While Jodhpur is towered by the imposing edifice of the Mehrangarh Fort, standing tall on the rhyolite hillock overlooking the entire landscape there are other wonders here that are more subtle yet not any less imposing in their effort or magnitude of labour and love. Adjacent to the famed Mehrangarh Fort is a large patch of land, now green with over 250 species of indigenous plants and shrubs found nowhere else but here, in the semi-arid to desert clime.
Covering a large area of 72 hectares along the rhyolite rock formation which are dated to be around 745 million years old, Rao Jodha Park is truly a modern wonder, a testament to the richness of inconspicuous, a legend of strife, smarts and an undying passion to restore these lands to their former glory.
Pradip Kishen, an environmentalist and trees aficionado was roped in by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust which established the park in 2006. But that was just the beginning. For over a century, mesquite (Prosopis juliflora) shrubs, an invasive species introduced from Central America had ruled the landscape to the detriment of indigenous species. With the loss of the variety of flora, the fauna suffered too, with many animals small and big either perishing or moving away from the area. To an untrained eye, all shrubs might look the same, but the indigenous species harbour a richness of life that these deserts have come to specialize in over aeons. But the thoughtless introduction of foreign species of flora, although harmless at the beginning, decimated the entire ecosystem.
The mesquite or baavlia as the locals have come to call it was a pesky one in particular. Specializing in entrenching themselves in the cracks of the volcanic rocks, rhyolite, the superficial removal of the plant turned out to be ineffective as the roots go deep into these rocks along the natural faults of rhyolite. Any number of ideas including the use of chemicals, burning among others turned ineffective against the continued invasion of baavlia.
Pradip Kishen realized that the solution was to trace the root of the problem, literally and remove it. He partnered with an unlikely community of soldiers to fight the battles and win the war against baavlia. Khandwaliyas, a local community have specialised into rock cutting and mining for generations. The rocks speak to them. They tap the stone to listen to the sounds created to understand where the faultlines and cracks lie to chip away at the hard rocks to mine them. In this case, their unusual talent came to the rescue with the roots now becoming traceable, sometimes reaching half a meter in depth. The Khandwaliyas meticulously chipped away at these faults pulling out each root by hand so as to preserve the integrity of the landscape for the reintroduction of the indigenous species.
It was a painstaking and slow process, that took almost a decade to weed out the entire area of the park and surroundings for a whole village of Khandwaliyas. Meanwhile, Pradip Kishen and team researched and started collecting the indigenous species of plants which started out as few tens of species soon grew to 80 species and today over 250 species of them have been nurtured in specialised nurseries and replanted in the Rao Jodha Park. The documented locations of invasion zones turned out to be perfect grounds for the indigenous species to start their process of reclamation in this hard rock landscape. Today, Rao Jodha Park is open to the public with naturalists helping us understand the richness of the desert biome. Hundreds of reptile species, 200+ species of birds among others have returned to this land they once abandoned. Rao Jodha Park is even an eBird hotspot.
Rao Jodha Park along with, of course, the Mehrangarh Fort and the other attractions of Jodhpur make it a must-visit destination while enjoying your stay at Manvar Luxury Camp or Manvar Desert Camp and Resort near Jodhpur. Located in the trifecta of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner, Manvar Desert Camp near Jaisalmer is a beautiful luxury resort from which to explore the great deserts of Rajasthan. Manvar Luxury Camp also exists on its own private desert reserve which the promoters of this desert camp near Jaisalmer have earmarked as an oasis for the desert ecosystem, preventing unscientific and invasive methods of agriculture destroying this fragile biome.