Rangilo Rajasthan – Part 6 – Leopards of Jawai Bandh

Along with forts and palaces, Rajasthan is also famous for
its vibrant wildlife. Places such as Ranthambhore and Bharatpur are already famous.
Recently, another place in Rajasthan has become a famous wildlife retreat Jawai Bandh. And it is famous for the
most elusive animal of Indian forests the leopard.
This place is located in the Pali district of Rajasthan, almost midway between
Udaipur and Jodhpur. The terrain is mostly scrubland interrupted with rocky
outcrops. These rocky outcrops offer a unique habitat for leopards and other
animals to thrive. The caves and dens in these rocky hills serve as safe havens
for leopards to raise their young. So, more than usual leopards can occupy a
small territory. The whole area has a thriving population of 5060 leopards. Usually, spotting a
leopard is more difficult than spotting a tiger. But here in Jawai, because of
the unique terrain, spotting a leopard has become an easy sport. After the
documentary Leopard Rocks was aired on National Geographic, this place became immensely
popular and a whole new industry of wildlife tourism started flourishing. I was
quite excited to visit this place.

The leopard of Jawai (source: https://www.rajras.in/index.php/jawai-bandh-conservation-reserve/

After a three-hour-long ride from Mount Abu, I finally
reached the dusty village of Mori Bera. I had booked a lavish home stay here.
My host, Suryapratap Singh, was a very jovial man. He offered a very warm welcome.
I was quite impressed with the home stay. It was simple yet comfortable. By the
time I reached, the clock already hit 5 PM. I freshened up and spent the
evening at leisure. My safari to the leopard hills was about to begin at 6 AM
on the next day. As decided, the safari driver picked me up at 6 in the morning.
The weather was a bit chilly. The eastern horizon was slowly turning red. I sat
in the open cantor clenching on my camera. We picked up another guest from a
nearby camp and began our hunt for the leopard. First, we went to Jagtala. This
is a group of three small hillocks, and a female leopard calls it her home. We
drove near the rocky hills and waited in silence. Wildlife watching is a game
of patience. By now, the sun was up and the entire terrain was brightly lit in
the golden sunshine. The hills looked simply gorgeous. I was scanning the
entire area through the binoculars. However, there was absolutely no action!

At Jagtala
Soon, our driver got a call from another driver saying that
three leopards were sighted on another nearby hillock. That
s it. He pressed the accelerator and
started driving toward the spot. My heart beats were already rising. Within a
few minutes we reached the spot. Around 5-6 cantors carrying other tourists
were already there. All eyes were fixed on one thing
the leopard. A massive, fully grown male was sitting
under a tree enjoying the morning breeze. He looked calm and content. Probably
he had eaten a hefty prey last night. Unaware of our presence, he sat there moving
his tail and doing cat things. I was so excited looking at this beast. Being a
cat lover, I have immense fascination for felines. Having lived most of my life
in Borivali, a suburb of Mumbai located on the fringes of Sanjay Gandhi
National Park, I grew up listening to the tales of leopard prowling through the
neighborhood. However, I had never seen the animal myself. Today, in this
remote village of Rajasthan, I was watching this majestic animal enjoying a
leisurely morning. Truly a wonderful sight. We waited there watching his antics.

Suddenly, another driver said, there is one more leopard
around! Within a moment, a female leopard came out of her hiding. She climbed
up on a rock and sat in the sun. What a sight it was! The male went near her. We
could hear their growling. Overall, it looked like a courtship behavior. According
to our driver, this couple was hanging out together since last two days. A
clear indication that we might see these animals mating. I was so engrossed in
watching the animals that I had almost forgotten about the camera. My 200 mm lens
was anyway insufficient to click a good picture. For the sake of memory, I
clicked a couple of pictures and began observing the animals through my
binoculars. Although the female was tolerating the presence of the male, she
was not letting him come too close. Suddenly, out of nowhere, another huge male
leopard appeared on the scene and attacked the earlier male. We were simply
stunned at this turn of events. The boys growled at each other giving warnings.
But nobody was ready to retreat. And then the fight began. The poor female just
ran away and hid in the bushes. We could see the intruder smashing his opponent
with his paw. But then, in a jiffy, the animals disappeared in the bushes. What we could hear was just loud
growling and the noise of bushes and leaves. The boys were at war. A war not
just for the territory but also for the female. We stayed there for around half
an hour waiting for the animals to come out in the clearing. But probably they just
wanted to keep their business to themselves. After around 40 minutes, the
growling stopped. We wanted to know who won. But alas, the animals were nowhere
to be seen! What a thrilling experience it was!

The hill where we witnessed the great fight 

The female leopard walking over a rock

The region has many other spots for watching wildlife. The
Jawai reservoir has abundant birdlife and crocodiles. A temple on a nearby hill
offers great views of the landscape. Apart from leopards, the region hosts
hyenas, sloth bears, peacocks, langurs, and deer. You need overall 3-4 safaris
to cover all the spots. I was pressed for time. It was already 10 AM and I was
hungry as hell. The driver dropped me back to the home stay. After having a sumptuous
breakfast, I said goodbye to Suryapratap and moved on to my next destination

To be continued…

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