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Archive for January, 2019

Traveller Letters: Travelling solo

LONE VOICES
Nanjing Night Net

The cover story about solo travellers (Traveller, April 12) was full of great suggestions. I wanted, however, to reiterate a point made in The Tripologist a few weeks back. It may help some solo travellers, especially women, to be reminded that small group tours are often a perfect way to travel solo. Those such as Intrepid offer tours with groups consisting of as few as nine people; usually a solo female traveller or two among them If you are worried about having to share a room with a stranger, there’s always the singles supplement – money well spent in the lottery of snorers, chronic late-night phone users, insomniacs and people with irritable bowels and moods. Being a solo traveller in such a small group tour makes for exciting and adventurous travel without the danger and uncertainty.

-Margot Pope

Bless you, Ute Junker for presenting so many good tips about travelling alone. Having poured through pages of ads for glorious-sounding trips for “x” amount of dollars per person, followed by those words – “twin share”, it was refreshing to read about the many positive things for doing it solo. As a single female wannabe adventurer of a certain age, I appreciated the way Junker succinctly covered many of the more daunting aspects of seeing the world alone: selecting destinations, planning, potential hassles and the big one, dining alone. It has inspired me to rethink my future travel plans with renewed optimism.

-Rosemary Rule

LETTER OF THE WEEK

Tatyana Leonov’s article on traditional Taiwanese dishes, (Traveller, April 12) gave me a tantalising reason to return to Taiwan. Taiwan is a well-kept secret and one I would recommend for the independent traveller. In Taiwan all signs and announcements are in English. It’s also very clean, easily navigable by public transport and offers a wide range of activities for all ages. Taiwanese are polite, friendly and helpful, the shopping is great and the museums are world class though someone should visit to write about its wonderful scenery.

-Penelope Fox

HOLY SMOKE

I was stunned to read in Luxe Nomad (Traveller, April 12-13) that Lee Tulloch did not ask Catherine Deneuve to stop “chain smoking” during a meal on the launch of SS Deneuve. Tulloch gets no support from this reader regardless of her being a guest of Uniworld. It was a surprise to hear that Deneuve seemed oblivious to other passengers’ rights. Luxe Nomad is normally a well-presented and lively column but this was an exception.

-Nick Hallebone

SWISS BLISS

Although often advised by travel agents of the potential problems associated with the use of free credit card travel insurance, I’m delighted to report such concerns are not always accurate. Three weeks before our expensive tour of South America my husband suffered a stroke which required the cancellation of our booking. The tour operator, Bunnik, repaid 25 per cent of the deposit and Zurich, the underwriters for our Commonwealth Gold MasterCard, compensated us for the remaining 75 per cent, apart from a $250 excess.

-Pamela Bell

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Weekend Away: Villa Howden, Tasmania

Villa Howden’s warm interior. Villa Howden, Tasmania.
Nanjing Night Net

Anthony Dennis finds a touch of provincial France at Villa Howden near Hobart.

THE SETTING

Joseph-Antoine Raymond Bruny D’Entrecasteaux would be proud, perhaps even a little nonplussed. It’s more than 200 years since he explored Van Diemen’s Land, and sitting there, not so far from the channel that now bears the French navigator’s surname, is a little palatial piece of faux France, right down to the antique shutters dating to the 18th century (the one in which D’Entrecasteaux himself was born) on the windows. Everything else here at Villa Howden, nestled on the banks of North West Bay, part of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, just 15 minutes’ drive south from central Hobart, is pretend provincial France, and a pretty good impersonation it does, too.

THE SPACE

There are 10 suites, ranging in size from nearly 32 square metres to more than 54 metres, all with the same features but each with their own distinctive style. In keeping with the Gallic air there’s a croquet and petanque court, as well as a separate all-year-round saltwater swimming pool – sensible, since Tassie’s summers can be as fleeting as a French president’s marriage. The light-filled public spaces of Villa Howden, which began life as a residential folly in the 1970s, could, to some, feel just a tad cold and artificial, but the overall effect is persuasive, with the Gallic theme thankfully restrained.

THE KIT

The rooms (sorry, suites) feature all of the accoutrements of a luxury small hotel, such as an always-welcome espresso machine, as well as an iPod dock, flat-screen television, bath robes and slippers, and a soft mini-bar included in the room tariff. But our favourite feature is those antique shutters that make us feel, at least momentarily, that we really could be in France, rather than on the semi-rural outskirts of a comparatively prosaic Hobart. On a twee note, the “do not disturb” sign is actually a teddy bear that you are encouraged to leave outside to “guard” your suite should you wish not to be bothered.

COMFORT FACTOR

The suites, some with water views and Juliet balconies, are spacious and comfortable. And, really, with so much to do in this stunning corner of the world, you needn’t linger in them too long. There are a number of private guest areas, including a guest library, a piano lounge, a sunroom, a terrace and a deck that overlooks the bay.

THE FOOD

The 48-seat restaurant, in the space where the indoor pool used to be located, is surprisingly good. It’s certainly worth securing a table during your stay instead of heading into town. The menu features confidently prepared dishes using a range of fine local Tasmanian ingredients. At weekends Villa Howden buzzes with outside visitors attracted to the high-teas in the restaurant. Devonshire teas are served Monday to Friday, as well as charcuterie boards, mezze platters and cheese boards.

WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR

Hobart and its restaurants, cafes, bars, galleries and museums are just 15 minutes’ drive along the Southern Outlet motorway. And Villa Howden is perfectly placed for a drive down to the seaside town of Kettering, the departure point for the 20-minute vehicle ferry across to Bruny Island, a gourmet and natural wonderland.

THE VERDICT

Villa Howden’s a lovely, if not inexpensive, alternative to staying in central Hobart. It’s a retreat far enough from the city to feel like you’re in the countryside, but close enough to enjoy the myriad delights of the Tasmanian capital and its surrounds.

HOW TO GET THERE

From Hobart Airport, take the Tasman Highway/A3 to the city heading over the Tasman Bridge and into the CBD. Continue straight onto Davey Street/A6, taking a slight left onto the A6 signposted towards Kingston/Huonville. Follow the A6 by taking the right-hand lane. At the roundabout take the fourth and last exit onto the Channel Highway/B68. Turn left on to the Howden Road just after the North West Bay Golf Course. Villa Howden is 800 metres on your right.

ESSENTIALS

Villa Howden, 77 Howden Road, Howden, Tasmania. Suites start from $345 a night, including breakfast for two, soft mini-bar and Wi-Fi. Check the website for accommodation packages. Phone 03 6267 1161, see villahowden南京夜网.au.

The writer stayed as a guest of Tourism Tasmania and Villa Howden.

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Riding the new wave

Open-air lifestyle: Komune Resort is modelled on a Balinese village. Fantasy ride.
Nanjing Night Net

Accommodation is spacious.

Alfresco dining.

First resort: surf’s up at Komune.

Craig Tansley uncovers the future of surf resorts in Indonesia.

‘Surfers morphed into their 30s, their 40s . . . their 50s; they got good jobs, they got married, they had families,” Tony Cannon speaks slowly between sips on the fanciest, fluffiest latte he’ll drink this side of Seminyak.

“But then we can’t stay grungy 20-year-olds all our lives, can we?” He grins and surveys all around him: the bouncy green turf under us that ends abruptly on an empty black-sand beach; the horizon swimming pool that looks out across one of the world’s best surf reef breaks (Keramas); an open-plan bar and restaurant where surfers eat breakfast as they check their morning emails.

In the distance, Bali’s highest peak, the active volcano Gunung Agung, is stencilled against a heat-hazed horizon, while soothing electronic music seems to ooze out of the coconut trees on all sides.

An enormous monitor lizard creeps across the narrow bridge leading back to my room, advancing slowly to hide in the choko vines beside the dirt path. Surfers stroll from the line-up, leaving black sandy footprints on the green grass; they wash off the salt and the sand in outdoor showers lined with volcanic rock, swim a lap or two of the pool and order fresh-squeezed fruit juices and coffees from the bar.

And out in front, barely 200 metres away – with a regularity that would border on monotonous if it wasn’t the stuff of every surfer’s fantasy – the kind of waves I sketched as a bored adolescent on my high school exercise books break identically … perfectly … across an Indonesian reef.

Komune Resort, the brainchild of a group of Gold Coast businessmen/surfers including Tony Cannon and former pro surfing champion Luke Egan, marks a radical departure from the blueprint of the typical Indonesian surf camp. As Australian surfers forged pathways into Indonesia from the early 1970s, the entrepreneurs among them established surf camps all up and down the Indonesian archipelago.

These were simple affairs, frequented primarily by groups of male surfers seeking one thing and one thing only … the perfect wave; partners and families were mostly left at home lest they spoil the search.

Till now, that is.

“Every time I’d come to Indonesia I’d either be stuck in some big hotel in Seminyak or Kuta dreaming of surfing perfect waves,” Cannon says.

“Or my wife would be stuck in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do while I surfed all day. That’s why we started up Komune.”

Komune Resort is a rare thing indeed – a genuine family surf resort, entirely devoid of the testosterone-charged atmosphere that too often characterises (and taints) surf travel; and though it may feel like it, Komune Resort is not on a far-flung island of the Indonesian archipelago.

Instead, it’s conveniently located 45 minutes from Bali’s international airport; and the same distance again from tourist favourites Seminyak, Kuta and Legian. Oddly, few Australians venture in this easterly direction.

In fact, this region of Bali was virtually unknown just two years ago before they built the tollway north-east past Bali’s international airport. Even with the fancy new road, Cannon says you still have to create your own paths round here.

“You’ve still got to trail-blaze around these parts,” he says.

“This whole east coast of Bali is littered with unknown surf breaks, with amazing beaches, with pristine spots; you can’t even see them on a map, you just have to turn off and have a bit of hope and see for yourself. You can find anything you want to do around here, it’s uncharted.”

While tourist drawcards like Ubud and Sanur are just 20 minutes’ drive away, offering non-surfers near-limitless shopping and activity options, Komune Resort’s location on Bali’s east coast offers the opportunity for guests to explore far, far beyond where the tour buses venture. I book a driver through the activities desk and soon leave the highway behind as we travel north-east towards Bali’s most easterly tip.

We drive along a narrow road that cuts through rainforest and a series of hairpin corners where locals bathe in slow-flowing rivers and fruit vendors peddle their wares – durian, mangos, bananas – inches from the roadway.

There’s nothing here but tiny villages where the smell of frangipani and overripe mango pervades, while vines from fig trees hang down onto our bonnet and 1500-metre-high mountain ranges peek through the foliage.

Schoolchildren wait for buses beside the road, dressed in white like tiny sailors, while their parents toil in rice paddy fields. The only signs for Westerners I see are for yoga retreats somewhere high up in the mountains.

We arrive finally in the tiny seaside village of Amed and negotiate a charter price with an old man to take his jukung (boat) for a sightseeing cruise along the coast. We motor through the waves, passing an empty coastline created by ancient lava flows that have left an intricate pattern of terraced cliffs and misty, green escarpments that drop into deserted bays and tiny valleys.

A pod of 20 or so dolphins join us as we pass pearling farms.

When the sea gets rough, our driver holds on hard to his wooden tiller, grinning till his eyes disappear entirely as each wave hits us. We make it to a smooth, pebbled beach near the town of Tulamben, and rent a mask and snorkel. Just 50 metres from the beach, US cargo ship Liberty, which sank during World War II, sits in just a few metres of water. I swim over it and see the stern of the ship rearing up, encrusted with coral and patrolled by fish, and hold my breath to swim through its chambers.

There are few other visitors and exploring here still feels wild … unrestrained, uncharted and, importantly, about as far from the crowds at Kuta and Legian as I could possibly imagine.

The following day a driver takes me 45 minutes away to the Sidemen region north of Ubud – the epitome of rural Bali with its flooded paddy fields ploughed by teams of water buffalo. I can’t see any tourists here either; instead I sit under a mango tree by myself and watch locals dry rice on sheets of cloth under the baking midday sun, and walk through quiet villages that descend hundreds of metres into dark valleys. I stumble upon an empty restaurant here at the end of a quiet road; it’s so steep we’re forced to leave the car behind and go on foot. White birds fly above us in this peaceful valley as I eat traditional Bakso soup and bask in the absolute silence of a Bali lost in a time warp.

After each excursion further and further into east Bali, I find myself longing to return to the homeliness of Komune Resort.

Modelled on a traditional Balinese village, Komune Resort is built within a large beach-side compound, providing an instant feeling of community. Between its suites and its restaurant/bar lies a large organic fruit and vegetable garden that provides produce for the kitchen.

It also has its very own Joglo where massages and beauty treatments are offered day and night, most for less than $20.

Right next door locals congregate to bathe and pray where the river meets the ocean – a sacred site for Hindus. At night security guards leave out tiny bundles of candy and cut flowers as offerings to the many spirits who they say occupy the resort.

On my return each evening – after I surf in the last remnants of daylight while apricot-coloured clouds swirl around the outline of Gunung Agung – I sit with families and couples at the bar watching the last rays of the sunset, waiting till the floodlights turn on above us and local surf stars take to the line-up at night (you can also book your own private night surf sessions).

There’s movies on the lawn to keep families satisfied, and DJs play some nights under the coconut trees for those seeking a party, but most surfers seem to prefer to do not much but listen to the sound of the waves relentlessly breaking across the reef in front, retiring early to bed each evening in the hope they’ll be the first out to surf them at dawn.

The writer travelled courtesy of Komune Resort.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Garuda offer daily non-stop flights to Bali.

It is a 6hr 30min flight from Sydney and 6hr 15min from Melbourne. Garuda is about $720 from Sydney and $689 from Melbourne including tax. Fares on Jetstar start at $445 return from Sydney including tax and $400 from Melbourne. See jetstar南京夜网.au, virginaustralia南京夜网.au or garuda-indonesia南京夜网.

Australians obtain a visa upon arrival for a stay of up to 30 days. Komune can organise an airport transfer.

STAYING THERE

Komune Resort offers guest rooms with queen beds or two single beds for $US150 ($160) a night. It also offers free wireless internet, a beach bar and restaurant, night surfing, massages and beauty treatments, day tours, free yoga twice daily and other activities. Komune is opening a new health hub in October offering a day spa, fitness centre, yoga pavilion, 25-metre training pool, kids club and new suites and premium rooms. New luxury beachfront villas will also be opening in 2015.

MORE INFORMATION

komuneresorts南京夜网.

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Caribbean dream

Beach at Cabo San Juan Guia. Photo: Andrew Bain Kogi village. Photo: Andrew Bain
Nanjing Night Net

Hiking through Tayrona National Park. Photo: Andrew Bain

Directions to Pueblito. Photo: Andrew Bain

From its mountains to beaches, this corner of Colombia offers plenty, writes Andrew Bain.

Not all lost cities in the South American mountains are at Machu Picchu. High in the northern reaches of Colombia, in the coastal Sierra Nevada range, a pair of lost cities lies hidden in dark jungle. Around them, monkeys scamper through the canopy, hummingbirds hover beside flowers, and poison frogs hop about the undergrowth. It’s one of the most evocative mountain wildernesses in South America.

The Sierra Nevada is the world’s highest coastal mountain range, rising to more than 5700 metres above sea level. A great portion of it is protected by Tayrona National Park, considered by many to be Colombia’s finest national park.

People come mostly for its beaches – locals proudly and regularly tell you that these Caribbean beaches were once rated the second most beautiful in the world – but it’s in the mountains behind the beaches that the haunting remains of two lost cities, Ciudad Perdida and Pueblito, furnish the jungle.

Hardy travellers come to trek to Ciudad Perdida, an ancient city rediscovered by a treasure hunter in 1875. The trek is a journey of around five days on foot, wading across the Buritaca River seven times and sleeping and eating in basic conditions in indigenous villages.

Pueblito yields more easily and can be reached on a day hike that also takes in a number of the beaches. From Santa Marta, which is claimed as South America’s oldest city, it’s a short drive to the roadside village of Cabalazo, where I begin walking. Jungle teems down the mountain slopes, and inside this snarl of growth it feels almost as though you could lose a city in a week.

I start walking at 7am and already it’s 35 degrees and I can just about drink the humidity in the air. There’s not a puff of breeze and, as the trail begins steeply, I’m soon a human cascade of sweat. It’s almost impossible to believe there are snowy peaks nearby.

Tayrona National Park is, by any measure, a remarkable piece of geography. Though covering just 30 square kilometres, it stretches from ocean to high mountain tops, rising through four ecosystems.

Stand at one point near Canaveral on its sweltering Caribbean coast and you can see the snowcap on Pico Cristobal Colon, Colombia’s highest mountain, less than 70 kilometres inland.

About 300 species of bird have been recorded in the park, along with more than 100 mammals and 1000 plants. As I climb towards Pueblito, butterflies dance about the trail, and a tiny frog hops away.

An entire playlist of birdsong rings out from the canopy.

It’s little more than a five-kilometre walk to Pueblito and, midway, the trail passes beside a “village” inhabited by Kogi tribespeople. The Kogi are one of four tribes descended from the Tayrona people, who inhabited the region in Pre-Columbian times.

It was the Tayrona who built and lived at Ciudad Perdida and Pueblito, and even today Kogi shamans still come to Pueblito to perform religious ceremonies.

In the village, eight people inhabit a single hut and customs remain traditional (except for the drinks and handmade souvenirs they sell to hikers). A cooking fire burns in the dirt, the most basic of traditional dress is worn, and a young girl hacks with cough.

“You should get her to a doctor or hospital,” my guide, Diva, tells the villagers.

“We don’t know what they’d do to her,” one of the men replies, suspicious of the outside world.

Beyond the Kogi village, we come to a fork in the trail, turning right for Pueblito as the jungle somehow thickens. Tree roots grope like fingers in the ground, and vines drape dozens of metres to the ground. The calls of howler monkeys – an eerie noise like a storm wind – roll across the mountains and, in the distance, the canopy of a tall tree shakes and the silhouette of a capuchin monkey rises up a branch.

Along this track, the jungle briefly opens and there is Pueblito, first a burial site for Tayrona ancestors, and then the scant remnants of the city itself.

The settlement dates back to around AD450 and was inhabited until about 1600. At its peak, it was home to around 2000 people and 250 houses. Today, no houses remain except for one reconstructed hut.

What does remain are a series of rock-ringed terraces – one terrace for each house – stepped into the jungle, which continues to steam and howl. Visually, it’s no Machu Picchu, but the setting is as evocative as an Indiana Jones movie.

From Pueblito, the way down to the coast – I’m dreaming of the unseen beaches already – is over large boulders almost the entire way. As I scramble down, a yellow-striped poison frog scampers to safety up a boulder, though what it has to fear from us is uncertain – it’s the one packing the poison.

Slowly the coast draws near, first in sight then in sound, until finally we’re walking through a grove of coconut palms and out onto sand at Cabo San Juan Guia, a glimmering, wishbone-shaped beach. Suddenly all this talk of world’s best beaches doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Cabo San Juan Guia is place of deep tans and deep water. Bodies sprawl on the sand, and the sea is the Caribbean colour of legend.

Palm trees arch over the beach and black vultures look down from their tops, perhaps sensing that someone here might expire in the heat. From Cabo San Juan Guia, the walk is a beach hop north to the road end at Canaveral.

Crossing boulder-stacked headlands to a run of perfectly shaped beaches, it’s like hiking from one postcard to another.

The further north the trail goes, the more brutal the coast becomes.

By the time it reaches Arrecifes, about an hour’s walk from Cabo San Juan Guia, the sea is inevitably storming ashore. Signs warn that swimming on this beach is forbidden because of an undertow that’s drowned more than 100 people. At the back of the beach, other signs warn visitors not to approach the edge of a lagoon because of the presence of caimans (crocodiles). Strolling the narrow strip of beach in between is like a tightrope walk between dangers.

But there are no such issues back in the protected cove at Cabo San Juan Guia, the most beautiful of Tayrona’s beaches. I float on my back, looking up into the mountains. Jungle stretches as far as I can see. Somewhere inside it is Pueblito, but already, in this bathtub-warm sea, it feels lost again.

The writer travelled courtesy of the South America Travel Centre.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

LAN Airlines operates six flights a week from Sydney to Santiago, Chile, via Auckland, with onward connections to Bogota, Colombia, and beyond to Santa Marta, the gateway to Tayrona National Park; see lan南京夜网; phone 1800 558 129.

STAYING THERE

Inside the park, there is high-end accommodation at Ecohabs, where the cabins are styled like indigenous Tayrona huts. There are also campgrounds strung behind the beaches. In Santa Marta, boutique hotel Don Pepe, a few steps in from the foreshore, is highly recommended, with its stylish colonial rooms wrapped around a small swimming pool.

See ecohabsantamarta南京夜网/ecohabs-tayrona and hotelboutiquedonpepe南京夜网.

TOURING THERE

South America Travel Centre organises tailormade trips to Colombia. Accommodation can be arranged in Santa Marta or inside the national park; see southamericatravelcentre南京夜网.au.

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Herding cats

A leopard peers around a rock. Wild side: looking for a leopard on an afternoon game drive. Photo: Michael Gebicki
Nanjing Night Net

Rabari herders. Photo: Michael Gebicki

The Jawai communal tents. Photo: Michael Gebicki

Accommodation at the Jawai Leopard Camp.

In southern Rajasthan, man and beast enjoy a rare co-existence, writes Michael Gebicki.

With the instinct of a starlet, the leopard has chosen one of the few spots in the rock face that are being spotlit by the early morning sun. It is the male, one of several leopards that inhabit this particular rock dome, my guide, Adam Bannister, says.

It is lying on its front, handsome and sleepy-eyed, and relishing the warmth after the cool night, with the supreme confidence of a predator at the pointy end of the food pyramid. We are close enough to make out the bees buzzing from the three hives anchored to the roof of the indentation where the leopard is lying, yet he does not even turn his head in our direction.

Nor is he looking at the Rabari shepherd driving his goats through the kardhai scrub little more than 100 metres away, and certainly not the pair of camels grazing on the trees behind with delicate lips. Nor does he turn his head even when the braying of a multi-tone bus horn – “do-re-me-fa”, dropping suddenly when it gets to “so” – sounds from Highway 62, running less than half a kilometre away.

All this – grazing animals, shepherds, vehicles – are just part of the background noise to the leopards that live in this southern region of India’s Rajasthan, about midway between the cities of Jodhpur and Udaipur. Apart from the vehicles and we foreigners, it has been this way for hundreds of years, perhaps thousands.

Around us is a bleached, bone-coloured plain bisected by lumpy granite outcrops similar to the one where the leopard is sitting.

These are the southern eruptions of the Aravalli range, folded mountains that were formed from the collision of tectonic plates. Eons of wind and rain, hot days and cool nights have resulted in a process known as onion-skin weathering, leaving a loose outer layer that peels away in slabs. That weathering has ground these mountains into stumps and left them pitted with caves and crevices that make this an ideal leopard habitat.

According to Bannister, perhaps 100 of the spotted cats live in the hills that stretch to the horizon, about 30 of them within reach of the game drives that take place daily from Jawai Leopard Camp.

Opened at the end of 2013, the camp is part of the Sujan Luxury collection, established by Jaisal and Anjali Singh. The brothers cut their teeth in the safari business with Sher Bagh in Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan’s east, one of the best places to see tigers.

While Ranthambore is an exclusive tiger preserve, the aim at Jawai is to offer visitors an intimate and exclusive window on the remarkable interaction between herders, cultivators and leopards that exists here.

Most tented safari camps make a stab at camouflage, but not so Jawai. Spread across a generous area of tawny grassland, the eight cream-coloured tents sit on elevated slate platforms covered with soft reed matting. Black poles provide the vertical supports.

Apart from the plush sofas and lounges, chairs are chrome and black leather. There is a nod to nostalgia in the articulated desk lamps and the big metal steamer trunks, and an echo of local culture in the splashy red cushions.

Bathrooms are big and smartly tailored and equipped with double sinks and rain showers.

The centrepiece of the camp is a dining pavilion open on three sides and an adjacent bar/lounge/library with a swimming pool on one side, possibly the ultimate indulgence in these parched surroundings.

Beyond the wall of sticks and cactus that defines the camp’s perimeter is village India. When a turbaned man unzips my tent to deliver masala chai at 5.30am, it is to the high-pitched music of a Bollywood soundtrack coming from the nearest village.

The first game drive begins half an hour later, when guests set off along bush tracks aboard open-top Mahindra jeeps. Even at this hour, when it is dark and cool enough to require a jacket, there are a few Rabari herders about, tending the animals that are their livelihood.

The Rabari are an indispensible part of the Jawai mosaic. You are here to see leopard in the wild, but without the Rabari in the frame, you are missing a big part of the picture. How is it that hunter and herder tolerate one another?

Usually the interaction between wild animal and agriculture is a zero-sum game with wildlife on the losing end of the scale, yet here both live amiably together.

A tribal caste of cattle and camel herders and shepherds, the Rabari probably migrated from Persia or Afghanistan, yet today they are Hindus and predominantly vegetarian. Rabari men wear white, except for a huge and elaborately knotted crimson turban, essential for keeping a cool head in the heat of the desert.

The women wear a chunari, a cotton veil, often red and either block printed or richly embroidered, a skill for which the Rabari are famous. For dressier occasions, such as religious ceremonies and the child marriages for which the Rabari are also known, the women wear enormous nose rings and bracelets that circle their arms from wrist almost to armpit. In modern India, where jeans and T-shirts are the norm, the Rabari remain staunch upholders of a colourful way of life.

Most of the country they inhabit in this region is dry scrub, suitable only for grazing animals, but closer to Jawai Bagh, the big reservoir on the Jawai River, the fields are ploughed and irrigated for chickpeas and mustard. One evening, we watch egrets spearing frogs on the margins of the bagh while pink flamingos stroke the water with their beaks.

Away from the villages, the game drives reveal a surprising abundance of wild animals. There are small family groups of gazelles that make leaping escapes, lithe as ballet dancers, and once we startle a nilgai, the Indian name for a blue bull, Asia’s largest antelope, which goes crashing off through the undergrowth. There are mongoose and peacocks and a saw-scaled viper that writhes across the sand in front of our wheels, tiny and highly venomous.

Apart from the snake, these are all part of the diet of the leopard, Jawai’s apex predator. Unlike in Africa, there is no need for a leopard to drag its kill into trees to keep it out of reach of jackals, hyenas and wild dogs, and no lions to fear. Although they are solitary animals and elusive, the chances of a leopard sighting are high.

Guests who book in for two nights have at least an 80 per cent chance of a sighting, according to Jaisal Singh.

At the convivial communal breakfast at the big table after the game drive, everyone has seen a leopard, either that morning or the previous day.

On our evening drive, we watch as about 100 black-faced Hanuman langurs scamper across the fields and slowly make their way up and across the granite face in front of us. It is clock-on, clock-off time, Bannister says. The leopards sleep among the granite domes by day and hunt on the plains by night, the langurs feed on the plains by day and spend the night high in the rocks, but it is a dangerous time for the langurs and a surprise encounter could lead to disaster.

While we drink our afternoon tea and munch fresh biscuits, we watch them move in a slow rolling wave following a handful of scouts, first from left to right, then they climb higher and sweep back across in the other direction.

We are still watching when an elderly man wearing white robes with a scarf wound around his head approaches the rock dome, each step stirring a puff of dust that snares the light of the setting sun around his feet in a golden ball. It is the priest who lives in the temple halfway up the hill. We watch as he begins to climb the long staircase stretched across the rock face. Leopard encounters must be an everyday occurrence for him, yet he has been living here alone and unmolested for many years.

Fascinated by a terrifying possibility, we follow his progress, not speaking until he passes through the low wall around the temple, rings the bell and shuts the door, safe and sound.

The writer travelled as a guest of Singapore Airlines and Banyan Tours.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

The nearest railway station is Jawai Bandh, a 30-minute drive from the camp, which can be reached via an overnight train from Delhi. Another option is a flight from Delhi to Jodhpur and a two-hour drive. Singapore Airlines has one-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Delhi. See singaporeair南京夜网.

GETTING AROUND

Banyan Tours can put together a personalised itinerary that covers transfers, train and domestic air travel and accommodation anywhere in India. See banyantours南京夜网.

STAYING THERE

The rate for a luxury tent is INR40,000 ($A710) a night for two. That includes twice-daily game drives, all meals, soft drinks, house wine and beer.

See sujanluxury南京夜网/jawaileopard-camp.

MORE INFORMATION

incredibleindia.org.

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