A piece of forest within the crowded city, yes Jhalana is one of a kind small forest within the heart of Jaipur. Known for the local leopard population that used to venture into the city for food. This sanctuary provided them with a safe haven to live peacefully in this small natural habitat of 23 sq. km. Jhalana lies within two hill ranges of the Aravali running North to South while another hill range divides it into two parts.
Jhalana is a dry deciduous forest with the trees shedding off their leaves in the dry season and getting a fresh green coat in the monsoon. A good number of faunal and avifaunal life is seen in this forest. Although leopard remains its primary attraction, other cats like Indian civets, jungle cats and desert cats are also found here. Once upon a time, it was also the home to the big cats – the Bengal Tigers. (Read about my tiger sighting experience in the nearby Ranthambore National Park.)
It was once a favourite hunting ground for the royals of Jaipur. The ‘Sikhar Aundhi’ on the top of a steep hill here, served as the hunting palace to the royals. The last tigress was hunted in 1943 and its cubs were moved to Jaipur zoo. In 1962 Jhalana was declared a Reserve Forest under Rajasthan Forest Act, since then hunting was prohibited.
It is difficult to think of a forest within a crowded city but Jhalana is a perfect example of wildlife-human co-existence. This small territory is rich in wildlife yet easily accessible without any hassle of advance booking and the mad rush like any other jungle safari.
It was the last day of our short Jaipur trip (read about my Jaipur trip) and someone suggested “if you have a few hours in hand why don’t you visit the nearby Jhalana Leopard Sanctuary”. I searched for the Jhalana safari information on Google and planned our visit to the Leopard Sanctuary immediately. It was at a distance of 3 km from our present location and without wasting any time we reached there.
There was a small queue near the ticket counter which was supposed to open post-lunch, so I joined the line. I purchased the gypsy tickets showing our Ids (it was similar to booking safari tickets of any forest in India just without the long wait and the mad rush), it was so simple. Then it was just a short wait for our E-Gypsy to take us to the forest when the forest gate opened. It was a smooth process and we were highly delighted and thankful to the person who gave us the idea to visit Jhalana.
We were asked to wait inside the gallery cum information centre, till the gates opened. The information centre cum gallery informed us about the significance of this forest in the city limits, explained the variety of floral and faunal life found here and also described the topography of the forest. It also had a stunning collection of photographs of the birds and animals found here, starting from Leopards to Hyenas and from Peafowls to Quails. We were also introduced to the resident leopards who had their pictures along with their names on the wall of the gallery.
Among them, ‘Kattapa’ the male had the most battered look clearly displaying its nature. While there were many others with names like Mrs Khan, Sharmili, Timtim, Prince, BigFoot, Discovery and more with much gentler look and without any wear and tear on their face. We also came to know how the leopards have modified their food habits while living in the vicinity of human habitation and facing tough competition for food. They have turned themselves to opportunist hunters, hunting on small to big prey including birds and their eggs, while stray dogs remain their favourite.
As the forest gates opened we entered the Sanctuary in our respective gypsies. The driver of the gypsies also acted as the guide to the forest here. Our guide informed us about the jungle and about the resident species of mammals and birds. No sooner did we enter the jungle than we had an amazing sighting of a pair of Jungle Nightjar resting on the branch of a tree. This was my first Nightjar sighting and I was highly excited.
Our guide cum driver drove us to different zones in search of leopards but the leopard eluded us. We did see some Nilgai, Sambhar and Chitals. We could also spot some common birds on the way. As the time was passing by our ever alert guide rushed from one waterhole to the other and again to the same with tips from other guides but ultimately it was a leopard-less safari. The dusk was approaching soon, indicating that the safari time was over. We returned back to the main gate with a beautiful experience of a safari in a not so famous yet vital little forest of Jhalana in the city of Jaipur.