Sunday, May 30, 2010


Let's face it. All of us who take the jungle roads have always had this prayer in a small recess in their mind, "God! Show us a Tiger. Please!" I'd be lying if I said I never muttered this prayer ever so often, especially when the signs were strong.
A fresh pug mark,
 a remanant of a kill,

a deer's or langur's alarm call; anything could set the heart racing in the anticipation of coming face to face with a predator in it's home turf. In Bandipur, where the tiger was king, I've come across it only once.

The leopard is the second large predator in this part of the world and more elusive. Partly because it hunts in the night and partly because it prefers to lie up on a shady branch during the day. It's therefore less likely to cross paths with a camera totting woodcrawler, or so I thought.

6.15 PM, 15th April, 2010; Bandipur National Park
Skanda's holidays had started and the pull of the jungle had been extreme. Vishu in Kerala is a very important festival; being the New Year in the Malayalam calendar. After the traditional Vishu Kani in the morning we had reached Bandipur. We'd been hearing about "raining tigers & leopards" there and the notice board in front of the restaurant in the resort vouched for that.
The evening safari seemed to be fizzling out into a non-event. We had some 15 minutes to get out of the park gates and the driver thought he'd do one more round to a water hole before calling it a day. The light was fading and summer showers had already started. As we drove forward someone hissed. "Leopard!"

Off to the right, at a dried up salt lick there was a big male sitting. There was no water except some murky slush and he appeared to be contemplating whether to poison himself with it or look for another source to slake his thirst.

He seemed to decide that the rains would bring fresh water, lifted himself off and much to our surprise turned around to walk back towards the road.

Light was fading and the camera was not keeping up. Starting the vehicle would mean scaring the beast and making it turn back in the opposite direction. We decided to stay put and let the leopard do it's bit.

It ambled across unhurriedly, with no concern about a vehicle load of excited humans close by.

When it reached the road, it paused; sprayed on the track to scent mark it's territory and perhaps emphasize to us who the jungle belonged to, before walking past us without even a contemptuous glance.

A tiger is magnificent, but the leopard is mysterious. If not for the light we could have had better pictures but even bad pictures can't take away the majesty of the creature that walked past us. It's attitude seemed to tell us, "The tiger maybe the King but I'm no less!"

Keep watching this space. The next tale involves two of Bandipur's predators in the same scene!

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