Believe it or not: There is a village in Rajasthan called Bera. It is surrounded by forests where leopards roam free. Along it flows the river Jawai, with the Jawai Dam built on it. And the resulting beautiful lake is home to some of the biggest crocodiles you will ever see. These are not a part of any National Park or sanctuary; most people don’t know about it, not even Rajasthanis. You will not see any madding tourist crowds here – go wildlife spotting freely, but remember you are on your own here.
[The animals were too far for my equipment – hence the poor picture quality. But I sure got great views with high power binoculars]
I would not have believed it had I not seen it for myself. Leopards are one of the toughest animals to spot, and I have not seen any during my numerous visits to National Parks – tigers are actually easier to meet. And Bera is not just home to just a few leopards who have lost their way – they are all over. No one has a count of these.
Over two safaris during my overnight stay at Castle Bera (a highly recommended property – click here to read about it), I was fortunate to spot a mother leopard with her two cubs. Although they were not very close, I could clearly see them walking along a ridge – stopping in between, playing on trees, and showing their love to one another in a way only mothers and children can. As the sun set and they walked into the dark of the forest, my guide highlighted two diamonds shining in the spotlights trained on them – these were the shining eyes of a male leopard on a peak. Even from a distance, they shone like stars. Have you seen a cat’s eye shine in the dark? Multiply the intensity a hundred times.
And the wild party continued on this short but eventful trip. Having feasted on berries all night, I saw two bears climbing up a mountain in the early morning hours. It seemed more like they were rolling uphill – again, bears are not easy to spot in forests. (I always wonder how filling can berries be for these guys?). Antelopes (also known as Nilgai or Indian Blue Bull) were all over the place – some alone, some in groups. Males are distinguished with their dark grey coats, while females are brown. They must be food for the leopards – but the latter also have it easy preying on goats and cows belonging to villagers living in the area.
The crocodiles too make for an unforgettable sight. Big, chunky fellows at over 15 feet in length, they were busy with doing what they do best – nothing. But don’t be fooled with their sleepy demeanor – they are man-eaters. Ask the poor shepherds who take their herd to the edge of the water – in recent weeks two have lost their lives I was told. Glad they were sun-bathing far out on the islands in the lake. Incidentally, the lake is full of fish, and locals disturb the crocs when they head out in their small row boats. This make sightings difficult as the crocodiles go under water – even though their habitat runs into scores. These beasts can be shy too. What actors!
The forests are also home to hyenas, hares, foxes and birds like Pelican, Greylag Goose, Robin Accentor, Demoiselle Crane, Barheaded Goose and Indian Partridge besides others. Hope you are lucky to see them all!
What is the probability of your spotting leopards when you go? My host Thakur Baljeet Singh (popularly known as Winkoo Singh, and a descendant of former royalty of Rajasthan) is proud of a 100 percent record for his guests – I am glad the average was not spoiled with me.
And do join us for a coffee at the Kunzum Travel Cafe in Hauz Khas Village in New Delhi, India.