On the road from Udaipur to Jaisamand is a green and yellow gate. It sits on an elevation, locked, guarding a thicket. A few old trees rise above all boundaries, and thorny shrubs scratch the wall, breezily wanton. They challenge one to break the virtues of daily routines and Netflix, to come explore the untamed.

The forest reserve of Baghdarrah, in the wild heart of the Aravallis, is famed for its lake teeming with reptiles from the pre-historic era. In these times of looking for refuge in literature and apocalypse-themed movies, spirituality is more likely to be found in the woods. And cracks on our walls.

If there is truth in wine and children, there is wisdom in a crocodile lying mouth-open on a rock, digesting her meal, not caring about the fish on her breath. She instills in us a sense of stillness. The Baghdarrah forest abounds in beauty, anonymous happiness and frankness, mostly of the good kind.

The forest reserve, just a 30-minute drive from Udaipur, is rich in biodiversity. I have visited this forest since childhood with my naturalist father: the lake, with its smilingly meditative crocodiles, the walk on the dam with water on one side and a thickly wooded forest stream on the other, the branches of trees, beehives hanging from them, the ouhdi, or old shikar lodge, perched on the top of a hill.

A mugger bares its yet-to-be-formed teeth. Credit: Pankaj Choudhury

It was the perfect place for an imaginative child and then an outrageously wishful teenager who dreamt of flowing-haired fairies – blonde, of course – and that kiss at the end of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. This was while the naturalist father made observations on the paling colour of crocodile hides due to phosphate washing into the lake from the adjoining quarry and the tinge of aggression in the reptiles, as most of them were bred and released from the zoo.

In the lakes of Udaipur, crocodiles were found in abundance in the 1950s. After Independence, the government began to issue contracts to kill the crocodiles for their skin. Within a few years, the crocodiles of the region almost disappeared. The Gulab Bagh Zoo bred and occasionally released them in the lake of Baghdarrah, where they have thrived.

There are resident leopards, too, along with a few wild boars, nilgai, hares and mongooses. But prey is not in great abandon. The leopards must be hunting stray cattle and dogs in the adjoining villages, and take refuge in this refuge. There is nothing wrong with that, right?

My father Raza Tehsin says that leopards are without ego. They will eat an antelope or a rat for survival. That is the reason they are the most widely found wildcats. There is a surprising tenderness with which they treat their kill. Last year, a massive softshell turtle was spotted in this lake picking on the carcass of a dead wild boar with an urgency that was far from being tender, if you know what I mean.

The forest of Baghdarrah sits in harmonious disjunction with the mines and rural civilisation . The winter evenings may find one looking at flocks of cormorants, hundreds of them, flying in formations from the nearby waterbodies. Just when one feels they have craned their neck enough but cannot miss the sight, another flock flies in. There is the occasional Egyptian vulture and the ever-present bush quails.

The nights come burgeoning with fireflies that do not believe in dialogues but gestures, and skies that are stitched with old branches and crowded with stars. The best time to visit this deciduous forest is as the winter sets in and before the last bluethroat leaves for Siberia. But every season has moods that cannot be missed: rueful, flamboyant, tempered, tenderly intimate and grave-and-sparse. Or at times, when it has a rainbow painted on its cloudy-sunshiny face, it might even look avant-garde.

Swallows enjoying an spell of extended rain. Credit: Pankaj Choudhury

The forest has remained like an old landscape snapshot, retaining its poise and pastoral hues. If only life could move in such gentle shifts. Recently, when I was grieving after the demise of my uncle, I took refuge in these wilds, just like the leopards do.

There is a rustic campsite, Dera Baghdarrah, run in collaboration with the forest department, deep inside the reserve. It has spacious canvas shikar tents and furnishing reminiscent of the British Raj. One can simply step out in the forest for a walk, expecting a chance encounter with a boar or a jungle cat.

We stayed at this campsite overlooking the lake, which wears its beauty lightly, and I licked my wounds in solitude. The loss had hit me like a fingernail being pulled out, sudden and stinging. I let the jungle play host and healer. I sat looking at the woolly-necked storks: their faces open for interpretation; the wry soulfulness of the herons, the conversational immediacy of the francolins, the emotionally-reserved red munias and passionately intense peafowls.

The camps in Baghdarrah. Credit: Pankaj Choudhury

Crocodiles swam past with a grace and delicacy not expected of something with such strapping prowess. The skinks sometimes took the liberty of slinking into the tent, bringing in a whorl of colours. The earthy eagle owls, often declarative as the night crept in, made those colours instantly unfashionable. While some would prefer a root-canal than spotting a snake, I remained on the lookout for precious rock pythons and Russell’s vipers. For who better than them to convey the aphoristic message. Life slithers on.

That day, I sat in the forest of my childhood, learning from nature how to say farewells. I watched a spider build its delicate web, suspended on the canvas doorway, fighting gravity, waiting for an unsuspecting dragonfly, just the right size, to land in it. And then, just like that, came the cleaner, broom in hand. I wondered what the difference was between craved and carved. Existing and extinguished. Not even a sweep.

Arefa Tehsin is an author and Ex-Honorary Wildlife Warden, Udaipur. She writes at www.arefatehsin.com