CONCEPT: 4.5/5 PHOTOGRAPHY: 4/5 WRITING: 4/5 RELEVANCE: 4.5/5 OVERALL: 4.5/5
Though I am an avid lover of nature and wildlife, my love for books is rarely combined with my love for nature. One secret gem that I recently discovered is Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, a book that I am currently listening to as an audiobook on Storytel. Other books that I have read on similar themes include Nayanika Mehtani’s spectacular work Ambushed and Neilay Khasnabish’s The Poacher.
My recent read was author Sundeep Bhutoria’s The Bera Bond, a beautiful book that talks about humans and animals in a unique relationship, the likes of which have never before seen in India. Read on to know more about the book and my experience of reading it.
About the author
Author Sundeep Bhutoria is a man who dons many hats. He has dedicated his life to social activism in international cultural cooperation, Indian arts, social welfare, and wildlife conservation.
A wildlife enthusiast and globe trotter by nature, his work enables him to travel extensively. He is also the author of many other books like The Safari, Aap Biti Jag Biti, My Life My Travels, Koto Rajpath, Janapad, China Diary, and Calcuttascape: The Musings of a Globe Trotter.
What to expect?
Expect a book that talks about the leopards of Bera. Expect a book that is about a unique human-animal relationship. Expect a book that brings to light the secret treasures of Bera. Finally, expect a book that is many things at once – an illustrated coffee table book, a travel diary, a trove of anecdotes.
What is the book all about?
The Bera Bond is a magnificent tribute to the small rural community of Bera in the Pali district of Rajasthan, located at about a distance of 140 km from Udaipur. Here, near the pristine waters of the Jawai river, 55 leopards peacefully coexist with their human neighbors, making this community both a puzzle and a marvel for wildlife enthusiasts from around the world.
The only good leopard is a dead one
“There was a time when hunters considered that the only good leopard was a dead leopard.” This line typically sums up the harsh reality of India’s fast-vanishing wildlife. We have indeed come a long way since the inglorious days of hunting and shikars. But it’s also true that the big cats are still hunted especially when they indulge in livestock predation.
Panthera Tigris and Panthera Pardus
While the magnificent tiger continues to take center stage, it is the leopard that is more threatened than ever before. Primarily, it is because of the leopard’s unique nature. It is much more secretive than the tiger and hence can live in closer proximity to humans. Because of this, it suffers much due to frequent human-animal conflicts.
What makes Bera different?
The village inhabited by the tribal community of Rabari people is known for its deep understanding of its wild neighbors. There is zero conflict between man and animal even though the leopards frequently prey upon cattle and other domestic animals owned by the villagers. For the villagers, the leopards are nothing but their good neighbors. And perhaps that is one reason why enthusiasts from all across India are flocking to Bera to witness this deep understanding between man and animal.
But there is more to Bera
Though leopards and human-animal coexistence are the major points of lure, Bera has much more to offer. As we learn in the book, Bera has some pristine waterbodies playing host to many resident and migratory birds. It is also home to a wide variety of aquatic life, sloth bears, hyenas, leopards, desert cats, caracals, wolves, and also exotic birds like flamingos, Sarus cranes, bar-headed geese, and ruddy shelduck.
Like a personal tour
The Bera Bond is like a personal tour supplying you with numerous details about the place, its climate, the geography, the best time to visit, its animal, aquatic, and avian life, the flora, the communities, their lifestyle, their origins, and the best time for leopard sighting. In addition to this, you are also introduced to the folklore and legends that envelop the place and its people. The book, thus, is an encyclopedia containing information on everything that there is to know about Bera and its leopards.
Practical information that is most helpful
The first few pieces of information that one looks up before deciding to travel anywhere are on ‘how to reach’, other connectivity, and the map. This is especially true in the case of car journeys. While Google has made things easy for the current generation, there is no denying the usefulness of such practical information in a book.
A simple and handy map informs one of the relative locations and the distances from major cities of Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Ahmedabad, etc.
More than just an illustrated wildlife book
The author also amuses the reader with his anecdotes and travel experiences. He goes much beyond nature and geography to give us a taste of the history of this place. The reader is amused to learn that the webs of history bind the Jawari river and its dam with the famed Zubeida, the ill-fated mistress of Maharaja Hanwant Singh of Jodhpur who was made famous by the Bollywood movie Zubeida.
A further dive into history
The readers also get acquainted with the various conservation efforts towards making Bera and its surroundings a protected zone. The readers then get to feast their eyes on some rare old photographs which show how the then royalty of these princely states looked at wildlife – as a hunting trophy meant to decorate their gilded halls.
One of the most captivating and tragic photos is that of a magnificent and massive vulture that spans the length of an entire tractor, proudly displayed as a hunted trophy. The animals in these pictures look proud but defeated, daunting even in their deaths.
Applauding the conservation efforts
A small section hails the wildlife conservationist Shatrunjay Pratap Singh who has devoted his life towards the conservation of Bera and its leopards. He is also known for spearheading the massively successful campaign against mining in the local area. A few pages are devoted to this passionate man and his life – his family, his lodge, the interiors of his cottages, and the panoramic views surrounding his lodge.
A small detour
A mini section talks about the author’s many trips to Udaipur, the city which serves as a launchpad for any traveler headed towards Bera. It further includes information on some of the finest resorts and luxury hotels of the city, including the Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani famed Oberoi Udaivilas. A few anecdotes recount his experience of staying in these ultra-luxurious beacons of Rajputana glory.
What I most loved about this book?
What I loved the most about The Bera Bond is its attempt to shine the light on the Rabari community. The book celebrates the Rabari people and their way of life. After all, it is these nomadic pastoralists (who claim descent from Lord Shiva himself) who are at the forefront of maintaining the sustainable human-animal equation that Bera is so famously known for.
Pictures that speak a thousand words
In the Bera Bond, one comes across the most captivating and mesmerizing images, each of which is worth a thousand words. Shatrunjay Pratap Singh’s award-winning photograph deserves a special mention here. This unique photo captures a shrine, a leopard, and a goat symbolizing life, death, and salvation – all in a single frame. Another picture that managed to capture my heart is titled “Pasha takes a breather”.
The photo capturing seven leopards resting on the stairs to a temple is another picture that has one marveling at the majestic beasts and their equation with their human neighbors.
Who should read?
The book should be read by anyone who has a passion for nature and wildlife. It will especially appeal to those who are always planning their next trip into the wild. People who love to discover and explore new offbeat places would likely enjoy The Bera Bond experience.
In the end
The Bera Bond is an effortless read. It does not take much to immerse oneself in the wholesome experience that it has to offer. The captivating pictures, attention to detail, a flair for storytelling – all of this makes sure that the book is an immediate hit.
Pick the book if
- You love wildlife.
- You love coffee table books about wildlife in India.
- You love books that talk about offbeat places.
- You are passionate about leopards.
- You want to gift a beautifully illustrated book to a wildlife enthusiast.
Skip the book if
- You have no interest in wildlife.
- You are looking for a detailed read.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of The Bera Bond using the link below.