A Reporter at Large: Second Nature
The New Yorker|December 19, 2022
How rewilders in India are working to reverse environmental destruction.
By Dorothy Wickenden
A Reporter at Large: Second Nature
On May 12, 1459, the Rajput warrior ruler Rao Jodha laid the first foundation stone of an impregnable fort, atop a jagged cliff of volcanic rock in the Thar Desert of Marwar. He called the citadel Mehrangarh, or "fort of the sun"-and, legend has it, he insured a propitious future by ordering a man buried alive on its grounds.

Over time, as the royal clan secured its power, the compound grew to colossal proportions, with soaring battlements, ornately furnished palaces, and grand courtyards enclosed by intricate sandstone latticework. Four hundred feet below, the capital city of Jodhpur became a flourishing trade center.

By the mid-twentieth century, when India gained independence from Britain, royal fortunes had fallen, and bats had moved into the premises. In the nineteen-seventies, the young maharaja began to restore the fort, to open it to the public. Curators filled galleries with artifacts from his collection.

Today, visitors gaze at scimitars and armor, antique palanquins, silk brocades, and more than three thousand exquisitely detailed miniature paintings by Marwari artisans.

In 2005, Mahendra Singh, a member of the dynasty and the C.E.O. of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, asked a man named Pradip Krishen if he could create a suitably arresting landscape around the fort-"greening" a hundred and seventy-five acres of stony ground. Virtually the only plant growing there was Prosopis juliflora, a ferociously invasive shrub from Central America, which Marwaris refer to as baavlia"the mad one." It survives on practically no nutrients or water, its branches bristle with thorns, and its leaves and roots emit poisonous alkaloids.

This story is from the December 19, 2022 edition of The New Yorker.

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This story is from the December 19, 2022 edition of The New Yorker.

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