming it up. I preferred to have my breakfast in the open balcony outside the ‘Basil restaurant.’ As soon as the table was laid, I had unexpected visitors hovering around – some sparrows and jungle warblers were trying to ensure that they got a share from my breakfast, and they did. They had happily retreated after a few morsels of bread were held out to them.
My string of thoughts was diverted when I heard the manager asking me what I planned for the day – there were several excursions to historic monuments and the one which topped the list was described as the ‘most haunted’ in this part of the world – Bhangarh Fort, a trip of mere 30 kilometres from the resort.
I have heard about this ‘haunted’ fort on many occasions, but have not believed the stories about it, because stories are always concocted and above all they are stories. Before I could get myself involved in a debate as to how a fort, which houses temples of God, could be haunted, I switched to a better idea of spending my day at the resort. There was much to do – watch the trees sway, birds chatter and observe the clever black-faced langurs jump around on trees at the periphery of the resort.
I wished to devote my day to learn the lesson of life from those whom we call animals and birds. Calling them wild is a paradox. They are natural, part of Nature.
In this time of the year, weather in the region starts getting warmer, accordingly I decided to watch a film on rehabilitation of tigers in the wilds of Sariska. Some two decades ago, Sariska reserve had lost all its tiger population to cruel poachers and expanding human settlements which had encroached on their domain. Sariska had lost its entire tiger population till the authorities woke up to transfer some from Ranthambor tiger sanctuary.
Time flew by and I was ready for lunch by the time the film on Sariska tiger rehabilitation project was over.
For lunch I had requested traditional local cuisine. What was served, turned out to be delicious mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparations – a dry combination of spinach and other vegetables, fresh cheese cooked in gravy of spiced yoghurt and ‘lal maas’ (red meat) which was hot and spicy. This is a special preparation of the royals of Rajasthan and very few chefs perfect the art of making it the way it should be. My greed for ‘lal maas’ made me devour several ‘tawa rotis’. The meal was topped with Indian sweets.
After the lunch, I realised that I had eaten so much that I looked like a big round barrel. I could barely walk to my tent a few hundred metres away. The easiest thing to be done was to take a good nap. The nap turned out to be a good sleep for over an hour and a half.
The evening tea, which I would never miss, was accompanied by cookies prepared in the in-house bakery. The rest of the evening was spent going around the resort, peeping in the spa and feeling the cool breeze at the swimming pool.
The evening was full of entertainment by group of local artistes who played stringed instruments and local drums; one of the male dancers performed on the popular songs and music. The bar, Cloud 9, was nearby and I could not resist ordering a chilled beer.
No work and all play had made me lethargic and I discovered that I may not be able to eat the dinner later in the evening. I called a steward to find out what was in store for dinner. The temptation of the menu he read out turned out to be irresistible – chicken meatballs in spicy gravy.
The greed for the spicy treat made me over eat. The night I slept like a log barely making an effort to put my ear to the sounds of the jungle at night. I had decided to take a light breakfast next morning.
In the morning, the offer was once again difficult to resist – onion and potato stuffed ‘paranthas’ landed on my plate one after the other. At the same time I could not take my eyes off the muffins kept on the table. Fresh muffins, hard to be left behind prepared in the in-house bakery.
My vacation was coming to end. The coming morning I was to leave for Delhi.
In the three days that I spent at ‘Vanaashrya,’ I had lost count of days and dates; it was a world away from the world we live in which is full of intrigues and deceit.