More elusive than the tiger, LEOPARDS are one of the toughest big cats to spot. But if you are passionate about these enigmatic creatures, here are a few places in India to visit :
(1) RAJASTHAN : —– Far from the madding crowd of tourists, this s an unchartered leopard terrain., unknown even to the locals. A few, parched zones of Rajasthan have become thriving spots for leopard sightings. The journey starts from Taalvraksh (while coming from Delhi), which is just 20kms from Sariska Tiger Sanctuary in Rajasthan. The place has become a safe haven for leopards, thanks to territorial tiffs with the tigers. A small area of dense forest covering, with very little water available, has made the place a good leopard habitat. You can also visit Siana in Jalore district, a small hamlet bordering the Thar Desert. The rocky desert hills are home to a number of leopards other than chinkaras., Indian striped hyenas, desert fox, civet cats and jungle cats. The place offers a farm stay with home-grown food, safaris and a tour of the village, where you can see carpenters engaged in making wooden handicrafts, leather embroidery and potters’ wheels. Last, but not the least, is a place called Bera near Jawai Bandh, one of Rajasthan’s largest reservoirs, which is abuzz with flamingos, geese, cranes and other migratory birds. Unlike Taalvraksh, Bera is not home to a few nomadic leopards; the place is full of the cat, camouflaged under big rocks. The location boasts of quite a comfortable camps. The best time to visit is Winter, since the cat strolls out and basks freely under the winter sun.
(2) KARNATAKA : —– The iconic image of a leopard resting on a tea branch that we often see in magazines was perhaps shot in the lush backwaters of the river Kabini in Southern India. Snaking its way through the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the Kabini forms a spectacular backdrop to abundant wildlife, especially leopards. The Kabini Forest Reserve is unique, since all 3 predators —— tigers, leopards and dholes (Indian wild dogs) coexist here. The leopards spend a large part of the day on trees and come down mostly to hunt. They are so well-camouflaged that even the most trained eye misses them from a distance. The best time to visit is between October and May.
(3) BORDER OF MAHARASHTRA : —– The fabled forest immortalise in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’, makes for intriguing jungle safaris. Located on the southern boundary of Madhya Pradesh, bordering Maharashtra, Pench National Park is known for a variety of wildlife, and more famously for the Royal Bengal Tiger. However, leopard sightings in this park are stated to be among the best in India. Keep a watch on treetops for unsuspecting leopards taking a nap. The best time to visit is November to June.
(4) MADHYA PRADESH : —– The Satpura Tiger Reserve brags of a high leopard density. This relatively new, little-known scenic reserve also has the distinction of being one of the few national parks offering walking and kayaking safaris. The best time to visit is November to June.
(5) JAMMU AND KASHMIR : —– A trek to the higher regions of Ladakh has become synonymous with searching for the elusive snow leopard. Leopards are hard to spot and snow leopards top that list. These reticent creatures love their cold habitat and can be sighted only during their mating months, when they are on the move. The best time to visit —- February and March —- the snow leopard’s mating season.
———– supriya.sharma2@timesgroup com.