Ride to the Taal Chappar Blackbuck Sanctuary
This is an all-absorbing ride that holds you in the moment: you are transported away you’re your familiar routine and fully involved with these wonderful forward-going Marwari horses. This is an outstanding opportunity to experience rural India as few travellers do. Taal Chappar is a pristine piece of bush containing India’s largest populations of Blackbuck and the charming Demoiselle cranes.
Day 1 Saturday: getting there
This itinerary does not include the international flights schedule, but we are ATOL bonded and can arrange flights. We recommend flying in to Jaipur and we will meet you at the airport. The flight from London flies overnight.
We will meet you at the airport and drive up to Nawalgarh, a small market town in the heart of the Shekhawati region in central Rajasthan. Our base is a superbly restored Shekhawati manor house that is a blend of British and Rajput styles. There are lovely, spacious lawns, a billiard room and a swimming pool; the stable, with about 70 Marwaris, is adjacent to the manor.
After lunch we walk across to the stables to be introduced to the team for the safari, followed by a briefing on horse riding, India style. Marwaris are bright, intelligent horses and tune in to their new rider very quickly: the tack is fundamentally English but the horses will listen to your leg and will neck-rein, if this is a style of riding you prefer. A light touch is required and a consistent seat. The stable owner will accompany the safari and he will introduce you to your horse and mention any particular characteristics he/she may have. They are all a pleasure to ride!
When everyone is mounted and warmed up in the outdoor school, we’ll set off for a short ride along the sandy pathways that surround the property. Anyone not comfy with their horse can change when we return to the stable.
Nawalgarh is in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan and consists of Jhunjhunu and Sikar districts. It’s known for the painted houses or “Havelis ” which were originally built by members of the wealthy merchant class known as the Marwaris. This region is called the open-air art gallery of Rajasthan because there are so many havelis, some in better repair than others.
Nawalgarh was founded in 1737 by Thakur Nawal Singh, a warrior statesman, whose name is enshrined in history and folklore. The town exudes an old world charm and the colourful bazaar has the largest number of painted Havelis in all of Shekhawati.
Overnight at the manor house, Nawalgarh. Saddle time: 2 hrs Distance ridden: 15 km Full board.
Day 2 Sunday Nawalgarh
In the morning take a ride out into the countryside with picnic breakfast. The land here is flat and semi-arid. There is a tapestry of fields with a network of paths and trails in between. The scale of farming is small and a great deal of work is still carried out in the traditional way, by hand. Things like tractors do exist but tend to be owned on a co-operative basis. Many of the farming homes we pass will have a house-cow plus 2 or 3 water buffalo to pull a cart and provide milk for a drink called “lassy” which is a yogurt-style drink. Return in time for lunch.
The afternoon is free to enjoy the grounds or join an optional activity: for example, we can invite a local lady, who is a henna specialist, to visit the garden and if you would like her to adorn your hands and arms with henna decorations, now is the time to try it! Henna lasts about 7 to 10 days before fading away. There will also be a trip into the town to look at some remarkable frescos in the Havelis and stroll through the market.
Return to the manor at twilight and watch the horse (all 70 of them) canter in from the paddock: each one will find its own box, unassisted!
Overnight at the manor house, Nawalgarh. Saddle time: 4 hrs Distance ridden: 22 km Full board.
Day 3 Ride from Nawalgarh via Churiajitgarh to Nabipura
After breakfast we head out riding through similar countryside to yesterday, carrying a picnic lunch; but unlike yesterday, we continue on to reach a small copse where there’s a dry waterhole, surrounded by Ker trees. The ker produces an unassuming fruit that is used in pickles and curry dishes. It’s also a favourite food for Blue Bulls which live in this area. Blue Bulls are similar in size to red deer, but they sit on a heavier chassis! More like a kudu (if you’re lucky enough to have visited Africa).
Overnight in luxury camp. Saddle time: 5 ½ hrs Distance ridden: 26 km Full board.
A typical day on safari
To give you an idea of what to expect here is a typical day on the trail…
Wake up early and have a wash in one of the camp’s warm-water shower tents before sitting down to some Indian-style scrambled eggs and Chai (chai = milky, spicy, sweet tea – which is much nicer than it sounds!).
The grooms will tack up your horse and we set off before the sun gets too hot. The morning ride usually lasts between 3 and 4 hours, often with a watering stop en route for both horses and riders. It doesn’t take long for the horses to warm up and before you know it, we are cantering along the sandy tracks with the sun on our backs. The hours and miles fly by and in no time it’s time for lunch.
Life in the countryside stops when the mercury rises, so we take a long slow lunch in the shade and rest for several hours. Take a nap, play a card game, or simply enjoy some time to relax and read. In the late afternoon as the sun descends we mount our Marwari horses once again and set off for about a two hour ride. Before long we’ll see the bright colours of the tented camp and a lively canter gets us there in no time.
The camp is no ordinary camp: it’s huge! The individual canvas-walled rooms are large enough to stand up in; they are carpeted and each contains 2 cot-beds; linen, blankets, quilts and pillows are provided. There are between 5 and 7 “rooms” erected around a central fire-pit, where we take sundowners and chat about the day’s action. There’s a communal mess tent for dining and a separate bathroom with hot showers: shower water is heated over a log fire. The entire compound is surrounded by a canvas “wall” to create a totally private camp in the bush.
Beyond the camp is a separate kitchen, which you’re welcome to visit. The horses are individually tethered and looked after by the team of grooms.
Day 4 ride on to Fatehpur Beed
The terrain this morning is similar to yesterday’s – a tapestry of small farms and subsistence shambas. In semi-arid and desert areas water is at a premium and over the last decade the Indian government has gone to great lengths to provide water to all hamlets and villages. Great for the local residents, but the water-table has been lowered, changing conditions for indigenous flora. However, the indigenous animals prosper: water is available throughout the year, albeit from a concrete trough rather than muddy pools.
In days gone by wells were few and far-between and considered sacred places known as “Johda”. In fact they were navigation points, much as we used to navigate using inns as reference points. We’ll stop today at a johda for lunch (80m deep!).
The afternoon ride brings us to Fatehpur Beed a famous johda that used to be so important that bricks and mortar sprang up and housed accommodation used to be available (now derelict). 300 years ago the Nawab (nawab = feudal over-lord) of Fatehpur declared that all the land he could ride across (on a Marwari of course!) between sunrise and sunset would be protected in perpetuity. Today Fatehpur Beed is a remarkable “oasis” of conservation 70 km² and refuge to many species of desert plants and animals including desert fox, jackal, blue bull and several other antelope species. Free of human interference a semi-forest can re-establish itself in arid conditions.
Overnight in luxury camp. Saddle time: 6 ½ hrs Distance ridden: 31 km Full board.
Day 5 Fatehpur Beed to Shanmata
Today we ride out of camp with the rising sun on our backs, heading westwards. We cross the border into Bikaner (not an actual “border” just a line on the map!) however, the topography and landscape changes too. The country becomes drier and there’s an abrupt appearance of sand dunes – some quite large. The horses need to work hard to travel through the softer, deeper sand and there are some sharp, short ascents and descents. Picnic lunch and then on across the sand to emerge at a coppice near the Shanmata “Rock Edifice Temple”. Shanmata is a form of Hinduism that considers all Hindu deities equally important (the Hindu deities being Ganesh, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Surya and Skanda) rather than focusing on one at the expense of the other five.
Overnight in luxury camp. Saddle time: 7 hrs Distance ridden: 34 km Full board.
Day 6 Shanmata to Taal Chappar
This morning sees another change in topography: we leave the arid, sandy country and enter a flat area where the soil is richer and plant life more vigorous. This is the Taal Chappar black buck sanctuary.
“Taal” means “plain” and Chappar is the name of the adjacent village. The land is flat and used to be a floodplain, but the lowering of the water-table combined with a thriving salt mine, not far from the boundary, means that little water now reaches the sanctuary. The birds, animals and plants that thrive here are desert specialists. The blackbuck is probably the most famous resident and look smart in their contrasting black and white livery: top half black, lower half white. They are about the size of our roe deer, or Springbok if you’ve visited southern Africa.
Camp tonight is on the park’s boundary and there’s no doubt that riding in a sanctuary is a whole different dimension compared to driving through one: the fauna is less disturbed and you feel part of the environment.
Overnight in luxury camp. Saddle time: 7 hrs Distance ridden: 31 km Full board.
Day 7 Taal Chappar Blackbuck Sanctuary
Full day riding in the park and exploring the area around the peripheries of Tal Chappar Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary covers 71 Km² of semi-desert scrubland. It has largest herds of blackbuck in India as well as chinkara gazelle, desert cat, desert fox and other dry land wildlife. Flocks of demoiselle and common cranes are resident on nearby lakes and wet lands. Other birdlife includes sand grouse, quails and cream-coloured desert courser. Picnic lunch. Evening return to camp.
Overnight in luxury camp. Saddle time: 5 hrs Distance ridden: 26 km Full board.
Day 8 return to Jaipur
Early morning ride around the sanctuary and before you know it, it’s time to say goodbye to your horse and the crew. After breakfast drive to Jaipur, where the ride ends. (4 hr drive).
Included in the price
Full board throughout, as detailed. All safari camping equipment Mineral water and re-hydration drinks during safari Transfer from Jaipur airport to Nawalgarh and Tal Chappar to Jaipur airport Horses, tack and groom service. Folk musicians to accompany safari Support 4WD vehicle to carry picnic lunches Guide and ride leader (English speaking)
Not included in the price
Additional accommodation and tours before or after the ride.