A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in it's entirety. . . I believe in photography as one means of achieving an ultimate happiness and faith! - Ansel Adams

Sunday 26 February 2012

On the Leopards' Trail in Marwar


Alert Leopard on a boulder
Alert Leopard on a boulder in Bera

Trying to sight a Leopard (Panthera Pardus) in a jungle is perhaps no different than trying to find a needle in a haystack. On the many trips to the jungles of India, with some patience and luck, one can have excellent sightings of tigers, lions, even the shy sloth bear, and other mammals. But the leopard is an elusive beast. It can hide itself in any nook & cranny of the jungle, is smaller than the other carnivores, enjoys excellent camouflage, prefers hunting in the night, and with its acrobatic skills can perch itself on trees and boulders. Even if sightings occur, they are more in the nature of blink and you miss it. Though, we have heard stories of people seeing a leopard, sitting nonchalantly in plain view of the human eye, in the jungles of South India, such reports have been fewer from those of North India.
Despite several trips in the wild, we had thus far been unlucky in the matter of leopard sighting. The closest we ever came to sighting it was when we spotted a leopard’s kill but, not the perpetrator himself!
No longer wanting to leave things to a chance, we decided to take matters in our own hands and headed straight to Bera, a dusty village in southern Rajasthan amidst the Aravalli mountains and surrounded by water bodies. Here our abode was Thakur Devi Singhji’s orchard or rather the Leopard’s Lair Resort as it is officially called.
Devi Singhji & Me
Thakur Devi Singhji is a legend in these parts of Rajasthan for his work in the field of leopard conservation. The mountains in this belt do not have enough of a natural prey base for the leopards to feast upon; hence they were forced to hunt calves and goat. The villagers, who were naturally incensed on losing their livestock, would often kill the leopards. This was until Devi Singhji stepped in and started compensating the villagers for the loss of livestock. Thanks to his efforts, the man-animal conflict in the region has reduced to a great extent. Today, there is a thriving population of about 20-25 leopards in the area surrounding Bera! No wonder the place is on its way to planting itself on the wildlife tourism circuit of India.
Presently there are two properties in Bera that provide stay facility and game drives - Leopard’s Lair Resort (run by Thakur Devi Singhji) and CastleBera. We of course chose the former.

The leopard safaris (game drives) are lead by Devi Singhji himself and it is a pleasure spending time with him while waiting for the leopards to put in an appearance. A thorough gentleman, extremely polite and hospitable, he is a fountain of knowledge. Leopard sightings are very regular thanks to Devi Singhji's expertise and the fact that their territories are well defined. There's a rocky hillock, close to the farms, where a leopard's family is known to reside (male, female and two adult cubs) and it serves as a starting point for the safari. The leopards can be easily seen resting on the rocks or perched on the dry trees. The absence of any dense vegetation on the hillock makes the sightings easier (though for us mortals it takes a minute or two to sight the leopard in the yellow grasses). Devi Singhji also proudly informed us that he can count on his finger tips the number of days in a year when there are no sightings! Impressive!
We had visited the place in winter which, as Devi Singhji informed us, is also the best time for leopard sightings. This is because, unlike summers when they emerge out late owing to the heat, in winters they stroll out of their caves between 5-6:00PM, bask for a while in the warmth of the setting sun and then proceed to make their kill. The only negative, from my perspective, was that during winters the Sun sets exactly behind the hillock. As a result, leopard sightings occur in fading light and getting some good images becomes difficult. Though, we were more interested in the sightings (given our luck earlier) than in images.
The evening safari extends into the night and if one is lucky he might even sight leopards feasting on their kill.

Female Leopard (Zara) and Male adult cub
Zara & her adult cub

On the first day, we got to enjoy the sight of a female leopard (named Zara) and her adult cub (named Nivaan, if my memory serves me right) for over an hour. They would occasionally rest on the boulder, move about on the hillock, and play on tree tops until they chose to disappear into the bushes, presumably, to make arrangements for their dinner! It was almost night time by now and Devi Singhji drove us around in the territory hoping to sight leopards indulging in some activity. In case you are wondering how it is possible to sight leopards in the dark - well, a helper sitting in the rear of your vehicle employs a large spotting light to sweep the area for any signs of the beast. The beast’s eyes reflect back the light thereby betraying his presence. After a long drive we did manage to sight the two leopards again (Zara and Nivaan). However, upon sighting us humans, they quickly made for the bushes and we lost them thereafter.
Our subsequent visits were not as fruitful. But we had enough memories to carry back home. On the first day, while waiting for the leopards, we sighted a pair of Indian Grey Mongoose and as the legend goes, sighting them in a pair is extremely lucky for the beholder. Well, so we were!


For a slide show of complete set of pictures from Bera, please click Here. 


A note on the resort: The resort package includes crocodile safaris which are conducted in the morning. These are a complete waste of time and should be exchanged for the morning leopard safari. The crocodile safari is lead by a village bumpkin who can barely tell a crow from a pigeon. As such if one is interested in bird / crocodile watching near the Jawai Dam, we would suggest that he personally hire a vehicle and drive down to the dam and explore the birds at leisure than be at the mercy of an idiot.



Asian Openbill Stork in flight
Asian Openbill Stork (@ Jawai Dam)

The resort by itself has a nice rustic ambience. The property is fairly large and the Thakurs have planted a wide variety of trees in the orchard, thereby providing habitat to diverse species of birds. One can easily spot about 30-35 species of birds within the campus itself. The food is home made (in traditional Rajput style) and tastes ok. 
The rooms are well appointed, large and clean. The sour point is that the hotel staff is not well trained in hospitality and their mannerisms can put one off at times. In such instances, one just needs to speak to Devi Singhji or his wife and things will be immediately taken care of.


Room Tip: Choose the ones near the bonfire site.

All in all, visit this place for sighting leopards, understanding their behaviour, watching birds and to soak in some tranquillity. We would suggest spending minimum 2 nights at the place.



Sun rises over Marwar, Rajasthan
Sun rises over Marwar

How to reach: The nearest railhead is Jawai Bandh. From here, the drive to the resort takes ~ 20-30 minutes. The nearest airports are Udaipur (East of Bera) and Jodhpur (North of Bera) both of which are a good 4-5 hours’ drive from Bera. We would suggest that you include in your itinerary a visit to Udaipur and the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary for a wholesome experience and to make the most of your time and money.


Plum Headed Parakeet, Male
Plum Headed Parakeet (Male)

List of birds sighted by us in the region: Large Cuckoo Shrike, White Wagtail, Common Hoopoe, Yellow Wagtail, Asian Openbill Stork, Black Winged Stilt, River Tern, Red Wattled Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher, Eurasian Collared Dove, Laughing Dove, Spotted Dove, Plum Headed Parakeets, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Little Ringed Plover, Indian Pond Heron, Ruddy Shelduck, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Black Shouldered Kite, Indian Robin, Common Tailorbird, Common Crow, Rock Pigeon, House Sparrow, Long Tailed Shrike, Black Ibis, Black Headed Ibis, Little Cormorant, Little Grebe, Common Greenshank, Red Throated Flycatcher, Indian Peafowl, Jungle Prinia, Desert Wheatear, Oriental White Eye, Large Billed Crow, Red Vented Bulbul, Purple Sunbird, Jungle Babbler, Little Green Bee-eater, Black Drongo, Indian Roller, Grey Francolin, Oriental Magpie Robin, Crested Bunting, and Black Redstart.










Copyright Maneesh Goal. All Rights Reserved.

26 comments:

shooting star said...

very informative.....

am trying to put together an itinery which includes Udaipur and interestign places around it..and this is athe perfect place to be included in that!!!


http://sushmita-smile.blogspot.in/

The Legend Returns said...

Thanks so much Sushmita... am glad you liked the post...don't forget to visit Kumbhalgarh and Rajsamand Lake :) That is also the topic of my next post.

Safique said...

As tastful as always - loved reading Maneesh. Indeed a place to add to the Rajasthan itinery, thanks for sharing.

The Legend Returns said...

Thanks a lot Safique :)

joshi daniel said...

nicely spotted!

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The Legend Returns said...

Thank you so much @Joshi Daniel and @Shirin!

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Search Engine Marketing In Pune said...

Very Good Pics,& Informative Article.
Hats Off To Respected Mr. Devi SinghJi Just Because OF Him We Are Able To See This Animal.

The Legend Returns said...

Thank a lot to each one of you for visiting my blog and appreciating the content. Apologies for the delay in replying. Cheers!

preeti garg said...

great information shared by you. I am happy to read your blog and happy to see wildlife photography. Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is a best place to click wildlife photography in Rajasthan, India.

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ravi kumar Rampa said...

Thanks for the info. And ilike to go there can you tell me are there any budget hotels in bera.

divsi said...

Brilliant capture !! following for more such superb work!

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