The morning of Feb 29th we were to report at the common area at around 6:15 AM. When we left our tent it was around 6.20 AM and none of the other tents had any lights on. Naturally, we felt that we were going to be the first to be there. Turns out it was the other way around and we were the last to turn up. IST did not apply here. This meant that we got split up in the jeep, with Anand having to sit in the back with 2 others who were clearly not happy to share, and me and Sharad having to split the couple in the front row and move the wife to the shotgun seat. We chugged along, but with split up parties and parties with strangers next to them, conversation was generally subdued.
There wasn’t much to sight, as we were in Zone ‘A’. There are two zones there – ‘A’ and ‘B’ split by the highway in the middle. You go to the right of the highway and it’s ‘A’ where there is no river or backwaters. ‘B’ is mostly along the river backwaters side and the sightings are higher. ‘A’ generally gets boring, but you can be surprised by a big one at times. Most people with big bazooka lenses like ‘A’.
We pretty soon saw another pair, with the male(with antlers) ahead, and the female crossing the road to get there.
After all these we ambled along and I almost fell asleep. I looked to my right and Sharad was also mostly asleep. It was just boring. Just as we were looking back at Anand and discussing amongst ourselves how boring it can be when groups get split, the driver announced “leopard, leopard”. It was as if some adrenaline had been pumped into the whole jeep all of a sudden. Everyone was up, and alert. And we could see the big guy crossing. I was hoping we’d stop somewhere soon as leopards tend to be pretty wary of humans and it could just run away. But the driver went close and stopped. “Yaarigu hedaralla iva” he said. “He’s not scared of anyone.”
And he wasn’t, he was still walking away nonchalantly, as if we did not exist. We only got the back though, he did not bother to turn towards us.
Pretty soon, he disappeared into the bushes.
The driver decided to try our luck on the other side. We’ll get a clearer shot, he said. But I was more than happy with this and wanted to leave the fella alone. We went to the other side of the bushes and waited for him. We saw him walk by, but not getting out of the thickets.
Soon, we stopped at another location and waited for him to turn up. After a while, the driver decided to pull ahead and try further. But I looked back and spotted the big fella coming out of the thickets. We reversed and stopped such that he’d pass in front of us. Again, there was nonchalance. He was neither wary, nor scared. And he was big. And he was old. He started his walk slowly, after surveying the surroundings.
This time we got a look towards us. I always used to wonder why it’s important to get the animal to look at you to get a good photo. Now I know. It rarely happens that way.
He proceeded to cross the road. I was aligned on the road, waiting for that shot of the leopard crossing the road, where the background doesn’t match the leopard.
Pretty soon, it happened. But the cat looking at the camera is always the better one. By a mile.
The road was crossed, and he got to the other side.
And promptly walked into the bushes. Before that he sprayed on a tree. But the camera couldn’t latch on to that one.
That morning, most talk was of the leopard. A jeep had also seen a black panther, which is just a leopard with a skin condition – melanism. They still have the spots but the black pigment melanin is excess here. They are rarer than the normal ones, which is why they have a bigger ‘prize’ on their sightings. And of course, who doesn’t want to see an all black leopard!