Now what the heck is that ??
Well ,it is literally just that !
Driving off the road , onto rugged terrain , up stony mountains , around spiky ridges , over dirty ditches ,just about anything !
Is it a hobby , is it a sport , who knows ??!
But for sure , neither I (yes , that’s me Twinny ) nor my girlie group of 3 were prepared for anything like it !
We had set off into the heart of Rajasthan ostensibly to ‘sight leopards ‘.
In our scheme of things, these shy jungle cats would be lying around, simply ‘longing’ for us to come and take pictures !
So ,here we were in Jawai, 140 kms from Udaipur in a vast expanse of rocky , arid farmland with scattered shrubs where the Rabari nomadic village folk graze their livestock .
In this picture above a goat had just given birth to her kid , so the Rabari shepard was carrying it home .
Some 44 leopards live in the hilly caves skirting their villages . Every now and then a goat or a village dog goes missing . Picked up undoubtedly in the deep of the night by a leopard on its hunt . Leopards have a night vision 7 x that of humans. The Rabari tribe doesn’t look upon this loss as a nuisance .
Rather it is their sacrifice to God , a way of seeking his benevolent mercy . It is an unusual fact that in the past 150 years , no reports of a human life falling prey to this strong and agile carnivorous cat exist .
Somehow man and leopard respect each other’s spaces in the Jawai Bera Belt !
Most other jungle creatures including the nilgai , chinkaras , hyenas , porcupines , peacocks are easy to spot ….but not these formidable felines !
They remain shy ,secretive , elusive …lounging in their caves most of the day , mostly alone.
Sighting them , takes a very special eye and a knowledge of their habits .
We were supremely fortunate to have the young and very passionate Pushpendra Singh Ranavat , a pioneer in the study of leopards of this region , guiding us , a sturdy four -wheel drive vehicle and a skilled driver to navigate !
Armed with binoculars, torches and cameras we set out enthusiastically to sight these creatures …OFF-ROADING naturally !
Thrilling it may be for some but negotiating the rocky rollercoaster terrain, speeding up and down jagged granite hills , swerving around brambles and giant Cactiii ,up bends , down dales made our stomachs churn !
On the basis of pug marks or a ‘movement ‘ , ‘Trackers’ ahead would signal when a sighting was possible on ‘this ‘ rocky hillock or ‘that’ mountain cave and we would tumble over at breakneck speed to the suggested location .
Oh my goodness !
In true Bollywood style the Gypsy would jerk and stop just short of hurtling off a rocky cliff!
Our first seven attempts to spot a leopard were meek ….the shining sharp eyes of one sparkling in the dark when we flashed our torches in a sharp crevice , was all we managed to see .
But the next day sighting at dawn was stupendous . It came after 3 hours of waiting .
At the monumental moment when the leopardess grandly walked out of her cave , languidly stretched her sinewy spotted body in the morning sun , I received a call from my son .
He was full of excitement , as he vomited out the news that he had just ‘proposed ‘ to his girlfriend in faraway Zion National park near The Grand Canyon .At this propitious moment all I could manage was a hiss ‘’Shhhhh……there’s a leopard in front of me !’’
Pushpendraji admonished gently to be ‘one ‘ with nature ! In other words , ‘Be quiet !’
There is a Japanese word for it ..
Ukiyo ! ‘Live in the moment’ !
So we did ….while he captured it ( ‘the Moment ‘) on his DSLR !
Plucking at the flaming orange petals of a nearby Palash tree ( the same that is used in holi and has a 100 uses in Ayurveda) I pondered how gratifying it was to witness nature in its primal surroundings .
I understood also why wild life photographers , birdwatchers , flower enthusiasts are passionate about their every sighting .
There is a beautiful earthy rawness in Gods creations .
No doubt the road much travelled is safer and more secure.
But the one .. ‘off the beaten path’ is a ‘WONDER RIDE ‘.. unlikely to be forgotten !
Do you agree … my amazing travel buddies Shaila and Kanan ??!
Cheers 🥂to more trips , thrills and Trivia !
Post pandemic , we must hurry !