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18 December 2013 / leggypeggy

Leopards and their diminishing jungle

Leopard, Rajaji National Park

A leopard inspects his diminishing jungle

Our overland tour in India was always going to include more than 20 safari expeditions—most of them on the back of Gypsies (small 4WD vehicles), one on a canter (a larger 4WD) and a few on foot.

And while we knew that tigers and leopards live in India, we never expected to see any of them. How wrong we were. Our tiger sightings were fairly prompt—three of them popped up in the first week of our travels in Kanha and Panna National Parks.

But the slightly-more-plentiful leopards remained elusive. And Rajaji National Park, 250 kilometres north of Delhi, was going to be our last chance.

After our first safari through Rajaji—an afternoon trip on a Gypsy—we stopped for a tea/coffee break at the canteen outside the park.

The fellow who runs the canteen, and who organised our safaris in Rajaji, had a great suggestion. We were already scheduled to do two repeats of the route we had just done through the park, but he said, why don’t you try Ranpuri entrance for your last safari tomorrow? He said it was known for tiger sightings. Yes, yes, we said. It sounded like an amazing option.

The fellow (I can’t remember his name, but Sneaky will do) said he’d organise it for the next day. We all considered his comment a commitment.

Chital deer

A chital deer—a routine Rajaji resident and common across all of India

Imagine our surprise the next morning when Anand reported that Sneaky was going back on his suggestion. Sneaky claimed he had already organised and paid for two more trips on the same route we would had already done.

Going through the Ranpuri entrance would require reimbursement of a 3000-rupee entry fee, plus extra fuel money because this other entrance was 40 kilometres away.

Whoa, this called for immediate action. We knew Anand wasn’t trying to hoodwink us. We’d already travelled with him and Deepti for a month and knew they didn’t operate this way. Sneaky was the problem. He was in the for tourist kill.

Not to worry. Renae and I did what any two crafty Australian women would do. We cracked an emotional (my favourite Aussie slang for tantrum).

I can’t recount the entire conversation because I was only on the delivery end, but we made a stand. Through Anand and his phone we made it clear to Sneaky that his suggestion of the night before didn’t come with any ‘conditions’ or ‘exceptions’. The extra fuel cost was okay, but this rubbish about entry fee!!!!

There was a lot of toing and froing. In the end, Sneaky agreed to bear half the cost of the already-paid entry fee and accept a reasonable amount for  extra fuel. And we told Anand to be sure to get a receipt for the supposedly already-paid entry fee.

After all the haggling, the extra expense was about $20 each. Given that it might—just might—improve our last chance of seeing leopards, we thought the price more than fair.

A little confession
Now I should confess that we did see a leopard the night before. After we left the canteen, and on our Gypsy ride back to the hostel, we caught a glimpse of a leopard standing on the side of the road.

At first the driver and guide thought it was a dog. As we approached, the ‘dog’ ducked into the scrub on the side of the road and, as we pulled alongside, we could see that it was definitely a leopard—well a leopard’s bum.

We sat spellbound for a short time and the bum moved on. It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to get a pic, and Poor John was on the wrong side of the Gypsy and didn’t even get a glimpse.

Gary and pack

Bye Gary, you are and will be missed

Our last day in Rajaji—our last chance for leopards
Rajaji is a little-known and little-visited park in India. Who knew it would be such a momentous destination in our 31-day overland trip.

We had two scenic but routine safaris there, a victorious locking-of-horns with Sneaky, a sad farewell to Gary who had to leave at lunch before his visa ran out, and finally the excursion to the Ranpuri entrance.

Our guide and driver, who had been with us for our previous two safaris in Rajaji, were excited about going to Ranpuri. Neither of them had been there since at least June. Plus, they were still happy about catching glimpses of a leopard the night before and hoped to have repeat sightings.

I should stress that they had nothing to do with Sneaky’s bad behaviour.

Luckily, now that Anand and Deepti have been to Rajaji, they have good info about the best organisers, drivers and guides to deal with, so I don’t expect a repeat of our issues with Sneaky.

But on to Rajaji.

The entrance really was 40 kilometres from where we were staying and I was glad to be riding with a capable (and not reckless) driver.

Just before we reached the Ranpuri gate, we saw a huge wedding venue being set-up. As we already knew and had observed, November to January is the auspicious time to be married, and the entire countryside is geared up for celebrations.

House, Rajaji National Park

Old forestry house being refurbished for future use

When we arrived at the Ranpuri gate, we were told that we were their first visitors since the entrance reopened a few weeks early. India’s national parks close during the monsoon that goes from June/July to September/October.

We drove through the park slowly, seeing the many birds and deer species we had already seen so often. We got to the end of the route about 4pm, and the guide said we should wait there for an hour or so.

Leopards aren’t out yet, so we should wait, he said. So we waited. We explored the exterior of the chief forester’s house built in the 1880s (and now being refurbished for future use), saw a tusker (large bull elephant) trot by in the distance and twiddled our thumbs.

About 4:50pm, the guide said it was time to move on.

Leopard

A leopard inspects us over his shoulder

Less than a kilometre down the road, there it was—a leopard on the road. He/she gave us a disdainful look back over the shoulder. What are you doing in my space?

We lingered behind (but advanced slowly) until the leopard trotted into the bush. My photo isn’t great, but it is evidence and a memory.

Most of India is in the Northern Hemisphere, so it’s winter there and the sun sets quickly in late November. It was quite dark as we approached the Ranpuri exit gate. Our guide reminded us to be on the lookout for leopards sitting on the wall along the edge of the park.

As a rule, parks aren’t fenced, but some perimeters have partially fenced boundaries. Ranpuri’s fence is a stone wall—looking old, tall and uneven.

So as the sun set and darkness set in, we watched and watched and watched. And then our efforts paid off. There were two leopards sitting on the fence. They were watching the power poles and, perhaps, thinking of grabbing a wedding guest or two—remember a wedding venue was being set-up just outside the gate.

We still can’t believe our good fortune. Our driver and guide agreed that they had never seen three leopards in one day (and certainly not four, if you count the one glimpse we’d had the night before).

So Renae and I are mightily pleased we cracked our emotional (I think Poor John, Anand and Deepti are too). What an amazing last safari day!

Our team

Deepti, Anand and our driver and guide—all wonderful people

10 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Mungai and the Goa Constrictor / Dec 18 2013 11:48 pm

    Great post! But, it is sad the leopards have been reduced to a habitat of concrete and steel pylons.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Dec 19 2013 8:58 am

      It is so sad. At first I was sorry the pylons were in the background, but then I realised they made an obvious statement about the challenges faced by so many animals.

      Like

      • Mungai and the Goa Constrictor / Dec 20 2013 11:28 am

        I agree. Far better than pretending they don’t exist. People should know this is happening, Peggy.

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      • leggypeggy / Dec 20 2013 1:44 pm

        You bet. There’s been too much pretending for way too long.

        Like

  2. lmo58 / Dec 19 2013 8:27 am

    Wow Peggy! The things a woman has to do to get a bloke to do what he’d already agreed to do! I’ve never heard the expression ‘crack an emotional’. I would have said have a hissy fit but they’re all one and the same and good on you and Renae for asserting your rights. And I’m really pleased that after all that effort you actually saw leopards. Well done. I’m sorry that Gary missed out but when your visa’s up it’s time to go. Thank you as always for the great photos!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Dec 19 2013 1:39 pm

      We all were so glad Renae and I ‘cracked an emotional’. All along, our point was that Sneaky was the one who suggested Ranpuri as an option. Anyway, we were sorry Gary missed it, but glad he at least saw one the night before.

      Like

  3. Sy S. / Dec 19 2013 11:14 am

    Hello Peggy,

    Well, two photo of Leopards is better then nutten…… and even though not great photos, it is a photo story worth telling us all about. And I can imagine the joy of spotting a “Tusker” elephant in the distance…. worth recalling in your memory.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Dec 19 2013 1:41 pm

      I actually got a couple of other shots, but they are too out of focus to post. And the tusker shooting by is still in my mind’s eye. 🙂

      Like

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