With five star luxury fort and palace hotels mushrooming across the state of Rajasthan, not many young Rajput men gave thought to preserving the real way of life in the desert and sharing it with those who care to travel and see behind the veil of make believe. Moti Singh Rathore, a direct descendant of the Thakurs of Shergarh thought of doing this. To him the location was ideal - an area far, far away from the sounds and sights of urban chaos and closer to the captivating quietude of rural Rajasthan. He dreamed of creating an experience in the area that was not quite the regular heritage hotel one often finds in Rajasthan today.
Moti Singh wished MANVAR (symbolizing desert hospitality in the local dialect) - to become a desert destination known for its culture and surroundings by ushering in a movement to preserve the local heritage, culture, flora and fauna. Firmly in the saddle with his unique idea and armed with a dream, Moti enlisted the professional expertise of Architect Rajiv Narain, who helped him graph project Manvar.
Today Manvar nestles close to the ground, almost blending with the surrounding landscape - it has not only become a tourist destination but also an economic hub from which a large portion of the neighbouring villages draw their sustenance.
Manvar is an ideal base to explore Indian desert life, culture, wildlife and landscape of breathtaking beauty. It offers a stark and contrasting desert experience. On one hand is the Manvar Desert Resort, built in traditional desert village style with eco-friendly innovations. On the other hand, and even more precious in today’s commercialized world – lies Manvar Camp a tented camp seven kilometers from the resort in the midst of the Thar desert, a rare sanctuary of pristine beauty, tranquility and solitude.
Within Manvar’s timeless horizons, you will find yourself one with nature.
What better way to spend a day than on camel back, gazing at groups of frisky chinkara - shy Indian gazelle - as they make their way across the silent sands, see herds of cattle and sheep roaming around, sometimes grazing, sometimes wandering, as if under the watchful eye of a greater shepherd in a cloud-less sky. Watch village children ambling off to school, while their mothers rustle up their afternoon meal on a ‘Chullah’ (typical village kitchen fireplace made of clay) fired by dung as bio-fuel. And as the sun takes a bow behind the dunes, something inside tells you that this is your sanctuary… and theirs.
The area of Shergarh consists of a number of desert villages located in the heart of sand dune country. Predominantly inhabited by Rajputs, this desert area has a rich legacy of generations engaged in pursuits that this region is famous for - incredible valour and martial excellence on the battlefield. It’s almost a sort of unwritten code of honour that most families of Shergarh send at least one young male to join the Indian Armed Forces and Paramilitary Forces. If it’s any yardstick of measuring supremacy on the scale of courage, Shergarh nurses the maximum number of war widows with a sense of quiet fortitude. The great grandfather of Moti Singh Rathore (the man behind Manvar) had the distinction of having fought in World War-I. He was also a decorated Major in the Sardar infantry – in the erstwhile state of Jodhpur. Tales of the Rajputs’ fierce loyalty to their tribe, honour and land are part of Indian folklore. Evocative of valour, glamour and romance, the desert warrior has played a key role in the numerous stories of adventure and glory that colour the pages of local lore and the annals of Indian history alike.
So how did this oasis of sorts appear out of such an unforgiving landscape? Consider this – there is no natural drinking water source available 15 kilometers from Moti Singh’s private farm. On one side of the farm, about thirty to forty villages have water while approximately 60 villages on the other side are parched. It wasn’t anything short of a miracle then, when Moti Singh’s father tried his luck digging a 100 ft. bore well for water and struck gold – a gusher of life-giving water spouted high up in the air and the villagers celebrated with joy! It was named Sagat Sagar after Moti Singh’s illustrious grandfather.
A highlight of the Manvar desert experience - an adventurous drive in rugged four wheel jeeps where one will scramble and climb over dunes and higher crests. As small convoy vehicles track up and down the dunes, invariably getting stuck, part of the fun is ‘digging out’ and enjoying the soft sand under your feet before you are back in the car and off again.
Desert drives wind through the dunes and 'streets', (the valleys between dunes). A gentle drive (about an hour and a half) through the terrain is a great way to cover the distances needed to find the free-roaming wildlife herds. The delicate desert gazelles wander freely across the plains and dunes, often dipping to drink within this conservation-led sanctuary resort - come upon them in the dunes or pick them out where they are well-camouflaged amongst trees and shrubs. Stop for photo opportunities, pointing out animals and tracks, or focusing on specific interests you may have, as well as pointing out some of the many bird species or lucky encounters with rarer inhabitants.
Coming all the way to the great Thar desert and going back without a camel ride? Imagine that. At Manvar, local camel owners are employed during the tourist season to take guests for a ride on the back of the desert’s most famous and iconic inhabitant - The Ship of The Desert. Camel treks give guests an opportunity to see the splendour of the Thar Desert from a little high-up. The trained and veteran riders help guests take perch atop a sitting camel and soon after, the beasts rise up and walk while the accompanying tour guide shares folk stories and interesting facts about this part of the Thar.
Traditional Rajasthani hospitality to visitors is legend. But opening your home, granary and village to foreign visitors of the winged kind - now that’s a first! If you’re in the mood to explore further out, a 45 minute safari from Manvar will take you to the world famous village of Khichan where thousands of migratory birds, especially Siberian Cranes, drop anchor year from October to March . The villagers of Khichan have a very special relationship with these birds. During the winter season, over 8,000 to 10,000 birds can be seen at Khichan. This phenomenon has gained strength due to the pioneering endeavour of one villager by the name of Ratan Lal Malu Jain. He began to nurture these foreign visitors by feeding these birds twice a day, several years ago. As the number of birds began to increase, he sought the help of his fellow villagers, who rallied to 'adopt' these birds. The wealthier farmers were approached for donations of grain or for money to purchase grain to feed these birds.
Many folk songs are based on them. According to Marwari legend and folk song, these birds were signs of good luck and also carried messages to the local women from their lovers and loved ones in faraway lands. The number of cranes that migrate here is said to be increasing by 10 to 15% each year and currently it takes over 600 kgs. of grain to feed these birds each day. The grain is spread in the fields in the night for the early morning feed and once again in the afternoon before the cranes returns for an evening meal. Khichan is a perfect example of how man can co-exist with nature and even nurture the survival of a particular species. It is a shining example of the conservation efforts of a group of people driven by a sheer love of nature, without the help or encouragement of any outside agency.
The concept of village walks is an old one at Manvar. The family believes that too many people have migrated from the village to the cities in search of a better future and something needs to be done to sustain the simple, wholesome lifestyle of the village. The village walk is a small step in that direction. It not only instills a sense of pride in the village folk but also encourages them to preserve, maintain and showcase their culture and way of life. To a rapidly modernizing world and its denizens who often seek a stress-free break from their bustling cities, the village walk at Manvar is just a small window into a world of simplicity and adaptability.
Village Walks, in contrast to the Jeep and Camel safaris offer a quieter and more informative way to experience the desert way of life around Manvar.The journey into the desert is an opportunity to experience village life at close quarters against the captivating beauty and tranquility of the vast desert. The desert landscape is spellbinding. For miles altogether, there’s nothing except the sound of the wind. But from this arid nothingness you may suddenly see an unexpected group of village women appear out of nowhere in their colorful finery, and disappear like a mirage before your eyes. You could visit the homes of the traditional inhabitants (Bishnois, Rajputs, Meghwals) or take a peek into the homes and lives of the desert craftsmen such as carpenters, metal-smiths and cobblers. See unique species of flora and fauna that have adapted to the desert. Take a trip to the farms in the desert and learn about farming in the desert. Walk up to the temple on a hillock hill behind the resort and enjoy a great panoraomic view.