Shri Jasnath Asan, Rajasthan, India
Photo © Shri Jasnath Asan, 2016
25 NOV 2016
On our trip to Guda Bishnoiyan we were lucky enough to see a small herd of blackbuck near a grassy pond. The near threatened, blackbuck also known as the Indian antelope, is an antelope found in India and Nepal. The males have long, ringed horns, 35–75 centimeters long and beautiful white fur on the chin and around the eyes that is in sharp contrast with the black stripes on his face, back and the outside of his legs. In contrast females and juveniles are usually hornless and a pale yellowish fawn to tan in color.
Built to run on the open plains, blackbuck can reach velocities of up to 90kms per hour with strides up to 6m long and leaps up to 2m in height, making them one of the fastest animals on earth, only surpassed by the African cheetah. They are the quickest species left on the Indian subcontinent now that the Asiatic Cheetah, once in India, is extinct. Their agility, lightning speed, and high leaps protects the adults against most predators, but does not ensure their survival.
The conservation story is unfortunately a familiar one. Formerly a widespread species, only small scattered herds are seen today and are largely confined to protected areas. During the 20th century, blackbuck numbers declined sharply due to excessive hunting, poaching, deforestation as well as habitat degradation and fragmentation. One of the most powerful activist voices for the protection of the Blackbuck comes from the fervently conservationist Bisnoi communities in the region. Shri Jasnath Asan also is working diligently as well to protect and restore blackbuck habitat through their revegetation efforts at Karmlai.
These antelopes have earned a place of sacred respect in Hindu culture and hold a honored place as a heraldry symbol of several princely states of India.
25 NOV 2016
We headed southwest of Jodhpur south toward the Guda Bishnoiyan, in search of demoiselle cranes. Stopping at a beautiful pond at dawn we found them, hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of cranes flying in the rising golden dawn. There a few things in this world more powerful or beautiful then watching, and listening, to wave after wave, after wave of cranes gracing the morning skies.
Though the demosielle is the smallest crane, they still are a large bird. The demoiselle is 85–100 cm long, 76 cm tall, and has a whopping 55–180 cm wingspan. They can live in a variety of environments, including desert areas and numerous types of grasslands, but are often within a few hundred meters of a stream or lake.
This species of crane is found in most of central Eurasia, from the Black Sea to Mongolia and North Eastern China with an additional small population in Turkey. These migratory cranes spend their winters in the more hospital climes of the south. Birds from western Eurasia will spend the winter in Africa while the birds from Asia, Mongolia and China will spend the winter here, in northwestern India.
I first met this species on a trip to Mongolia a few years ago. There on the high Mongolian steppe, in grassy marsh area, I saw a pair of cranes with two newly hatched, fragile, long-legged chicks following their parents through the marsh. These little ones had only a few months to feed, grow, and learn under the watchful eye of their parents. During the long days of the Mongolian spring and summer, they would gain their strength and prepare for one of the toughest migrations in the world.
In late August through September the cranes I saw in Mongolia would have gathered in flocks of up to 400 individuals and prepare for their migratory flight to their winter range. During their arduous flight south they had to cross the Himalayan mountains, often flying at altitudes of 4,900–7,900 meters (16,000–26,000 feet), to get to their wintering grounds in India. There they overwinter and prepare for their spring journey, in March and April, back to their northern nesting grounds.
It’s hard to imagine that those little tiny fuzzy new lives I saw in Mongolia, actually could be the same demoiselle cranes I saw today. Perhaps those chicks I saw are now parents and are leading their offspring in their first long migration to India and arrived in time for me to greet them at Guda Bishnoiyan.
Mehringarth Fort, Photo © Kaushal Tarikh
How do I describe the indescribable?
Rudyard Kipling described it as:
"A Palace that might have been built by Titans and colored by the morning sun."
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said upon visiting it:
"I have just seen the eighth wonder of the world."
Picture a fort.
It's not just any run of the mill fort to be sure. It was a fort built in 1460 AD by Rao Jodha and is one of the largest forts in India, rising 125 meters (410 feet) above Jodhpur. Enclosed by rough stone walls, the fort still shows the imprints of cannonball hits by attacking armies of Jaipur on it’s Dedh Kamgra Pol gate. It's breathtaking.
Mehrangarh Fort is a massive fort located at the center of Jodhpur and spreading over 5 square kilometers on top of a high hill that rises from the center of the city. Its imposing walls, are up to 36 meters high and 21 meters thick. The palaces above are placed in the heart of the fort, secured by many levels of gates and walls.
The building materials were chiseled from the rock on which the fort stands so the structure merges with its rocky base and gives the appearance of haven risen up from the stone. Still run by the Jodhpur royal family, Mehrangarh is packed with history and legend, far too much to get across in a short blog post. To learn more visit : http://www.mehrangarh.org/
20 NOV 2016
One of my favorite people here is Ramuji Saran. As his bio on http://shrijasnathasan.org/our-team/ notes, he is ”a celebrated army veteran who has made the ashram the home of his Seva worship, Ramuji contributes dance to our nightly puja, takes care of both green yards as well as the vegetable garden. He is also responsible for serving guruji and his guests’ meals, and lovingly cares for the ashram’s animal inhabitants.”
Ramuji’s impressive vegetable garden supplies much of the fresh fruit and vegetable that we enjoy each day. Anything food served but not grown here is still local ingredients, from environmentally sustainable sources. Imagine having fresh organic vegetarian meals with all the veggies picked fresh daily, often only hours before it ends up on your plate. The incredible food will be discussed another time when I introduce you to another favorite person, Papu Sai, our amazing cook.
The garden is organic with no GMO or pesticides in sight. Instead of pesticides, our gardener mixes milkweed sap and cow urine together and lets it ferment in a large pot. Once applied, usually at the base of a plant or occasionally sprinkled on the leaves, no bug goes near it .. I were a bug I wouldn’t approach it.
The garden Ramuji cares for is large and soon to be larger. Walking through the garden in the early morning you often glimpse a pesky peacock sneaking in to sample the tender crops. The variety of vegetables and herbs is not found in your usual “garden variety” garden. He not only tends many things Americans would be familiar with; cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, American Lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, squash, mint, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, wheat grass, okra (but not prepared like any okra I’ve had in the states-its excellent), lemon tree, and American radish.
But Ramuji also cares for a few things not normally found in our North American gardens. There are a couple of coconut trees, tulsi (Indian Holy Bush – like a basil), ashwaganda (a plant used in healing), Indian eggplant (small, flavorful, and not seedy like our American eggplant), aloe (used both to eat and for skincare and healing), mooly (Indian radish - looks like a white carrot), Echinacea (marigolds – nice touch in salads), Sunflowers (both for seeds and extremely high protein sprouts), chilies either cooked while green or dried and used as a very hot spice), loki and tordu (both in the zucchini family), and a few pomegranate trees. In addition, there is a large off site orchard with many trees including 600 date palms, pomegranates, lemons, limes, apple, and much more.
If that were not enough Ramuji must also manage the garden to ensure he has seeds enough for the next crop.
Ramuji is my hero.
19 NOV 2016
Native to India, the peacock is unmistakable and unforgettable. More correctly, a peacock is a male peafowl and the female peafowl is called a peahen. Sure enough the cute little chicks are called peachicks, not to be confused with chick peas. A group of peafowls is known, depending on your source, as either a muster, pride, or ostentation. I personally think the term an “ostentation” is most befitting such a fabulous bird.
The female peafowl, the peahen, has dull coloration to help her blend into to her surrounding but the peacock is definitely on the ostentatious, flamboyant side and will not go unnoticed in a crowd of pigeons. Shimmering iridescent blue head and neck, scallops of iridescent green down their back, and then there are those magnificent, intricate, several foot long, tail coverts that cover an ordinary non-descript tail.
The adult male is definitely a flashy dresser, with some amazing courtship moves as well. When he really wants to impress a peahen, he props up the train of tail coverts with his shorter, stiffer tail feathers and unfolds it like a fan, into a broad semicircle 1.8 to 2.1 meters wide. There is a legend that says that the peacock’s creator gave it a horrible voice, lest its beauty make the bird overly conceited. Peafowl have 11 different calls, but the peacocks are the ones that really yell an ear splitting, teeth rattling “may-AWE, may-AWE, that can travel for incredibly long distances.
Only down side to all their glory is that they fly like a cinder block. Though heavy bodied, they can and do fly, but not with the glorious grace of an eagle. They jump from their perch and flutter or soar short distances to the ground, land with a thud, and run for safety. It seems like the energy expenditure of flying is not undertaken lightly and is definitely left for those “must get up into or down from a tree” or “must escape” scenarios.
15 NOV 2016
Each morning that I am not traveling I walk the ashram grounds. Out back, behind the palace, is 350 natural acres that is alive with birds. Every day I see new species or observe and amazing behavior. It is never dull … far from it. I know I am privileged. My job here is to discover the beauty and diversity of the natural world and share it with others through my images. I strive to reconnect and strengthen the connection between people and the natural world.
The green bee-eaters were in full force today. In the open country of the back acreage it seemed like every tree had one and each bird was systematically zooming out to catch insects, especially bees and wasps, then returning to their post.
Once back on their perch they smack the bee senseless on their branch, but it is more than just tenderizing or rendering the insect unconscious. The violent repeated expert thrashing of the bee or wasp on the perch actually removes the stinger and venom as well as breaking down the exoskeleton, thus rendering it a tasty morsel fit for consumption. Once the meal is properly prepared, the bee-eater then gulps it down whole. Without a moment of rest, it then immediately he starts scanning the air for another meal. They seem to have an insatiable appetite…much like a human teenager.
Today was the first time I saw purple sunbirds here. This nectar-sipping old world equivalent to hummingbirds is a mere 10 cm in size, delicate and graceful in both motion, form and coloration. This male sunbird was in eclipse plumage, looking much like a female would with yellow breast and dark upperparts but revealed his sex with a bold, broad black stripe down the center of the throat and breast. In breeding plumage, the male looks much different. His plumage is a stunning electric metallic blue-green-purple, almost black, throughout.
13 NOV 2016
The next morning after the infamous camel trek and Mamoo encounter, I had the privilege of visiting Shri Osiya Mataji. It was an amazing temple that dates back to the 12th century and has been in use ever since. For the past couple of days I was traveling with a small group of reflexologists from all over the world that are staying, working, and generously giving of their time at the ashram for 2 weeks. All of us were enthralled with the history and stunning beauty of the place.
I have included a quote from the temples webpage about the history and significance of the site. It’s no surprise they can explain it far better than I. This is their living history. For more information, go to http://www.shriosiyamataji.org/
FROM THE SHRI OSIYA MATAJI WEBSITE:
“A pilgrimage to the Holy Temple of Shri Osiya Mataji is the holiest pilgrimage for Oswals. It is said that Osiya is the beginning place for Oswals and Shri Osiya Mataji is kuldevi (lineage goddess) of Oswals. Shri Osiya Mataji resides in a temple located in Osiya near Jodhpur, Rajasthan. This temple is on a mountain. Several thousand of devotees visit Osiya for darshan, mannat, etc throughout the year. Oswals come here especially to give Jat (Jay-ti or Jwar) and Mundan. The volume of devotees is increasing day by day.
The temple was originally built in the 8th century. However, the temple complex that now stands dates back to the 12th century. The main temple, along with the other two temples - the Chandi Ka Mandir and the Amba Mata Mandir, was constructed around circa 1178.
To enter the Sachchiyay Mata temple complex, one can use a series of magnificently sculpted arches. The temple complex was built in several phases, rather than in one go. Inside are beautiful images and sculptures of Hindu deities. Located at the north-end of the complex is a sculpture of Varaha (boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu). And to the east is an image of Lord Vishnu with Goddess Lakshmi. Lying to the west is a stone slab coming out of the walls, full of
The latest additions to the temple were carried on in the 12th century. Since then the temple has remained unchanged. The temple is a beauty of architecture. It is an architectural splendor that can be compared to any other throughout India.”
16 NOV 2016
Note: I know spell check is supposed to be helpful and a useful tool of civilization but it kept correcting Owlet to Omelette. Go figure ...
I have seen more cute today than I can bear.
Had the pleasure of meeting a spotted owlet this morning during my morning walk behind the ashram. Up in the branches of a tree, standing at an unbelievably cute and diminutive, 21 centimeters, was the owelette. Through sheer abundance of quirk and character, this owl may surpass the hoopoe as my favorite Indian bird. This species is nocturnal but is sometimes seen in the day. When I disturbed it from its daytime site, he bobbed its head dramatically and furiously as a dashboard bobble-head doll on a washboard road. After that impressive feat it challenged me to a staring contest which it lost when it fell asleep during the competition. I loved it.
The tiny owl hunts a variety of insects and small vertebrates. In Pakistan they have been found to take mostly insect prey where around Jodhpur they favor mice. Here they take small rodents, bats, toads, large insects, and small snakes.
They nest in cavities often competing with other hole-nesters such as mynas and parakeets. Nesting season is just starting in Rajasthan and is generally November to April so I will be on the lookout for nesting owlettes and tiny bobble-head babies.
12 NOV 2016 - Part II
While atop my trusty Mamoo I was ever the observant naturalist. As we marched and swayed our way across the sandy soil I looked down and everywhere in the sandy sail near small bunch grasses and shrubs were the dimples and divots of the ant lion's bizarre little traps.
Ant lions are found around the world and most commonly occur in dry sandy habitats where the larvae can construct their ingenious traps. The antlion larva is a ferocious-looking animal with a robust body, huge abdomen, and a thorax bearing six walking legs. They have a flattened head with an enormous pair of sickle-like jaws with several sharp, hollow projections that fit perfectly with the lower mandible forming an enclosed canal for injecting venom to immobilize the victim, and enzymes to digest its victim’s soft parts. If that wasn’t enough, the larva is covered by forward-pointing bristles which help it to anchor itself in the loose soil and thus giving it great traction and enabling it to capture prey considerably larger than itself.
I’m just glad they are only about a centimeter or less in size. I would die of fright if I even saw one even the size of a house cat.
THE INGENIOUS TRAP
Since the steep sides of the pit consist of loose sand it affords an insecure foothold to any unfortunate small insect that happens to fall in. Slipping to the bottom, the prey is immediately seized by the lurking antlion. If the hapless insect attempts an escape up the pit walls, the ant lion throws sand at it from the bottom of the pit or undermines the sides of the pit, causing them to collapse and deliver the prey to the antlion.
The adult are dramatically different from the larvae and instead look much like a delicate lacewing or small damselfly.
You don’t have to come to India to see ant lions, take a walk in Red Rock canyon or any sandy arid region in the desert southwest, where there is very fine dry soils. Chances are you will find numerous pit traps of these fierce little predators dimpling the sandy soil.
1. Why are ant lions also called doodlebugs?
2.Get online and find photos of the larvae and the adults.
3. When you are on your field trips try and find an ant lion trap.
12 NOV 2016
CAMEL TREK 101
I am convinced that the camels is an animal made up from scrap and spare parts.
The camel's startlingly efficient big round feet are like big flexible dinner plates are perfect to walk across sand without sinking in. Long legs keep them away from the worst of the heat radiating from the desert sand, and the large single hump is a great place for storage of fat which, when needed, they can metabolize to produce water. Their not-to-be-forgotten face expresses a distinct, quirky personality, somewhere between fiercely frightening and bizarrely humorous.
The bad attitudes of camels have been exaggerated. I saw less spitting, biting and/or meanness from our camels then I saw in the presidential election we just survived. It is a proven fact that the IQ of camels also exceeded the majority of our candidates. (end of political commentary)
To ride a camel is an experience somewhere between fun and terror, with the terror part occurring mostly when they stand up or sit down. When I met my trusty steed, "Mamoo" the camel, and he eyed me with much suspicion and distrust. The apple I brought him overcame both. The camel was seated so I easily crawled aboard. He was given the order to rise. On the way up I had a swaying, lurching ride, then suddenly I found myself 12 feet above the ground.
My camel, for some unknown camel reason, kept stomping his front feet at random intervals, which seemed to be somewhat correlated to the appearance of pesky flies, and somewhat just camel weirdness. This unexpected stomping created an unnerving random abrupt swaying in 6 directions, plus if that weren’t enough, my dear Mamoo just kept sitting down on the job which gave me the huge opportunity to practice my skills of camera and water bottles juggling while hanging on for dear life during these up and down rides of 12 feet. My camel driver seemed to be amused … actually so was I. Not sure about the Mamoo.
About sitting down … Returning to terra firma is the same awkward process of standing up but in reverse. On the way down to the ground to sit, the front legs fold in first and suddenly I was leaning as far back on the camel as I could to counter balance the animals precipitous, butt high, 70 degree angle until the ungainly hind legs started folding in. Once both sets of legs were tucked in I was again safe and sound back on the ground and could hop off. My stomach joined me soon after. It all felt like a semi controlled car crash.
Our camel caravan wandered through the dunes for some 3 hours before we reached the tent camp Osiyan Camel Camp at sunset. The term “tent camp” doesn’t do it justice. It is a permanent camp with canvas tents, slab floors, electricity, and private bathrooms complete with hot and cold running water. No suffering going on here.
Next up was a beautiful night of traditional dancing, music, and dinner under the Indian sky.
The big bright moon was two days from full. It couldn’t be more perfect.
Along the Way
Panchla Siddha, India
Sharon K. Schafer
I paint, photograph, and speak about wild places in an act of reciprocity that is as vital to me as heartbeat or breath.
My interest in the magic and mystery of the natural world lies at the intersection of art and science.
Made possible through
the generosity of
Artists for Conservation
Generous support and inspiration provided by
Shri Jasnath Asan