In the heart of rural Rajasthan at Jawai leopards roam free. Located around two hours drive north of Udaipur and three hours south of Jodhpur, Jawai is a landscape of towering granite formations, caves, kopjes, scrub and winding sand riverbeds in the foothills of the Aravalli mountains.
The region is home to the charismatic Rabari herdsmen, a people at peace with the indigenous wildlife, including a thriving population of leopard, the ultimate showstopper that draws visitors to the area. The Jawai Bandh, a historical dam built across the Jawai river by the Maharaja of Jodhpur during the droughts of the 1940s, holds back the waters of one of Rajasthan's largest reservoirs, which attracts an abundance of birds and other wildlife.
Crucially, this is not a national park and the land is not protected. Crops are sown seemingly haphazardly in the brief fertile period after the monsoon to create a neat patchwork of sesame and mustard fields at the foot of rocky outcrops which from time to time conceal a Hindu temple or shrine. Leopards prey mostly on peacocks, only occasionally taking a sheep or goat – and even then, this is considered auspicious; because the cats often seek out temples they are regarded as holy custodians.
Staying at a local camp that works in partnership with the Rabari is the best way to spot leopard, birds and other wildlife, heading out on foot or jeep safari with an expert guide.