~ The Jungle at Dusk ~
After a long day as the sun sets, the chill starts to spread, its January and its winter in Sheoganj in Rajasthan. Amazing how fast the temperature changes, makes you appreciate the sun light. However, this was not a day to loathe the loss of sunshine but to rejoice as the moon sneaked from behind the hill, it was just 2 days after full moon and so the satellite radiated, almost smiled spreading mellow romantic light all over the jungle. We thanked our luck for the wonderful illumination the moon provided. The darkness meant the leopards could now use their night vision and move about in search of their prey. Their vigil of baking the sun shine from the top of the cliff was over, it was time to climb down & move & produce ooorja (energy) by moving about and keeping themselves warm and at the same time fill up their empty stomach’s.
Maaaaain…. Maaaaaain…. suddenly shreiked our guide imitating the noise of a goat kid to attract. Sheoganj was notoriously known for showing leopards to tourists by tying a goat as a bait till the Govt. stepped in and stopped the practice. However, the guide knew better as he stepped out of the jeep with an empty hand bag and kept shreiking like a goat kid, slowly he circled the rocks, making noises and trying to gather attention, the leopard had probably sighted him, following each move of his I guess, then suddenly at one place he put the empty bag between two boulders and quietly glided back to us. Man, as they should say, is the most cunning of all animals thought he had the leopard baited for photographs. The cat probably licking her moustaches and perhaps laughing to herself at the fallible humans.
Wait was all that we did, that was all we really could do, we hoped the cat would climb down from her high cliff and sneak the empty bag. 10 minutes whizzed by, we had almost become a part of the jungle. Only activity we did was blowing hot air in our palms and talking very very gently. Wondering if this trick would ever work. So many times I thought this was a tactic to deceive the tourists and not the cat. Half an hour passed and the leopard had left its original position but we didn’t have a clue where he went. Already 4 hours into the safari and the last half an hour had its toll and we decided to look else where. Flashing a light randomly, hoping to catch the leopard’s eyes we roamed about another half an hour and nothing yet. The only fleeting sight of two leopards we saw was about 500-800 meters high up on the cliff that was too far actually to see without a lens.
A sense of inevitability haunted me, sigh… eventually my friend remarked, enough, lets head back it had been 5 and half hours since we were in the jeep. As we headed back our guide again, pleaded the driver to take the jeep to the site where he had put the empty bag. It was a tough terrain and it was on a big rock, the 4 wheel guzzed up over and we were trying to see where the leopard could be. Suddenly in the moonlight I noticed a white rock, I slowly asked the guide to turn his light and lo… about 15 feet from us sat the cat almost the same place where the empty bag was placed. Our Jeep perhaps reached a bit too near as we did not spot it. The hush amongst all 5 of us was apparent. Too thrilled, too scared to yell and too busy trying to shoot the cat with the camera!!!! It probably didn’t like the fact that we discovered we managed to fool him. I guess he hated himself for letting his curiosity about the empty bag get out of hand.
He got up, he was huge, he yawned once, licked his moustaches, turned and started to slowly walk away, not walk but glided would be the right word. We tried to go behind him but he went for the bushes and we lost him in no time. The nippy, cold, moonlit jungle had provided us with an experience to remember & a story to tell. 🙂