We have well established the fact quite earlier that the four musketeers are crazy. If you have ready any of my earlier travelogues, you will know what I am taking about. Every so often, we get bitten by the travel bug. We try to ignore it as much as possible but every once in a while it becomes impossible to ignore it. And so it happened again a few months ago. (This story was supposed to be shared by July, but somehow I just could not get around to it.)
It was towards end of June that the bite of the travel bug got stronger. The problem with people who work in the travel trade is that when the rest of the world travels, you cannot. Because in the peak season you are busy handling the travel arrangements for your clients. As a result, you need to wait till others have finished their vacations before you can plan your own. The whole month of May and the first three weeks of June were crazy and passed by like a whirlwind. However, things began to ease up by the last week of June and the travel bug bit harder. And so it was one weekend when the four of us sat down for dinner, the topic of a weekend getaway surfaced again. Holidays were coming to an end and neither of us could get away for a long holiday. A weekend at the fag end of June was all we had. In such a situation, a road trip is what comes to mind for a quick escape, and so the talk over dinner was centered on trying to decide where we should be heading this time.
Laveena mentioned that while searching for places of interest in Jaipur she had come across some references to a leopard safari in Jaipur. We were sceptical at first. Leopard safari in Jaipur? How come we had never heard of it earlier ? After all we had been to Jaipur an umpteen number of times but no one – not even the local residents of Jaipur – ever mentioned it to us. However, we did some searching and came across references to the Jhalana Leopard Safari on Trip Advisor. It was indeed in Jaipur and had excellent reviews too. I did some more searching and came across references to Rohit Gangwal from the World Of Wilders who is one of the authorised Safari operators there. And so I shot off a mail to him about our proposed trip and thereafter we exchanged a couple of calls, and the rest was all taken care of by Rohit. All I had to do was send him a copy of our valid ID proofs, which is mandatory for booking the safari, and we were all set.
The morning of 30th June saw us departing for Jaipur in the early hours. Our safari was booked for the evening on the same day at 4.45 pm. After a largely uneventful drive with one breakfast halt, we were at Jaipur by about 1130. Since we did not have to report for the safari till late afternoon, we had plenty of time on our hands which we did not wish to waste by sitting at the hotel. We wanted to utilise that time to visit a place that we had never visited before, and so we started searching for options online. One place that immediately caught our attention was Gaitor Ki Chhatriyan – the place of the cenotaphs of the royals but that’s another story. For now let us talk about the leopard safari.
What is surprising is that the Jhalana Leopard Safari is right at the doorstep of Jaipur and even very few locals of Jaipur are aware of it. The location of the park is right behind the Malviya Nagar Industrial area. It is also rather strange that Rajasthan’s Tourism Department or Forest Department is not giving it adequate publicity to this wonderful attraction. Obviously, more marketing effort needs to be put in to make this place popular – the place is definitely worth visiting.
We have been on two other safaris earlier – one in Sariska and the other one in Alwar, but both times we did not spot any big cat. We were initially sceptical about a sighting here as well. However, as it turned out, we did eventually spot the big cat ! What is even more important is that unlike Sariska and Alwar, the place is not too commercialised so far, and Rohit certainly adds a personal touch to everything. Right from handling the booking to taking good care of us during the Safari, everything went smoothly.
The safari park itself is not very big and is spread over an area of approximately 21 Sq Kms. However, it is believed to have a sizeable leopard population and we were told that the probability of a sighting is 93%, which are good odds by any yardstick. One does wonder, though, about the long term sustainability of the project, because sooner or later, the leopard population is bound to outgrow the limited area that is available.
We had opted for the evening safari which starts at 4.45 pm, and we reached the gate at about 4.30 pm. Rohit was there at the gate to meet us. There are a total of 10 Gypsy vans available for hire and pre-booking is recommended. Rohit had already booked the vehicle for us – an open Gypsy that is typical of most jungle safaris. He is a great guy to meet and is extremely knowledgeable about the park and its inhabitants. A nature enthusiast himself, he is also an excellent photographer and was kind enough to share some of his photos with us.
The boundary walls near the entry gate of the forest park are beautifully painted with images of leopards and other wildlife and make for a good spot to click pictures. Rohit was kind enough to click our pictures and send them to us later. Rohit’s team took care of the paperwork at the gate – ID validation etc, and at 4.45 pm we were on our way. The driver allocated to us certainly knew his job. Initially Rohit assigned another guide to us as he had to finish some work, but promised to catch up with us later in the park. And so we set off, excited at the prospect of sighting a big cat , hoping that we would get lucky on our third safari.
The safari itself lasts about 2.30 hrs and we enjoyed every minute of it. Rohit and his team had thoughtfully provided an ice-box with water bottles and juices for us, which came in very handy indeed. About 45 minutes into the trip, Rohit had caught up with us, having hopped on to another Gypsy. It was interesting to note that even in the jungle, Rohit and the others strictly followed the rule of no alighting from the vehicle. The Gypsy in which he arrived stopped close to ours, and Rohit simply hopped in to our vehicle. The guide who was initially assigned to us hopped into the other vehicle, and soon we were on our way again.
For about the first hour and a half, we drove across various routes of the park without any sighting of the big cat. We did, however, come across lots and lots of peacocks, partridges, a large family of langurs, Blue Bulls (Neel Gai) and spotted dear. Among the other animals that we spotted were a monitor lizard, a mongoose, and jungle hares. There were also several species of birds, including the Green Bee Eater, Magpies, and the Black Drango.
The place is a photographer’s delight, provided you can keep your hand steady enough to click from a slow moving Gypsy bouncing on the rough forest track. One thing that we really enjoyed was the number of dancing peacocks that we saw all over the place, with their feathers spread, trying to entice the peahens. In fact, a couple of times we asked the driver to stop so that we could capture the magnificent bird in our cameras. The big cat, however, eluded us, though the driver took us along several trails in the park. We began to wonder if this time too we would return without a sighting.
One thing that struck me as odd was that the park area is virtually at the doorstep of a large city and while you are driving through the trails, you can even hear traffic in the distance. I asked Rohit whether this posed a problem for the nearby villages and city dwellers. He told me that so far there haven’t been any instances of any encounters between the leopard and humans. There have been stray incidents of leopards sneaking into nearby inhabitations and preying on stray dogs and small cattle but there is not a single reported incident of any human encounters with the wild leopards. Another interesting fact that he shared with us was that the leopards usually preyed on smaller animals – squirrels, hares, monitor lizard, peacocks etc, and normally did not attack the larger game like Deer and Neelgais. Apparently, they are incapable of bringing down a full grown deer or Neelgai while hunting solitary and will only attempt it if they hunt in pairs, which is rare. They do, however, attack stray dogs.
There were several occasions when we came across deer and sambar which were on high alert – paused in their grazing and looking around anxiously for any signs of a leopard. The jungle has its own way of passing on alarm calls. It could be the excited screeching of monkeys, or a bird giving a shrill cry. Each time we encountered the animals on high alert, we too would pause and switch off the engine, waiting with bated breath in complete silence. Yet, most of such alerts turned out to be false alarms.
Rohit, however, kept coordinating with the other Gypsies in the park and soon came to know of a leopard sighting near an old temple complex at the start of the trail, and we rushed to the spot. Sure enough, this was to be our lucky day. Perched higher on the hill among the dried bushes was a leopard, lazily moving around and it seemed to be in no hurry to go anywhere. Although the spot where the leopard was higher up on the hill behind the temple, we were nevertheless thrilled with the sighting, as at long last our jinx was broken. I mean, this was a leopard in the wild, right before our eyes !
The Leopard Sighting
We stayed at the spot for quite some time watching it. There were several Gypsies lined up on the narrow track, each with a load of tourists busy clicking away. The leopard, called Juliet (as identified by Rohit, who is familiar with all the cats in the park), eventually settled down on and kept looking down at the crowd. It seemed as engrossed in watching us as we were in watching it, and did not in the least seem to be bothered by the people or the noise.
While we were still there, Rohit heard about another sighting in a different zone and we rushed to the spot. However, this time we were not so lucky. Although all the animals in the vicinity seemed to be on high alert – a sure sign that the big cat was nearby, the leopard did not reveal itself to us. I think we missed it by a few minutes. The driver of the Gypsy which had been there before us confirmed that they had indeed seen the leopard crossing the trail a short while ago.
Soon it was time for the safari to end. It was with a great deal of reluctance that we eventually left the park, promising ourselves that we would be back again whenever we were in Jaipur next.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience for us. Not only did we discover a new place, we also had the thrill of a leopard sighting. But as they say, all good things come to an end, and so did the safari – park timings have to be strictly followed. Reluctantly, we left for our hotel. But one good thing that came out of this trip, apart from the leopard sighting, was that we got to know Rohit and his team. I have absolutely no hesitation whatsoever in recommending his services for anyone planning to go on a safari in Jhalana. Rohit can be contacted on mobile numbers +919001846629 & +91929828114341 and his mail id is firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks, Rohit & Team, for a wonderful experience !
The Images & Videos Below Are Courtesy of Rohit Gangwal – World Of Wilders
The images that I have shared in the above gallery have been provided by Rohit. He has also shared a couple of videos of leopard sightings and encounters on YouTube (embedded above), which can be found on this link. So guys, next time you plan to be in Jaipur, do make it a point to go for the safari – chances are that you won’t be disappointed.