Friday, June 11

Castle Bera

After coming to the four lane Highway near Mount Abu, we cut off to SH 62 at Pindwara. Ask for the road to Binani cement factory and follow it for about 40 kms and you will reach Bera.

Baljeet, the cheerful owner of Castle Bera, and his brother have inherited this ancient heritage property known as “The Rawala”. Baljeet has air conditioned 5 rooms in his part of the castle and invites people “to experience the royal life in rural Rajasthan”.

Castle Bera has been playing host to “royalty, dignitaries from foreign countries and world renowned photographers” for a long time now... and as a homestay for 2-3 years now... but we were the first to come there from Mahindra Homestays.

Baljeet Singh is so detached, by choice, from the world here... he rarely watches the news... he probably reads the newspaper only for the cartoons. His only contact with the outside world is his cell phone.

But, how can one do business like this we ask him... “my son-in-law in Bangalore, reads and replies to my emails... so I get a call every time that there is a booking - works well for me!”

We reached Castle Bera  after our drive thru rural Rajastan... filled with goats/sheep and shepherds with their brightly coloured turbans, at about 4pm and after a quick wash and some great chai... were off on our first drive - at that point we did not know it was a wildlife safari.

This safari was not in the middle of a reserve forest or anything... no wildlife warden... no permissions... no red-tape. The entire area is “revenue land - basically, agricultural land that may not be used for industrial or residential purposes".

Castle Bera is near the Jawai bandh (Dam). Built by Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur the dam covers an area of 500 sq. km and is the biggest dam in western Rajasthan.

This place is really in the middle of nowhere... the nearest town is probably Pali - some 30 kms away.

The safari started off with pleasantries and chatter as we drove thru the village... everyone in the village was getting up from their work... bowing, saluting our dear Baljeet Singh... and because we were in the same jeep with him, made us feel like royalty too!

The safari itself started with a fair amount of dirt-tracking and off-roading... and we got very excited with the few peacocks and peahens we saw flying as they tried to cross the road... Baljeet was not impressed... he was nonchalantly nodding his head... hmmmmm!!!

As we stopped next to a rocky hillock we realised why... the place was infested with peacocks and peahens... hundreds of them... all trying to walk up the hillside... to get to the peak... only to glide down... what a sight - felt like we were watching a scene from Jurassic Park!

The best part of the safari was yet to come... the man who was seated in the back of our jeep pulled out a searchlight and in 5 minutes pointed to a small pair of glowing eyes... a leopard. In the course of the next hour and half we watched open mouthed as the leopard yawned, stretched, walked... straight... towards us... coming close to 10 feet of our jeep!

Baljeet Singh’s regular safaris in this area have prevented poaching to a great extent. “They all know that I drive these roads almost everyday and any hanky-panky will not go un-noticed”, he said.

The next day, morning and evening safaris were just as exciting... flying Peacocks, herds of Nilgai, Pelicans, Crocodile, Geese, Storks, Robins, Cranes... and the usual spotted deer.

Interestingly, the Nilgai (blue-cow in Hindi) is not a cow/bull, but actually an antelope, the biggest in Asia. For some reason the locals believe it is a “distant cousin of the holy cow” and that has helped in conservation. Good for us! 

Another interesting feature was the landscape itself - though these hills are a part of the Aravali range we could not help but notice that the smooth shape of the rocks looked like they were ‘carved’ by ocean currents. 15 minutes on Google and I found that there were enough theories and scientific proof that the entire Thar desert was believed to have been under water - during the Jurassic era. We had seen very similar caves near Bhopal, Madhyapradesh on our trip to Bhimbatika a few years ago.

Back at Castle Bera we were treated like royalty all the time... the rooms were plush, comfortable and well air conditioned... our large bathroom even had a fresco painting on the ceiling. Because we were there in the middle of summer when the average afternoon temperature was 49 Deg plus... we left the A/C “on” at all times on Baljeet's advice.

All the rooms were decorated with memorabilia and pictures from all over... of royalty... and everyone is related to everyone. When we stand in front of a picture (among the hundreds that dote the walls) we are introduced to everyone - “His Higness of Somewhere... or His Highness’ brother... or the present His Highness’ father....”. 

I truly can’t remember the details of the interlinked family tree but I can tell you one thing... somehow they are all realated to (or decendents from) the one-and-only Maharana Pratap.

The food at Castle Bera was simple and royal... though we decided to have vegetarian food for most of our stay we were cajoled by Baljeet to “taste the local chicken - not the fake broiler chicken that you get in your cities... this is really tasty” - and he was right - it was the non-veg equivalent of organic vegetables!

Armed with precise directions from Baljeet, on how to get to Delhi (en route to our next stay at The Hive, Nainital) we head out to brave the heat of Rajasthan.


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