My Few Hours in the Jungle in the dark of the Night
Although, I had undertaken fair many safaris in the jungles across India, this was the very first time for me and the very first time of the jungle authorities of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve as well. We were going on a one of a kind night safari !
This is the time when one of my personal favourite animals, the leopard is the most active.
The safari began like any other and I felt like I was home as I had been to this forest atleast 30 times in the past. But all familiarity was lost in no time. The sounds, the sights and even the feel. The trees looked more gnarly and twisted. The sky was deep velvet splattered with numerous stars peeking between the dark canopies. The sounds of the insects maintained a constant rhythm only to be broken by occasional call of the nightjar. The forest felt warm and intoxicated us with its fragrance and calm.
The visibility was zero if not for the light from the headlight of the jeep and the torch beam. Though we did spot a nilgai, palm civets and jungle cat.
But the story begins when the night rangers tell us that they had seen the leopard pass by. The excitement caused my hair to stand on end. We were going to track this leopard.
We circled the general area where the rangers had pointed to for several minutes. And just as we were losing hope, a call of a barking dear tore through the night jungle. So loud and so close. The call of the barking deer is the loudest in the deer family and this was not a mating call or mewling. Yes it was a distress call. It was being hunted and it was alerting us all.
We wheeled in the direction of the call. The barking deer kept calling at intervals. We halted with all lights off and with bated breath to be able to hear and see smallest of movements. Oh wait ! I hear the scurry on the dry leaves. I know it is not the leopard because leopards have soft footpads and never make a sound. This was the hare.
But the scurry stops. So do all the other sounds of the forest. It feels like a clam before a storm. He is around. And although we cannot see him, he is watching us blessed with night vision. He could be anywhere. Is he in the thicket next to the jeep or the canopy above us ? I can feel it in my bones.
Hark ! There is movement in front of the jeep. Hand me the torch I whisper and I switch it in time to see tint tail of the baking deer disappear into the bushes on the left of the path that we stood on. And from the right emerges glowing eyes and then the full body of a beautiful fully grown male leopard. It only looks at us for a second. In that second I am rewarded. And disappears chasing after its prey.
We hear another call from the barking dear and then we knew it was all over that the leopard had found his prey.
I fell asleep thinking of the glowing eyes and the beautiful spots and the body designed to kill. I had watched a leopard in action and it was one of the many thrilling experiences that the jungle has given me.