THE VISITORS CENTRE
at RAO JODHA DESERT ROCK PARK
THE STORY OF HOW
OUR VISITORS CENTRE
by PRADIP KRISHEN
with GOLAK KHANDUAL
Towards the end of 2005, the Mehrangarh Museum Trust (MMT) in Jodhpur invited Pradip Krishen, to restore the natural habitat of a large tract of rocky wasteland adjoining Mehrangarh Fort.
When we began restoration work in the Park in 2006, the entire tract had been overrun by an invasive exotic plant. It grew tall and densely in the valleys but also climbed the dry rocky slopes as a hardy shrub.
From some time in the 1930s, this land played host to 'baavlia', which is the Marwari name for Central America’s mesquite tree or algarroba – Prosopis juliflora – that became so successful it pushed out everything else to form pure, dense stands.
The trouble with this invasive, alien tree is that it is not pretty, no bird nests in its branches and its leaves are not eaten because they are not palatable to browsers.
The only benefit of baavlia is that it provides thorny habitat and places to hide in for small creatures like hares and wild pigs. The restoration project aimed at eradicating baavlia completely and replacing it
with native plants from the Thar Desert that would tolerate heat and drought and grow without any kind of assistance in difficult rocky terrain.
We wanted Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park to become a sustainable island of natural desert vegetation in the middle of Jodhpur city and a haven for birds, butterflies, insects and anything wild that could fly, jump or slither its way into the Park.
About 3 years or so after we had started to do the restoration work, we began to feel it was time that Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park should make a Visitors Centre of its own – a place where visitors could learn all about the Park and walk with trained Naturalists on well laid out trails to explore the plants and rocky terrain.
This is the story of how our Visitors Centre was designed, told by Pradip Krishen, the founding Director of the Park and architect Golak Khandual.
These photographs from April 2006 were taken before we started to uproot baavlia.
It took more than 7 years in all to eradicate this invasive plant completely from the Park!
The large site was, and still is, made up of 3 contiguous tracts of rocky, oobad-khaabad land separated by roads running up from the city below to Mehrangarh Fort.
The outer boundary of the Park is formed by a defensive City Wall built in the 17th century. It was in poor condition but had been repaired only a year earlier. All the land bounded by one long stretch of City Wall that was up on the hill and the Fort – some 70 hectares (approximately 170 acres) in all – was to be the new Park.
For the first 3 years or so, the idea of making a Visitors Centre was just a gleam in our eyes. There was work to be done, untested planting schemes to try out, lots to learn about how a rocky desert ‘works’. We needed to prove, even to ourselves, that the results of restoration would be worth seeing. Besides, things grow painfully slowly out in the desert.
Early in 2009, Monty Bana – CEO of MMT – took me to one corner in the western edge of the Park to show me a derelict sandstone Pol, one of 6 formal gateways piercing Jodhpur’s old City Wall.
"What d’you think of making a Visitors Centre here?" he said.
Well... frankly, Singhoria Pol wasn't a pretty site.
A new tarmac road had come up the hill in the early 1900s and the Pol was bricked shut because it was far too narrow to carry two lanes of traffic. The new road ran uncomfortably close, right next to the Pol. Noisy. Busy.
Singhoria Pol reeked of neglect. Its sandstone façade needed rejuvenation. A small apron of land in front was being used to slake lime in sunken troughs and it was clear that the land around the Pol, both front and back, was part of the unyielding rocky pediment of a volcanic hill nearby.
It didn't look at all promising...
I don’t remember exactly but I must’ve hesitated before saying “Yes” to Monty Bana. It looked like
it was going to be a difficult site to prettify but the historic Pol had a hard-to-resist attractiveness.
But I didn’t hesitate one bit before calling up my architect-friend Golak in Delhi to see if he’d agree to work some magic into making a new Visitors Centre for us here.
A few years earlier, Golak and I had worked happily together making a small house at the edge of a jungle near Pachmarhi, in southern Madhya Pradesh.
Golak has a talent to surprise you with ideas that are always elegant and artistic and I wanted him very much to be a key part of the new design process.
Golak arrived in Jodhpur in June 2009 to see what Singhoria Pol looked like.
I could tell right away by the way his ears twitched that he was intrigued.
“This is going to be the entrance to a Desert Rock Park,” I said to him.
“Now we need to find some way of CELEBRATING ROCK!”