An eden on the rocks
An apparently inhospitable and rocky patch of the Thar desert near Jodhpur is the unlikely home of a new garden created by filmmaker-turned-botanist Pradip Krishen and his team.Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, named for Jodhpur’s founder, opened in February on the very rock the Rajput ruler had chosen for his citadel, Mehrangarh Fort, five centuries ago.
A severely eroded expanse of volcanic outcrops was what Krishen was faced with six years ago when approached by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust to rehabilitate the 70-hectare area around the fort. The site was also overrun by an invasive Mexican mesquite, aptly named baavlia or ‘the mad one’ in Mawari because of its ability to take hold in even the most hostile of environments, depriving other plants of nutrients. To uproot it, one must go at least 35cm beneath the surface. But what if this zone is hidden deep within the rocky landscape? The local khandwalias, or traditional stonemasons (khanda is Marwari for ‘rock’), had the answer.
The khandwalias, whose forefathers had helped build the fort, knew that by striking rock with their hammers and listening to its ‘song’, they could sense miniscule weaknesses. Thus, Dhan Singh Khandwalia and his team were able to pry out the baavlia.
The crevices left by the extractions would serve as incubators for a whole new generation of plants. Much of the groundwork had been done by a doyen of Thar desert botany, Prof M.M. Bhandari, or “Doct-saab”, who, although close to 80, had an infectious enthusiasm. Doctsaab knew where to find even the most shy desert bloom so that Krishen and his team could begin to build up a nursery.
After three years, during which time Doct-saab passed away, the nursery boasted 9,000 plants of 55 species. Now, the park is home to about 140 species. An original city gate has been restored to form the centrepiece of the park and houses the ticket office, visitor’s centre, and shop; a café will follow. A richlyillustrated
plant guide, designed by Kadambari Misra, enhances the visit.
While late July to October offers the most vibrant show, the park reveals its secrets year-round with some plants flowering in February or March, or bursting into bud with the first rains.
Krishen and his team still have a range of ideas: guides will be trained from the community; locals will be encouraged to get involved; and plans are afoot for ‘music in the park’ evenings.
How to go: Take the Mandor Express to Jodhpur from Old Delhi station.
Where to stay: Raas, the boutique haveli hotel (raasjodhpur.com) in the heart of the city. If you’d like a country retreat close to Jodhpur, choose Rohet Garh heritage hotel (rohetgarh.com), a stately home for more than 300 years, where owner Sidharth Singh breeds beautiful Marwari horses.
Opening hours: Winter 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Summer 6.30 a.m. to 7 p.m.