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Back to Stories

Walk on the wild side

I’m standing on the eastern boundary wall. With me is Surya Pratap Singh, Head Naturalist and the property’s passionate storyteller. We’re high up on the ramparts so it’s comforting to know that some of the stones have stood in place for 700 years, held together with the original lime plaster and jaggery molasses. Higher up in front of us, on a beautiful rocky outcrop of the Aravalli mountains, is the Chauth ka Barwara Mandir Temple.

The 700-year-old fort’s restoration by the property’s owner Prithviraj Singh, himself from the noble family of Barwara, took more than a decade, incorporating two palaces and the male and female temple within the walled fort. That’s the history, but today we’re talking about the future.

“Eastern Rajasthan was once blanketed by tropical monsoon forests, a natural habitat that has been invaded by disruptive species such as Prosopis Juliflora, which was introduced in the 1980s and which has since deeply impacted the region’s ecology and water table,” says Surya. “The Forest Department is now having to uproot these invasive shrubs by hand before the rewilding can begin.”

Rewilding is a delicate operation to ensure the correct plantation. The disastrous effects of previous human meddling are plain to see. It also needs collaboration. That’s why the Forest Department and Six Senses Fort Barwara have formed a Village Protection Action Committee with the Village Panchayat and Chauth MataTrust. To bring back the endemic flora and recreate the beauty of the lost wild landscapes of Rajasthan, Surya explains the rewilding project includes plans to plant 5,000 trees, “Once we have restored the flora, indigenous birdlife and wildlife will return too. Animals can only migrate back here once the water catchments have also been restored.”

Each tree will be planted by hand, nourished by the vast zero waste and composting operation at Six Senses Fort Barwara to ensure there is enough soil to support the plantation. To understand the property’s commitment, all waste is monitored by the Security Manager, and you wouldn’t want to argue with him!

These endemic tree species already thrive within the fort, so our Heritage and Rewilding Walk is beautifully tactile. We seek shade from the midday sun under the red-flowered, flamboyant Gulmohar (royal poinciana), Neem trees (the leaves are used in our Earth Lab to make natural sunscreen and mosquito repellent), Banyan trees, and amazing Dhok trees, which grow their stems underground to spawn a colony. It’s as if the trees are holding hands to face the tough growing conditions and, at the same time, holding together the fragile ecosystem. We also admire the Peepal trees, found in many temples, as they represent the trinity of Hinduism.

As the rewilding takes shape, it will first attract indigenous butterflies and birdlife. As a keen photographer and certified ornithologist, Surya has captured much of the birdlife for his own records and major publications, including the Golden Oriole, house sparrows, and Indian Pitta, with its nine-colored feathers and buffy red underpants. The water catchments will encourage larger animals back too. Jackals have already taken up residence, and leopards are beginning to roam the hills again, which is vital for controlling the food chain and restoring balance.

Balance is a watchword of the project. Although the area is protected, to ensure the leopards are left to roam, the Barwara villagers need safe grazing grounds for tending their cattle. It’s as much about understanding each other’s culture as it is about conservation. Indeed, anyone visiting the area for the first time will experience its free-range nature. During the monsoon season, the cows seek the dry terrain of the road, passing cars responding in an elaborate dance with unwritten rules seemingly understood, whether human or bovine.

That’s why Siddharth Chakravarty, the property’s rewilding catalyst, is also focused on community outreach, working with village leaders and schools to integrate the purpose of the project into the local way of life and children’s education. “I have met with the head of the village. They are interested and want this to happen, but we must also solve their concerns.”

The task ahead is considerable, but things are happening.

“We have started the plantation. It was great for everyone to see the challenge as there is not enough soil. We have to punch holes in the stone. It takes time to explain to the village that we are not going to trespass and take over their lands. We are doing it for everyone’s future. The rains are leaching the silt into the lake, so in parallel to the rewilding, we have a tough desilting job, enriching the soil and lessening the risk of drought.”

Connections are being made with the village, and education projects are underway with the Forestry Department via a dedicated Interpretation Center and rewilding sensitization programs, which can start as young as nursery age. The fact is that at least 5,000 trees must be planted. Siddharth heads up the Earth Lab, and here, he will take care of the most vital component of the tree replanting project: the seeds. “In three weeks, I will have a seed bank. We’ll be preserving local varieties of barley and Dhok. It will take everyone, young and old, villager, host, and guest, to plant a tree (well 5,000 trees), keep the dream alive and ensure a sustainable future for the next one hundred, two hundred years. Everything is connected.”


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